As the garden is winding down in late summer, there are often spots in the garden where plants have already finished producing for the season. This provides a great opportunity to plant a fall crop and extend your season. Late summer planting is often a better time to plant those short season or cool loving crops that we might normally plant in early spring. When the soil is warm, many seeds germinate faster. Beets and carrots love warm soil, and a frost will turn their starches into sugars. Have you ever noticed the carrots from the farmer’s market in the fall are so much sweeter than in the spring? You can harvest these root crops any time before the ground freezes. Lettuces prefer cool soil to germinate but the cool fall weather is perfect for them to mature with no worry of bolting. You can fool lettuce seeds to germinate in warmer soil by placing the seed packet in the refrigerator for a few days before you plant them. Spinach and bush peas are my favorite fall crops. Both do great in warm soil and mature as winter approaches. And as a bonus, they both will survive the winter and start growing again as soon as the weather starts to warm in the spring! They become your cover crop, protecting the soil through the winter. Over wintered spinach is very tender and a full crop of pea shoot tendrils are ready for stir fry! If you’re going to plant a fall crop or over-winter crop, make sure you clear out the garden space of all weeds and debris. Add a little compost or organic fertilizer to the area and mix it into the first few inches of soil. Most fall planted varieties that you’d like to harvest before the winter sets in should be planted about 8 – 10 weeks before you expect a killing frost. For zone 6, seeds should be planted around the first week of September. Here’s are a few to try:
- Carrots, Beets, Radishes, Turnips: For a fall harvest, the seed should be planted directly in the garden 6-8 weeks before frost. They will survive frost and the roots will become sweeter. Don’t forget to eat the beet, radish and turnip greens too!
- Bush Beans: For fall harvest, plant the seed directly in the garden 10 weeks before frost (mid-Aug for zone 6). These plants will survive a mild frost but not a killing freeze.
- Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts: For late fall/winter harvest, plant seed directly in the garden about 10 weeks before frost (mid-August for zone 6), or transplants 8 weeks before fall frost. They will survive a frost.
- Chinese Cabbage, Chicory, Collards, Mustard: For fall harvest, plant seed directly in the garden 6-8 weeks before frost. They will survive a light frost.
- Bush Peas: For fall harvest of pods or shoots, plant seed directly in the garden 8-10 weeks before frost. For spring harvest of pea shoots, plant seed directly in the garden 6 weeks before frost or cut the older plants to 4” before frost. Mulch with leaves, straw or a floating row cover when ground freezes.
- Spinach: For fall or spring harvest, plant seed directly in the garden 8 weeks before frost. Harvest baby greens in fall and for spring harvest cover plants with leaves, straw or floating row cover when ground freezes.
- Swiss Chard: For fall harvest, plant seed directly in garden 8 weeks before frost. Some varieties will survive frost or try perennial chard ‘Perpetual’.
- Arugula, Dill,Cilantro, Parsley: For fall harvest, plant seed directly in the garden 8 weeks before frost. All will survive mild frost and often will survive the winter.
For any crop you over winter for a spring harvest, cover the plants will a layer of leaves, straw, light compost or a floating row cover once the ground freezes solid. This will help prevent the ground from freezing and thawing which can push the plants out of the ground. Once the spring temperatures start to warm, remove the covering to help the sun warm the soil and your plants will continue to grow.