It seems most vegetable gardeners look forward to spring for their home grown produce. I won’t argue with that but fall is a great time too for many reasons.
Assuming water is available in late summer, seed germination should be pretty good because soils are warm. Weeds can be a problem, but that’s mainly because growing conditions are good. Transplanting seedlings is another possibility. Water is the chief limiting factor there too.
One problem I have with my spring-summer garden is that summer is the only time I have to vacation. If I’m gone a couple weeks the garden can be so overtaken by weeds I feel like plowing it under. Cleaning up a weedy garden in oppressive heat is no fun. That’s less of a problem in fall.
Crops that grow well and will mature in cool weather are cabbage and all its crucifer relatives like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, collards and kale. Turnips and mustard are productive too.
Most leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce are great fall crops. Radishes and watercress grow quickly and are great in a salad. Onions can be planted anytime.
Don’t forget the root crops like beets, carrots and parsnips. Parsnips especially should be grown in fall as freezing enhances sweetness. Many folks around here are unfamiliar with them but sautéed parsnips are one of my favorite dishes.
Carrot foliage dies back somewhat after several hard frosts but the roots may be left in the ground all winter. Sweetness becomes even greater and they don’t get tough. Beet greens get damaged by hard frosts but add some mulch and the roots don’t get hurt around here. Your garden can be one big underground refrigerator.
Without a doubt broccoli is my favorite fall vegetable. In most years broccoli can be harvested all winter. The only problem is that successive harvests don’t hold for a long time before they flower. When it’s ready you need to pick it.
Spring collards don’t have the same flavor as those grown in the fall. Frost is essential for proper flavor and texture. Most collard lovers will tell you that.
Probably my biggest reason for liking a fall garden is that the air temperatures are cooler. That makes weeding less of a chore. Also, once plants become established, cooler temperatures mean less watering too.
Post frost pest problems are usually less. However, deer and rabbit damage could be worse as other food sources become depleted. A good fence helps. So does hunting season.
If crops aren’t in the ground yet, time is getting short for some. It might already be too late for Brussel sprouts. Cauliflower and beets are close. We still have plenty of time for lettuce, spinach, radishes, watercress and onions.
Here in eastern North Carolina we can have produce from our own gardens year round. You might not get corn and melons in winter, but you’ll get some of the sweetest carrots and crunchiest broccoli you’ll ever eat. Also, it really picks up ones spirits in the winter to see things growing.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).