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What to Plant Now for a Fall Vegetable Garden

I’m watering then shading the garden beds where peas grew fat and sweet until early July, when their time was done.  The heat and calendar told them to stop, but I’m carrying on—making the now-empty spot hospitable for something else by cooling the soil a bit so something delicious for fall harvest will be happy to germinate, and get growing. But what will it be? Perhaps kale or more amazing ‘Piracicaba,’ broccoli (above, for which I have seedlings started) or carrots, beets, and more green beans? Those are only a few of many possibilities for a sustained harvest, even here in the North.

When or where to transport what is always the question, and so I am including some links by state or region at the bottom to factsheets that might help you with cool-season choices. The possibilities here would work in much of the Northeast and similar zones to my 5B, in a spot where frost is expected no sooner than late September or early October. You can push it a bit in slightly warmer zones than mine, and in the warmest ones all this happens in fall for winter harvest–plus you get a wider palette of crops (again, those factsheets linked below will help).

My possible July-August plantings, northeast zone 5b

  • Arugula, from 21 to 40 days (baby or mature leaf size)
  • Bush beans, about 60 days (have insulating fabric ready if early cold threatens)
  • Beets and beet greens
  • Braising greens mix (mustard, kale, collards, Asian greens…)
  • Broccoli raab, about 40 days
  • Broccoli (60 days from transplants started about 15 weeks before first frost; do try ‘Piracicaba,’ whose florets are looser, delicious, and which easily produces lots of side shoots)
  • Cabbage (60 days from transplants started about 15 weeks before first frost) or Napa cabbage (about 10 days faster)
  • Carrots (a storage kind like ‘Rolanka’ plus some smaller types for fall eating)
  • Cauliflower (60 days from transplants started about 14 weeks before frost; needs covering if frost threatens)
  • Chard
  • Chicory, endive, radicchio
  • Cilantro
  • Collards, about 60 days but nice as a baby green
  • Cucumbers (bush type rated 60 days; I sowed these June 15)
  • Daikon (60 days) and other faster radishes
  • Dill
  • Kale, about 60 days but nice in half that time as a baby green
  • Lettuce, leaf and head type and mesclun mix, about 30 days to first cutting
  • Mustard greens, about 45 days (faster as baby greens to spice a salad)
  • Peas, shelling, sugar snap, and snowpea type
  • Radishes
  • Scallions and other hardy bunching onions, for fall use and to overwinter for spring
  • Spinach
  • Squash, summer variety, bush type (I sowed a 48-day variety July 1)
  • Turnips, 40-50 days, faster for greens, or rutabaga (90 days) if sown in earliest July or late June here; rutabaga

And don’t forget: Leave room for your garlic! It goes in around October locally, and stays till the next July or August.

Hints for making late-season sowings

  • Don’t skip the prep: Do cool down soil by shading for a few days and moistening so seeds have a chance, in particular.
  • Select a variety that’s a shorter number of days to maturity than its peers, or rated for late-season growing.
  • Count back from frost date but add extra time to the calculation, since days are getting gradually shorter and cooler as fall plants mature. Don’t expect them to produce as fast as in warming, lengthening springtime days.
  • As cold arrives, have insulating fabric (and hoops in some cases) at the ready.
  • The later timing may slow things and require a little extra help, perhaps, but it’s also a benefit: Often you outsmart pests, who might be done multiplying, and some crops (greens, peas, crucifers) may taste sweeter when ripening in cool weather.
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