Posts Tagged ‘fall crop’

Sow Cool Season Plants in Summer for a Fall Crop

Two harvests in the same growing season are easy to accomplish. Many gardeners sow and plant in spring, spend summer tending to their crops, harvest in early fall, and then wrap it all up and wait until spring to repeat the same process. With little effort you can double your garden’s output with sow, tend, sow, harvest, tend, and then harvest again. Then you can spend winter satisfied that your garden played double duty to produce all it could.

Grow chard to harvest in fall

Grow chard to harvest in fall

In late summer you sow seeds for cool season plants that will grow as temperatures begin to decline. They’ll be ready to harvest after the first frosts have appeared and long after the last tomatoes were pulled from the vines. There is no need to create new gardens; you use the same beds you do now.

Cool season crops are primarily the ones that provide leaves, stems, and roots for harvest. These crops include:

Arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, endive, fennel, kale, kohrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, peas, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnips

Peas, especially, snow peas do well in cold

Peas, especially, snow peas do well in cold

Many gardeners grow these plants in spring and hope for a slow start to summer so the plants will mature and be ready for harvest before high heat causes them to bolt and their taste turns bitter. We take advantage of their natural ability to tolerate low temperatures by planting early.

We can also use that ability to plant late. The mature plant tolerates the low temperatures of fall, there is no risk of bolting, and many people believe many of these crops taste superior after exposure to frost.

Those of us who sow in early spring and hope the soil has warmed enough to initiate germination are ready for a percentage of our seeds to never grow. Those of us who sow in late summer are pleased that the warm soil provides speedy germination with little seed loss.

Early seed and plant care is different when you plant late. In spring there is less need for extra watering; lower temperatures mean less evaporation and there is always a chance of rain or late snow. In summer, the heat requires more gardener attention to maintaining moist soil conditions for seeds and young plants; you may need to mist or water the plants two or three times a day in harsh sun.

Temperatures above 80F (27C) will cause broccoli and spinach to bolt quickly. Sowing in a shady spot or setting up a row cover can reduce this concern.

Once the plants have a few sets of leaves the need for watering becomes less than in late summer. While early plants need more water to combat the increasing summer heat, later plants require less water as the decreasing temperatures bring comfort. The plants are less stressed in fall. They grow in the conditions they like best; they’re called cool season plants for a reason.

As long as the day temperatures remain about 10 to 15 degrees above freezing (40F – 50F, 4C – 10C) you can expect the crops to continue growing and producing. When the day temps remain below 40F (4C) the plants may begin to suffer. Careful harvesting will still produce results. The center of the plant may still have new, tasty leaves while the exterior leaves look frazzled.

Hard freezes, cold days, and icy conditions will adversely affect most cool season crops and will spell the end for your second harvest, but you can delay winter by mulching heavily with straw and using a season extender like cold frames, cloches, or plastic tunnels. I use my hoophouse system to harvest well into November and even December.

Broccoli and beets ready for overnight protection

Broccoli and beets ready for overnight protection

Some crops like cabbage, kale, and spinach can do well, even in snow. With heavy mulching, beets, leeks, and parsnips can often be overwintered and harvested in spring (I’ve done this).

Use your entire vegetable garden for fall planting. If you have a cool-season spring bed for broccoli, spinach, or lettuce and then let that bed remain filled with bolty, straggly, dried plants throughout the summer, rip those plants out and sow again for a fall crop.

Your tomatoes, peppers, and melons will decline in cooling weather. Anticipate their decline and sow seeds among those plants, in the same beds. When the first frost zaps your tomato plant, cut it out and let the cabbage and broccoli growing nearby overtake that space.

Root crops won’t be as big as spring plantings, but may be tastier. Try growing small, thumb-sized carrot varieties or harvest them young before the ground freezes. Beet roots will be harvested when they’re just a few inches big, but the beet leaves can be harvested continually.

Beet leaves are edible and tasty

Beet leaves are edible and tasty

Garden pests can be less of a concern for a fall garden. Many insect pests are less active, if not gone, in fall. The weeds will spend all summer attacking aren’t active in fall. Even deer seem to be scarce as they make their way to find a winter bed.

