This post is all about the joy and productivity of growing wonderful, delicious vegetables through the Fall season.
While the concepts in this post hold true for anywhere, the specifics apply to the greater Philadelphia area, USDA Hardiness Zone 7A (which includes Conshohocken).
Why is this a great time to grow?
- Because leafy greens and root vegetables taste far better than if they are grown in warm/hot weather
- Cool weather means plants do not go to seed so quickly (means longer harvest)
- More rain means less watering; cooler weather means less weeds
Season (mid-Atlantic region zone 7a)
Mid-August until Jan/Feb (dependent on cold and wind; not dependent on snow)
Why do some vegetables need cold weather to taste good?
Very simplified answer: As a defense against cold weather, some plants convert stored starches into sugars to protect the outer layer of the plant from freezing, making the plant taste sweeter. For example, Brussel sprouts taste naturally bitter until the first freeze or snow when they convert starch in the stems to sugar and send it to the sprouts.
What is good to plant and when?
- (s) means seeds
- (p) means starter plants
|From mid-August until Labor Day||Labor Day until Sept 21||Late Sept and Oct|
|Radish (s)||Radish (s)|
|Spinach (s)||Spinach (s)||Spinach (s)|
|Lettuce (s)||Lettuce (s)||Lettuce (s)|
|Chard (recommend a Rainbow mix of chard) (s)||Chard (s)|
|Kale (s)||Kale (s)(p)||Kale (p)|
|Collards (s)||Collards (s)||Collards (p)|
|Carrots (s)||Carrots (s) (may winter over)||Carrots (s) (plan to winter over)|
|Beets (s)||Beets (s) (may winter over)||Beets (s) (plan to winter over)|
|Cabbage (s)||Cabbage (p)|
|Broccoli (s)||Broccoli (p)|
|Cauliflower (p)||Cauliflower (p)|
|Bok Choy (s)||Bok Choy (s)|
|Garlic (winter over) (bulb)|
More on the varieties
Radish – From when you plant to seed to when the radish is ready to eat is about 3-4 weeks, so the number of seeds you plant per week should match the number of radishes you eat in a week. Best practice is to plant a few seeds every week for 2 months. Paul’s favorite variety is Cherry Belle, but a mixed seed pack is fun too.
Spinach – You will be able to pick Spinach until the end of December and maybe through February. Last year my spinach ended 3rd week in January. Zero maintenance post Dec. Bloomsdale Long Standing is a tasty and hearty variety. Plant ¼ of your planned crop every 3 weeks. Pick from the outside inwards.
Lettuce – Heartiest variety is Black-Seeded Simpson green leaf lettuce. For however many rows of lettuce you want, plant a quarter of the lettuce every three weeks and you can have a nice mix of baby and full grown leaves easily into Nov. The plant might freeze, but just wait until it defrosts and it will be like nothing happened. Pick from the outside inwards.
Chard, Kale, and Collards – For chard, any rainbow varietal mixed pack is good. Harvest as baby or full grown from the outside in. For Kale, decide if you want flat leaf or curly leaf. For collards, Georgia Southern is recommended. Harvest after the first soft frost for sweetness, and even better after hard frost.
Carrots and Beets – If you want them all ready at the same time (e.g. for pickling or jarring), plant them at the same time. If you want them staggered, plant ¼ of crop a week for 4 consecutive weeks. For carrots, get a shallow varietal such as Tonda di Parigi. Our soil does not support a long carrot.
Cabbage – Best from seeds but plant them asap. Plants do not transplant well and are more likely to bring in or get pests.
Broccoli – Although broccoli grows well in our garden, we have had mixed results on the taste. Broccoli needs acidic soil and heavy and regular additions of compost to improve taste. Unlike Spinach and Brussel sprouts, do not let the broccoli head freeze.
Cauliflower – If you plant the seeds now, it is too hot. Yet the plant does not tolerate freezing too well. So the seeds and baby plants need a cooler temperature before being put in the soil. Like broccoli they need rich soil (use compost). Pick the heads as baby heads and they should taste amazing.
Wintering over is usually done with select hearty plants and root vegetables. A layer of compost is put around the plants to minimize the soil from freezing.
Where to get seeds?
Mail order or seed shares are a good start. The big box chains do not normally sell fall seeds. Most True Value stores usually do carry seeds for the Fall (including Holods True Value on Ridge Pike). Make sure the seed pack says 2017. Once planted, put remaining seeds in air-free plastic bag and freeze until next year.
Preparing your plot for planting
- Remove summer plants that are done for the year.
- Lightly till the soil where plants were removed, especially light around remaining plants.
- Add compost where you will plant for fall and let plot sit for 48 hours (or more).
- Plan your plantings, considering that you will remove additional plants through the next couple months.
- Plant the seeds, and mark well.
- Water well for the first 3 days with seeds, then every third day until plant comes up unless it rains.
- Plants more seeds, and repeat.
Marmot (especially ground hog). The garden has worked hard on remediating the marmot challenges of previous years. With there being less food supply in the fall, our furry friends may return, and they love leafy greens. So you should consider extra protection against them in the fall.
Pests. You are far less likely to get pests if you plant from seeds. If you do get them, you can try a neem or citrus solution, but if they spread or persist, you should fully pull the plants and dispose of them in a paper bag.
Infections/molds. Not normally a problem for fall vegetables.
Root rot. Make sure you plant so that water drains away from the plant. Unlike summer when everything is evaporated, if we have a rainy fall and your soil is not draining well, you may get root rot.
Closing out your plot for the winter
- Clean out all plant life so your plot does not harbor pests and take nutrients from the soil
- Remove cages, stakes, and other structures (mostly in case of storms)
- Plant a cover crop or put a layer of compost to put nutrients on your plot
- Take notes of what you had planted where so you can rotate crops next year
- Write down any lessons learned about what you liked, what you did well, and what you might do differently so that
- Consider a cover crop (usually rye grass or oats) or laying compost atop the soil in Sept/Early oct to winter over.
Once you get in the swing of fall gardening, you realize how much easier it is than spring/summer gardening. And a basket of fresh-picked spinach will bring joy to the face of family or friends for the holidays. And you never know who might ride by while your gardening in December.