Fall vegetable gardening can be a productive pastime

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 (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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