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Start a Fall Vegetable Garden

Cabbage Sprout

Cabbage SproutMid to late summer is the time to plan and plant the fall vegetable garden.

The key to planting vegetables in mid- to late- summer is timing. Plant the late summer and autumn vegetable garden so that the crops reach maturity and harvest before or on about the average date of the first frost in fall.

If you know the average date of the first frost in your region, you can count backwards the number of days to determine which crops you can still plant and harvest before the first freeze. (Of course, if you plan to protect your late summer and autumn crops with row covers and plastic tunnels, you can add many more days to your growing season.)

Second Summer Harvest

If you want to grow your second—or even your first–garden of summer vegetables this year and you have determined, for example, that you have 90 days until the first expected frost, then there is still time to set some short-season tomato and pepper seedlings in the garden. And 90 days is also enough time to start crops such as bush beans and some squash varieties from seed.

Check the days to maturity on seed packets; choose crops that want fewer than the number of days until the first expected frost. Bush beans, many cucumber varieties, determinate tomatoes, and baby melons may easily fit this bill.

Plant these crops just like you would in spring. But expect that with the soil now warm, they will germinate and begin growing much more quickly than they did when the ground was still chilly in spring.

Fall or Second Spring Harvest

If you want a fall and early winter harvest vegetable garden, then choose cool-weather crops; these are the same crops you planted early last spring for harvest before the weather turned warm and hot. Cool-weather crops love to get their start in warm soil and air, and they will yield best when they come to harvest as temperatures cool as winter approaches. Some people call the autumn harvest of cool weather crops “the second season.”

Many cool-season crops can withstand a light frost—the first frost in autumn; these include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, chards, collards, radishes, and spinach. And there are cool-weather crops that can easily withstand a heavy frost—usually the second or third frost in autumn or early winter; these include beets, cauliflower, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, and peas.

When to Pant Autumn-Harvest Crops

When planting crops for autumn harvest, keep in mind the number of minutes of daylight in the day is growing shorter day-by-day. That means that the later you plant in summer or fall, the more days it may take for your crops to reach maturity. So when planning the Late Summer and Fall Vegetable Garden add several days to the number of days to maturity factoring for the shortening days.

Here’s a guide for the number of days from sowing to harvest for the most popular autumn harvest crops (these numbers may vary slightly by variety):

Beets: count back 74 days: 5 days to germination + 55 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Direct sow beets in the garden. Beets can survive a heavy frost.

Broccoli: count back 95 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size +55 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start broccoli indoors then transplant to the garden. Broccoli can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Brussels sprouts: count back 120 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 80 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start Brussels sprouts indoors then transplant to the garden. Brussels sprouts can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Cabbage: count back 99 days: 4 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 60 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start cabbage indoors then transplant to the garden. Cabbage can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Carrots: count back 85 days: 6 days to germination + 65 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Direct sow carrots. Carrots can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Cauliflower: count back 90 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 50 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start cauliflower indoors then transplant to the garden. Cauliflower can survive heavy frost.

Chard: count back 69 days: 6 days to germination + 50 days to maturity +14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed chard. Chard can survive heavy frost.

Leaf Lettuce: count back 76 days: 3 days to germination + 14 days to reach transplant size + 45 to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start lettuce indoors for best results then transplant to the garden. Lettuce can survive a light frost but not heavy frost without protection.

Peas: days: count back 70 days: 6 days to germination + 50 to maturity+ 14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed peas. Peas can survive heavy frost.

Spinach: count back 64 days: 5 days to germination + 45 days to maturity+ 14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed spinach. Spinach can withstand light but should be protected from heavy frost.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. I like your site. There’s a lot of valuable information here.
    You didn’t mention the darling of the health food crowd – kale. Here in north Florida we have freezes in the low 20s. Last winter all of my cruciferous vegetables sailed through the cold. The Siberian kale seems to get sweeter after a few freezes.

  2. I am new here and wish to thank you for allowing me to post. I live in eastern NC and at this writing; I have about 104 days to frost. I started early and have had a fair success. I think I have solved the blossom end rot problem with calcium and regular watering of my tomatoes.
    Now my problem has been cucumbers, most years I have wonderful success with cukes but this year the vines are dying and the cukes are short and fat with a pointed end. They also have a light white dust type substance on the lower or pointed end. What do you think the problem might be?

    • Short fat fruit with pointed ends sounds like the plant has had irregular uptake of water resulting in fast and slow growth resulting in the irregular shaped fruit. This could happen if the weather was dry followed by a big rain or if the irrigation has been irregular resulting in moisture stress. Misshapen fruit could also be caused by incomplete pollination. Make sure you are attracting plenty of pollinators including bees to the garden. The white dust sounds like powdery mildew–a fungus. Spray with neem oil or compost tea to coat leaves and plants–but neem oil also can harm beneficial insects–so pray at the end of the day.

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