While growing a second crop in the same season sounds like extra work, it doesn’t need to be. Summer garden beds should be cleaned up before winter so insects don’t have a place to overwinter. That clean up works well to prepare the beds for fall crops.

You’ll spend a few more days in the garden watering and harvesting, but is that really a bad thing? Fall gardening allows you to do more of what you like and for me that’s a good thing.


Plant a Fall Crop

The heat of summer has just about brought an end to the cool season plants like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas, and radishes. They’ve bolted, they’re bitter, and their flowers are turning to seed. Many gardeners see this point of the season as the end of their spring planting and allow those areas of the garden to descend into anarchy. I see it as the beginning of the fall planting and an opportunity to maintain order in the garden.

Seed pods developing on a radish plant

Midsummer is a perfect time to plant vegetables for a second harvest. As their moniker implies, cool season plants like cool weather conditions. It seems anachronistic to plant cool season plants in the heat of summer, but you need to look into the future. The seeds will germinate and begin growing under the summer sun but six weeks or two months later when the plants are approaching the point of harvest days and nights will be much cooler. The plants will be at their prime when weather conditions are perfect for them.

Some people suggest that a fall crop actually tastes better than a summer crop of cool season plants. There is valid reasoning behind this. Spring-sown plants are encountering stressful conditions at the point they are ready to harvest. The increasing sun and heat affects their growth and taste (see my article, “When Plants Bolt”). Summer-sown plants are able to direct all of their energy into growth and improved taste because the cooler autumn conditions don’t trigger bolting and seed development.

To plant a second garden, for fall harvest, you can use the same plots for the same cool season plants. Your spinach still looks good, but it’s past the point of usefulness in the kitchen. Pull it out, throw it in the compost pile, and sow new seeds. If you’re letting some of the spinach flowers develop into seeds fully, as I am, sow in rows between the old, straggly plants. When you collect the seeds for next year you can pull out the old plants and add them to your pile. The new seedlings will have room to grow.

Spinach bolting and turning bitter

I’m still harvesting peas for a little while longer. Some of the plants are finished. I’ve sown new seeds in the bare spots of vacated plants and in the spaces between the plants still producing. I’ll be harvesting a whole new crop of peas in September and probably well into October.

Peas are producing with plenty of space for new seeds

You can rip out all of your old plants to sow a new planting in a fresh bed, but I think sowing between established plants helps the new seedlings. The hot sun can raise the soil temperature and can stress a young cool season seedling. The established plants act as protective guardians shading and lowering the soil temperature until the new plants can get established.

Either way, the soil needs to be kept moist while the seeds germinate and in summer that may mean extra watering. In spring you can get away with minimal irrigation as seeds develop, but in summer it requires extra effort to ensure the seeds don’t dry out at a critical point or that the seedlings don’t desiccate in the wind and sun. In return you won’t have to water as much in fall because the plants’ needs are reduced in the cooler conditions.

Knowing your first frost date is important so you have an idea of how long you have available for the plants to reach maturity and produce a crop. Allow enough time from summer sowing to fall harvest based on your local climate.

Many cool season plants can handle a light freeze so the first frost won’t be as devastating for them as for warm season plants like tomatoes and peppers and beans and squash. Broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, lettuce, peas, spinach, and chard can all shrug off a light frost. Some, like kale, Brussels sprouts, beets, cabbage, and collard greens can survive down to 20F degrees.

You can expect a steady and longer harvest of summer-sown plants. Radishes, carrots, and parsnips can even handle frozen soil. I’m told parsnips actually taste sweeter when allowed to endure freezes into January. That’s my harvest plan for this plant new to my garden this year.

With season-extending structures, you can lengthen your fall harvest even more (see my article “Extend Your growing Season with Mini Greenhouses”). Light frost and even killing freezes can be combated by covering your plants.

So don’t despair that so much of your garden has stopped producing and is withering. Use the opportunity to continue gardening well into the cold months of the year. Plant in summer for a fall crop that may provide bounty into winter.