I don’t know about you, but here in Idaho in August, my garden is a jungle. There are 6-foot tomato plants, monster (overlooked) zucchini, ripening pumpkins, vining gourds, and sky-touching sunchokes. With all this growth and productivity, it seems silly to start planning a fall garden. And planning I should have done (past tense); it’s almost too late. Broccoli seedlings should be planted 10 weeks before the first frost date. Here in Southwestern Idaho, that’s only 55 days, or about 8 weeks, if I planted seedlings NOW! We run the risk of frost starting around October 10th. We are almost certain to have frost by October 26th, so maybe…
Worry not! There are plenty of other varieties that you can plant and still have time to do a bit of planning. Here are 13 top plants for your fall garden:
1) Broccoli – I would suggest that broccoli be planted as a seedling. However, you may prefer planting broccoli as a seed. If you are planting as a seedling, transplant the little broccoli about 10 weeks before the first frost. Keep in mind that transplants will require planting the seed a few weeks prior to the 10-week cut-off. Around this time, the temperature will be warm in most places. This will get the seedling going, and when the cooler weather arrives, the plant will slow down. The cool air will keep the broccoli from bolting and flowering-out. The cold will help the broccoli “head-up.” Broccoli will take about 70 days to mature.
2) Brussels Sprouts – I planted Brussels sprouts in the spring this year, and the aphids made a mess of things. Not to mention they are quite bitter if the weather warms up too quickly in the spring. Brussels sprouts are perfect for the fall garden because the cool weather makes them taste oh-so-good. Brussels sprouts seem to take forever to mature. You may not see the sprouts for 2 or 3 months. Expect about 90 days for the Brussels sprouts to mature.
3) Cabbage – We had a bumper crop of cabbages this spring. We find ourselves in August and still are enjoying the sauerkraut we made from our spring-garden cabbages. Like broccoli, you will need to plan on a 70-day maturity time. And, like all your garden seedlings, moisture is a must. Seedlings are vulnerable to dry soil and will fall flat to the ground if they dry out. Unlike planting in the moist, early spring, the heat of the summer and early fall months will tax the soil of its moisture. Keep an eye on this. Planting cabbage as a seedling is best. You can plant seeds, but watch your timeline. Plant your seeds with enough time to grow your seedlings for a 10-week growing period. Like broccoli, your cabbage will be nice and headed-up in about 10 weeks. From seed, you’ll start your preparation about 2 weeks out (give-or-take).
4) Cauliflower – Cauliflower can be a fickle little plant to grow. I love cauliflower with a little bit of tahini (a Middle Eastern paste or sauce made from ground sesame seeds) spread on top. I know, I know. “Really?” is what most folks ask…well, that’s after they ask, “What’s tahini?” Anyway, you will want to plant seedlings too and about 6 or 7 weeks before the frost (so add another 2-3 weeks if you are planting seeds). The reason I said, “Cauliflower can be a fickle little plant to grow,” is because it has a tendency to “button” (make tiny button-sized heads) if the temperatures fluctuate too widely from the 60s.
To avoid this, you may have to blanch the heads by tying the outer leaves together over the developing heads. Blanching is tying the leaves up over the developing head of cauliflower. Blanching has nothing to do with head development. However, you will run the risk of the curds turning greenish or brownish and becoming quite bitter. Though the nutritional content will not be affected, you’ll eat much less of it because of its challenging flavor.
5) Kohlrabi – I’ve only grown kohlrabi once and did quite well. This turnip-tasting plant prefers cool weather (like all these in this list). Along with moist soil, keep the plant protected from the sun. What I’d suggest is to plant these varieties of fall plants in the northern side of well-grown summer plant such as your sunchokes, tomatoes, and other vining and bushy plants. I’d direct-sow kohlrabi seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last average frost for your area. It’ll be about 1-2 months (40-60 days) for the kohlrabi to mature. The question I get from most folks when I mention “kohlrabi,” is “What do I do with it?”
Take about 4 kohlrabi bulbs and peel them. Cut the bulbs up in to ¼ inch slices and then cut the slices in half. Mix up 1 tablespoon (or more) of olive oil, 1 minced clove of garlic, and some salt and pepper (to taste). Toss in the kohlrabi slices into the olive oil/garlic mixture. Spread the kohlrabi slices onto a baking dish and bake in the oven at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 15-20 minutes or until browned evenly. Remove the cooked kohlrabi slices and sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese on top and stick the batch back in the oven for about 5 minutes. Man-oh-man!
6) Lettuce – Most of the time we plant our lettuce in the spring. Our harvest is plentiful, but always way before our other salad-type veggies come in. Consider the other items one would find in a salad: tomato, cucumber, pepper, and other colorful and tasty items. Now, plant your lettuce (may it be loose-leaf, butterhead, crisphead, or romaine) for a fall harvest, and you’re just in time for those late tomatoes, last zucchini, and tender peppers. Sow your lettuce seeds in late summer. As long as you keep the soil moist and shade the seedlings from the afternoon sun, you will be a happy homesteader in 45-60 days when it’s time to harvest (depending on type and variety).
