Your tomatoes are coming in fabulously. You’ve harvested your garlic. Your beans are just about ready for picking. Summer in the vegetable garden is a heady time. But it doesn’t have to be over! Now’s the time to plan for fall crops. Just as in the spring, you can plant cool-weather crops—as long as you keep a few things in mind.
Featured photograph by Christine Chitnis for Gardenista, from Garden Visit: At Home in Rhode Island with Painter Georgia Marsh.
1. Know the first frost date for your zone.
Knowing your first frost date will allow you to figure out how much time you have to grow cool weather crops. You can enter your zip code using Garden.org’s tool here. The site gives you a percentage of the chance of frost, rather than a hard date. Mother Nature does what she wants when she wants and doesn’t look at our human calendars.
2. Read the back of the seed packet.
The single most important bit of information on the packet is days to maturity. Check to make sure you have enough time to harvest by the frost date. However some crops, like kale, chard, and peas, can tolerate some frost.
3. Remember the days are getting shorter.
Sad to say, but true. After the summer solstice, the days are getting shorter, so there is less sunlight for your crops. Taking this into consideration, move your last frost date up two weeks. With less sunshine, your plants will be growing slower.
4. Keep an eye on the current weather.
Having a tropical heat wave? You may want to wait to plant cool weather crops. Again, Mother Nature is in charge. If you do decide to sow seeds, give them the best chance by keeping them well watered during heatwaves.
5. Choose the right plants.
Look for short maturity dates, aka fast growers. Consider specifically Lacinato kale, bok choy, radishes, carrots, heat- and cold-tolerant lettuces (such as Lactuca sativa), beets, kohlrabi, and peas. Make sure you meet their needs to give them the best chance. Example: carrot seeds can’t dry out before they germinate. Plant lettuce beneath tomatoes to shield them from the hot sun. By the time the tomatoes are ending the lettuce will be coming into its own. Also, plant in succession. Plant crops weekly to extend the harvest; for instance, since cilantro is known to bolt in the heat, succession planting would allow for a longer harvest.
The end of summer and into the fall shouldn’t be wasted. With proper planning and care, you can extend your vegetable harvest almost to Thanksgiving, depending on your hardiness zone.
For more on vegetable gardens, see: