When most gardeners are dealing with the remnants of their summer harvest and preparing the garden bed for winter, most professional vegetable growers are about to have their most productive growing season of the year: fall. The fall offers a second chance at growing cool-weather vegetables commonly planted in early spring. The cooler weather reduces disease pressures and pest outbreaks that gardeners contend with during the summer.
Popular leaf vegetables -- spinach, lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy and mustard greens -- are not only very easy to grow in cool weather but can be directly seeded into soil or garden planters. Root crops like radish, turnips, carrots and beets have short crop times and can be planted by seed until late August to early September. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage should be planted as transplants in late summer and can be bought from garden centers.
Tips for beginning fall gardeners.
Plant the seed twice as deep as instructed on the seed package to ensure greater germination.
Season extenders made of plastic, glass and cloth can be very affordable to gardeners and allow for produce at least two to three weeks longer than unprotected crops.
The first frost date is Oct. 15. Gardeners have about nine weeks left to grow before the threat of frost. However, most cool-weather vegetables can endure a light frost and in fact can taste better.
Plant herbs like cilantro and parsley. Cilantro is a cool-weather crop, and warm temperatures cause it to produce flowers instead of leaves.
Plant separated garlic bulbs mid-September through mid-October, before the soil freezes, for a bounty of garlic next summer. The fall weather helps garlic form roots and start sprouting before the cold treatment of winter is needed for proper development. Local foods educator Bill Davison feeds his family pesto made out of the garlic scapes (flower stalks) during the summer months before his late summer harvest.
Plant a cover crop. Cover crops can be very beneficial in managing garden weeds and building up organic matter in the soil. University of Illinois suggests planting a legume cover crop such as Austrian peas or hairy vetch to fix nitrogen or planting grass cover crops such as winter wheat or grain rye or oats to scavenge leftover nutrients from the vegetable garden. Plants can be tilled before planting in spring.