There are 3 “greens” that will do well in many places all summer but will sweeten up nicely if grown for a fall (or even a winter harvest). Mustard, collard, and turnip greens are easy to grow and a fall garden staple.
7) Mustard Greens – Sow seeds about 6 weeks before the first frost. The seeds will germinate in soil that is cooler than you’d think. 45-85 degrees F is the sweet spot. All greens need consistent moisture. This is not to say that you have to water 24/7. Good, loamy soil will hold a lot of moisture even during the warm parts of a warm fall day. In about 45 days you will be able to begin harvesting your greens. But don’t chop the whole plant; just use a pair of scissors and clip off the leaves you want to use for your meal. Be sure to pick the smaller, newer leaves for the best flavor.
8) Collard Greens – Collards are an integral part of Southern cuisine. Being from Louisiana, I can confirm this bit of trivia and have filled my gullet on many a pound of collards. Mustard greens are a bit more “pepper-ey” than collards…to me, anyway. Sow seeds about 10 weeks before the first frost. Keep the ground moist and the small plants protected from the hotter, afternoon sun. Lucky for you folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line; you’ll likely be able to enjoy collards deep into the winter months. So, load up on your corn meal for a bit of collard greens and cornbread (with the corn bread bottom being plenty soggy from the juice from the greens).
9) Turnip Green – Like most greens, a light frost will affect the carbohydrates in the leaves and make them oh so sweet. The big difference between mustards and collards and turnips is the bulbous root that it also produces. How’s this to get your taste buds going:
Take 1 pound of peeled and cubed potatoes and ¾-1 pound of peeled and cubed turnip roots. Cook the cubed roots (potato and turnips) until soft. You can steam, bake, or boil them. After they are soft, mash them up with salt and butter to taste. You could add some milk or cream or Greek yogurt to “smooth” the mash out.
Turnip greens prefer well-drained soil. You’ll plant your seedlings sometime during August to October depending on your frost date. The farther south you are, the later you can plant. Lucky for yawl in zones 9 and 10; you’ll be eating turnips all winter and have a great start on compost in the spring with all the plants that will become overgrown when the spring air warms up.
10) Radish – I’ve learned to enjoy radishes in my salads. For the most part, that’s the only time I eat them. I should eat them more often; they pickle well and make a wonderful addition to soup and sauces. You’ll sow your radish seeds about 4-6 weeks before the first frost. Like most root vegetables, well-drained soil is best. In about 1-2 months, the radishes will be ready for the soup pot or salad bowl (depending on the variety you are growing).
11) Spinach – Spinach is a quick grower too. The leaves can be eaten at any time during the growing cycle. Like most fall and winter greens, the new, tender leaves are the most delicious. Sow spinach seeds about 4-5 weeks before the first frost date. I’ve had to dig my spinach out from being covered during a night-time snow and it was delicious! Spinach can endure temperatures into the 20s. If the spinach gets big and the stalks are thick, you can juice the stalks with some apples for a nice bitter-sweet, vitamin-packed drink.
12) Kale – Fall is a wonderful time to grow kale. If your zone has very low temperatures in the fall, you may consider row covers or growing your kale in a cold frame. Trust me, the extra effort will pay off with wonderful, nutrient-rich, sweet leaves that do well in salads, soups, omelets, and even baked into chips. Plant your kale about 6-8 weeks before the fall frost dates. Lucky for you all in zones 8, 9, and 10; you’ll be eating your kale well into the fall months and maybe into the winter. Though you’ll want to protect the seedlings during the hotter fall days, kale does best in full sun. Some shade is okay but after the frost kills off your summer garden, the failing of those crops will open the kale up for more sun during the cooler days where the sun is not so damaging.
Also, if you have problems with aphids on your curly-leaf kale in the spring months, the aphids will not fair very well in the cooler fall months, and your plants will enjoy a near pest-free world.
13) Garlic – I know that garlic…the normal intended bulbs of garlic…will not produce in the fall and winter months. Nonetheless, I felt it appropriate to add this very important crop in this list because the fall is the best time to plant garlic. Not to mention the wonderful garlic chives that can be enjoyed early on after planting the garlic in the early fall. There are many varieties of garlic that I will talk more about on a future post; for the time being, understand that there are different varieties and growing a variety of varieties (say that 10 times quickly) will ensure a good batch in case one variety does poorly.
If you want big bulbs, cultivate deeply and make sure the soil is well-drained. We plant the largest cloves for a bigger bulb in the summer. The smaller cloves are brought back to the kitchen and used up. Stick the clove in the well nourished ground about 2 inches deep with the “pointy” end up. To ensure a good “blanket” for the cold winter months, cover with a thick (thicker than you think you’ll need) cover of straw. I’d cover with a bit over 6 inches of straw with the understanding that as the straw mulch is rained and snowed upon that it will pack down to only a few inches if even that. When you are at the peak of you winter cabin fever, the garlic chives will peak their deep green points out of the straw-covered bed early in the spring and get your soul energized for the new spring garden to follow.
Happy planting, and be sure to bundle-up when you are out harvesting your fall crops. It’ll be cold out there.
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