I have mixed feelings about late summer. I wait all winter for spring because I love getting my hands in the soil and harvesting the first fresh food of the year. All summer, I work constantly to keep up with harvesting food, cooking or preserving it and making sure it doesn’t go to waste. Now as Labor Day approaches, I’m tired. It’s my last final push of the year to plant crops that will provide us with food well into December with a little extra care.
Gardening isn’t just for summer
Fall gardening is wonderful: less bugs (except cabbage moths!), less oppressive heat, less plant disease and the crops yield at a much more manageable pace. This week, I started the gradual transition to my fall garden.
To convince you that gardening isn’t just for summer, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite top 10 fall crops to plant now. Crops that take a long time to mature like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts have to be started indoors in late summer. If you haven’t done that, no need to worry – you can just buy seedlings from your local garden center. The rest can be directly sown in the garden.
Best fall crops
- Garlic – Garlic can be planted in October, so order your seed garlic now. It is one of the most practical fall crops you can grow because most home cooks use tons of it throughout the year and when stored properly, your summer harvest should last clear until the following year.
- Lettuce – Few garden plants are easier to grow than lettuce. Direct sow the tiny seeds in the garden, keep them consistently watered, protect them from hard frost and you can harvesting fresh lettuce for Thanksgiving or even Christmas dinner! I have had lettuce from our garden well into December from seeds I planted in mid-late August.
- Kale – This dark leafy green is a superfood that deserves considerable space in your fall garden. My favorite garden kale is Tuscan or lacinato kale because it looks beautiful in the fall garden and has heavy yields of long leaves. I harvest a
- Broccoli – Transplant either from plants you’ve started indoors or purchased from a garden center – it’s well worth the effort. Broccoli is easy to grow and will mature early in winter. It can survive frost with ease and once you harvest the main head, it will continue to produce delicious side shoots. I have much more success with growing broccoli in the fall compared to the spring.
- Cabbage – How are you going to enjoy fish tacos with homegrown cabbage slaw in winter if you don’t plant this fall crop in your garden? I grow a beautiful oxheart variety that stays smaller than most cabbages so it doesn’t take up too much space in my raised beds. Once you harvest cabbage, it will last for many weeks in the fridge. Plant seedlings in the garden in late August.
- Spinach – I have stopped trying to grow spinach in spring. For me, it doesn’t germinate reliably, bolts too soon and is plagued by leaf miners. I have much better success in fall direct sowing them in the warm soil of late summer. Water emerging spinach plants consistently and harvest a few leaves at a time so it
will continue producing. Spinach can also survive light frosts or hard frosts with a little protective cover.
- Arugula – Direct sow arugula in the garden in August for a zesty addition to your fall and winter salads. This is another cut-and-come-again green that can be harvested just a few leaves at a time from each plant to keep it yielding. Try it on a pizza with fontina cheese and a squeeze of lemon.
- Radishes – These spicy little root vegetables will perk up salads or try them cooked with butter for a mild, crunchy side dish. Radishes take up very little room in the garden because you can plant the seeds without much spacing. Most varieties mature in just about 30 days, so there’s relatively quick gratification.
- Mustard greens – These are Mr. President’s favorite and sometimes he’ll tear a leaf from one of the plants to munch on as he makes his way through the garden. I grow a red mustard which boasts colorful purple and green leaves that are so pretty in the garden. Combine them with my kale for quick braises
to enjoy alongside roast chicken or eggs. Direct sow the seeds in the garden and you’ll have greens in as little as six weeks.
- Turnips – I think turnips are the easiest root vegetable to grow, and you can eat the green tops just as you would kale or mustard. Turnips can not only survive a frost, but they will taste better for it. Leave them in the ground and harvest as needed as long as the soil isn’t frozen. Some turnips can be sliced thin and eaten raw while others are best enjoyed roasted or braised.