To help you get started on a fall vegetable garden, I am sharing my 10 favorite easy-to-grow cool-season crops.
Beyond the summer crops that we so often associate with an edible garden — tomatoes, squash, corn, green beans — there’s a whole other world out there that doesn’t get started until things cool down. Plant a variety of cool-season crops in late summer or early fall, and continue to harvest through fall, winter and even the following spring.
Here are my top 10 cool-season crops for beginner or advanced gardeners:
Garlic — This is the last thing I plant in my garden each year, and the easiest to grow. You can buy garlic bulbs from a seed company or just pick up garlic at the grocery store. Separate the bulb into cloves, leaving the “paper” on. Stick your finger in the soil to create a 2-inch-deep hole and plant one clove with the pointed end up. Space cloves 4 to 6 inches apart. Cover them up, water them in, and apply organic mulch. Each clove you plant will create a new bulb in time. Plant garlic cloves between mid-October and early November. By late May or early summer, you should have all the garlic bulbs you’ll need for the rest of the year.
Lettuce — There are so many varieties of lettuce to choose from. Lettuce seeds germinate quickly and lettuce plants can be harvested continuously. Sow about eight weeks before the first frost.
Spinach — Pull or cut spinach leaves from the outside of the plant, and it will continue to grow from the inside. It is a cut-and-come-again crop that is cold-hardy and great in a salad or sauteed. Sow in late summer or early fall, and the seeds will germinate in three to five days. If you cover with a light layer of straw over the winter, you can continue harvesting spinach through spring.
Brussels sprouts — As the temperature gets cooler, Brussels sprouts taste even better. Sprouts take a while to develop, but when they do, they are found up and down the stem. Be sure to stake the plants. Plant Brussels sprouts six to 10 weeks before the first frost.
Giant red mustard — If you enjoy a leafy vegetable with heat and a kick, grow giant red mustard. It’s stunning in the garden as well as spicy and delicious. When hit by the light, the leaves appear neon purple and red. The leaves are better to eat when smaller, but leave a few to grow large for their ornamental interest. Stagger plantings beginning in midsummer to enjoy a longer harvest before frost.
Beets — I plant beets around the perimeter of my leafy greens beds as a way to make the most efficient use of the space. This tasty root crop is unbothered by cold. Plant beet seeds 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost. The seeds will germinate in about five days. For a later start, plant seedlings that were sprouted indoors or in a greenhouse. For the best taste, harvest beets before they grow too large. Refer to the seed packet but, generally, 2 to 2.5 inches is ideal.
Chard — Chard can be grown interspersed with other leafy vegetables or with beets, and it’s a great stir-fry vegetable. Plant foliage may die back over winter but then come back again in spring. Sow seeds about 10 weeks before the first frost.
Carrots — For the sweetest carrots you have ever eaten, you’ll want to grow your own in the fall and winter. Sow seeds no later than 10 weeks before the first frost. Plant in late summer in rows, and watch the seeds germinate about a week later. Be sure to thin out the seedlings so the carrot roots (the part you’ll be harvesting) will have room to grow.
Curly-leaf kale — Great in both smoothies and stir-fries, curly-leaf kale is another cut-and-come-again plant and one that is easy to harvest. Cut from the outside, just like spinach. It’s a super-healthy ingredient in any dish. Sow in late summer or early fall.
Broccoli — Plant seeds or seedlings into your garden in fall (or spring), and broccoli will slowly develop a head that is ready to be harvested when it is about the size of your hand. You can stagger the planting time over a few weeks to spread out your harvest. Once you cut broccoli, it will not regrow from the center, but it will continue to grow smaller sprouts from the outside that are just as delicious. Broccoli kissed by frost will be the sweetest broccoli you’ve ever had.
What’s your favorite cool-season crop to grow? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Essential Gardening Fundamentals: The basics on healthy soil, planting, watering techniques, composting, raised bed and other gardening methods, fertilizer, the many benefits of mulch, and more.
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