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Fall Vegetable Garden Basics

Even though you may still be harvesting tomatoes and squash, it is time to start thinking about replanting your vegetable garden with cool season favorites such as lettuce, English peas and broccoli.

Fall is an ideal time to grow vegetables that thrive in cool temperatures.

You see, vegetable crops can be divided into 2 basic categories - cool season and warm season. What this means is that some plants thrive in the cool temperatures and short daylight hours of spring or fall and can survive light frosts, while others should be grown during the warm, long days of summer.

Now, I grow certain cool season vegetables from seed. Plants like arugula, spinach, and various types of lettuce germinate easily and mature quickly. Others like broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards are better started from transplants in 6-packs. Transplants are especially advantageous to those who garden in the North where the fall season is short. Using these seedlings will give you a head start.

Another trick that Northern gardeners can try is to plant their vegetables in containers on casters so they can easily be rolled indoors in case of an early fall frost. Cold frames will help extend your season as well. Just remember to open the lids in the morning to allow air circulation and close them before sunset to keep out the cold.

Fall Vegetable GardenIf you are starting from seed it is important to account for the number of days it will take for a plant to mature versus the first below freezing temperatures of the season. You wouldn't want the fruits of your labor to get zapped by old Jack Frost before you had the chance to harvest them.

Look on the back of the seed packet to find the number of days until harvest from the time you sow the seed. For example, once I plant my beets it'll take approximately 55 days before I can harvest them. You might think the best way to know when to get these in the ground is to take your average frost date and backup 55 days to plant them. But this doesn't take into account the cooler and shorter days to come. It's actually better to come up with an imaginary harvest date like the middle of September and back up from there. If you live in milder parts of the country such as the deep South or parts of California you can make this imaginary harvest date a little later.

Another thing to keep in mind when planting fall vegetables is that the seedlings require plenty of moisture. So keep them well watered until fall rains begin. And many of the leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale are heavy feeders so be generous with the fertilizer.

Good to Know: Estimated Frost Dates by Zone

Zone 3 - Sept 1st - 30th
Zone 4 - Sept 1st - 30th
Zone 5 - Sept 30th - Oct 30th
Zone 6 - Sept 30th - Oct 30th
Zone 7 - Oct 15th - Nov 15th
Zone 8 - Oct 30th - Nov 30th
Zone 9 - Nov 30th - Dec 30th
Zone 10 - Nov 30th - Dec 30th
Zone 11 - Frost Free