Fall is when the garden starts winding down, the harvest wraps up, and it's time to put the garden to bed for the winter, right? Wrong! Fall is a season of abundance, and there is no reason you can't keep vegetable gardening right up until your first frost, and even after.
Advantages to Growing a Fall Vegetable Garden
Fall is a wonderful time to grow food. The heat of summer has mostly passed, and in many areas, rain is more plentiful in the fall. The soil is already warm, so seeds germinate more quickly. There is less insect pest pressure as the weather starts cooling down. And, it's just generally a nice time of year to be outdoors.
How to Plan for a Fall Vegetable Garden
The trickiest part about a fall vegetable is getting the timing right. Plant things too soon, and they might bolt in the heat of summer. Plant them too late, and you might not have enough time to get a harvest.
So the first thing you'll need to figure out is what you can grow in fall -- the list below will help you with that! After that, you need some information so you'll know when you need to plant.
- Find your first fall frost date. If you don't know it, you can find that date here.
- Check the seed packet of whatever vegetable you're growing. Look for the "days to maturity" number. There is some confusion about that number. Generally, days to maturity means how long from the time you plant a transplant in the garden until it's ready to harvest. If you're sowing seeds directly into the garden (as you do for many fall crops) you'll also want to look at the "days to germination" number. Note this information.
- If you're starting your plants from seed, add the "days to germination" and the "days to maturity" numbers together. This gives you exactly how long it will take for your chosen vegetable to be ready to harvest.
- Now that you have that number, count back from your first fall frost date that many days. This tells you when you need to plant in order to be able to harvest.
- Do this for each vegetable you want to grow. You can also find calculators online that give a good rough estimate of when things should be planted, such as this one from The Old Farmers' Almanac.
13 of the Best Vegetables for a Fall Garden
The best vegetables for a fall garden are those that prefer cooler temperatures and are maybe even a little bit frost-hardy. Many brassicas are even tastier after a light frost--a bit sweeter and milder. Root crops, such as beets, carrots, and radishes, can also withstand a light frost (and if you mulch them well, you can harvest carrots and beets into the winter in many areas.)
Extending the Gardening Season
If you want to keep the garden going for as long as possible, you might want to look into season extenders. They can buy you a few weeks to even a few months of additional harvesting time. However, plants won't keep growing once it's cold out. The point of season extension for fall gardening is to have a continual harvest of plants that are already mature. You'll still need to adhere to the frost date planning discussed above, but you can plant more, without having to worry about harvesting it all at one time if you use season extenders.
These spun fabric covers can be draped over plants and held down with rocks or bricks to give your plants a little extra protection. Toss them over any tender plants if frost is in the forecast, and you're likely to be able to extend your growing season. Just that little bit of additional protection can be the difference between the end of your tender plants and having them live to grow another day, or another week.
Low tunnels are exactly what they sound like: low tunnels made of sturdy wire or bent PVC pipe and then covered with clear plastic, that you customize to the size of your garden bed or the area of your garden you're trying to protect. They act like mini greenhouses, perfect for low-growing vegetables like greens, radishes, beets, smaller kales, or bush beans. Of course, since you're making them yourself, you can make them taller if you need to.
Low tunnels can extend your gardening season by weeks. And, if you add a layer of row cover draped directly on top of your plants inside the row tunnel, your season can be extended even more.
Hoop Houses and Greenhouses
These options obviously require a lot more space and a bit of planning and expense up front. But you can make a DIY hoop house, or buy a greenhouse kit, and these can allow you to harvest deep into the winter, and get a jump on the next gardening season.
Vegetables to Plant in the Fall for Next Year's Harvest
Some vegetables are important to plant in the fall months because they will overwinter. Garlic and shallots are good options here. Plant these in September or October and leave them in place throughout the winter. You will have large bulbs in the late spring to harvest. Do the same for onions, which can be planted as late as November for a spring harvest.
Grow a Fall Vegetable Garden to Extend Your Harvest
With a bit of planning, and maybe with the help of a season extender or two, you can grow plenty of delicious, healthy food in the fall, and sometimes even well into winter. Learn your frost date, choose your varieties, make a plan, and get planting!