After a long, hot summer, you may think your vegetable garden has seen better days. But, instead of throwing in the towel, you can wrangle some more productivity out of your garden bed with vegetables ready to harvest in the fall. Autumn's cooler temperatures and more abundant moisture add up to less stress for plants, which is good news for any of us wanting to boost our harvest.
Fall Harvest Vegetables
Fall harvest vegetables include slow-to-mature vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage as well as fast-growing counterparts such as radishes and beets. You can even find yourself harvesting spinach and kale late into the season because of their renowned tolerance for dipping temperatures. While some fall harvest vegetables are summer "leftovers," others are sown in late summer and harvested in fall.
These fall veggies are perfect for that end-of-season harvest.
Carrots can take some time to germinate, and with the clock ticking, it's best to choose a quick-maturing variety such as the 'Yaya,' which is ready in 56 days instead of the typical 75 or 80 days. If a frost is due, cover the above-ground portion with straw, light fabric or a floating row cover. Harvest carrots right up until the ground freezes in cold climates or all winter long in warm areas.
If there were a vegetable created for the impatient, it's the radish: from seed to table in as little as 30 days! Seedlings sprout in four to six days. You can also munch on the tender leaves as the radishes grow. For best development, plant radishes about 2 inches apart. To store them, cut off the tops and place the radishes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Grow a salad bar right outside your door with quick-maturing, cool-season lettuce. Harvest leaf lettuce like the 'Gourmet Blend' when leaves are large enough to use, picking a few at a time and leaving the rest of the plant to develop replacements. Pick butterhead types like 'Burpee Bibb' when heads have formed and leaves are a good size, cutting heads below the crown. Store for five to seven days in a plastic bag in the fridge, wrapping leaves in moist paper towels if desired.
Fall is a plentiful time for harvesting spinach because this nutritional powerhouse matures in just 40 to 50 days. It also takes well to cool temperatures. In fact, spinach will even survive under snow if the plant is covered in straw. Try planting one or both of the two primary types of spinach, crinkled leaf and flat leaf. Spinach is simple to grow if given good soil and fed regularly. It can be harvested in two ways: Cut the entire plant at the base, or pinch off individual leaves.
Beets are a double delight, offering edible leaves as well as the nutrient-packed beets themselves. You can pick the greens when they're 4 to 6 inches long and the roots are under 2 inches in diameter. Dig up the beets when they're 3 inches or smaller, as the smaller beets are, the sweeter they'll be. Overly large beets can be woody. Store beets in the refrigerator so they last longer.
Once relegated to garnish duty, kale has gone mainstream with nutrient-packed leaves that get sweeter after a light frost. Younger, smaller leaves are the tastiest, and kale reacts well to cut-and-come-again harvesting done over a number of weeks. To harvest, pick the outer leaves once they're about 6 to 8 inches long, leaving the central bud to sprout new leaves. Store kale in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week, rinsing leaves just before use.
Sow these easy-to-grow root vegetables directly in the garden. Harvest turnip greens a month after sowing seed, and dig up the roots when they're about 2 to 3 inches in diameter and the tops start to break the soil surface. They'll be sweeter after a frost, and you can extend the harvest by mulching heavily to keep the ground from freezing. Store turnips for up to two weeks in the fridge or eight to 10 months in the freezer after blanching them.
Tips for a Strong Fall Harvest
The trick for fall harvest vegetables is to select varieties with the shortest maturity dates. Look on the seed packet for "Days to Maturity," which is how long plants take to mature a crop from the time they're planted and growing in the garden. Days to Maturity differ depending on the variety, and it doesn't include the time it takes seeds to germinate (usually five to 10 days). Once you know how long it takes to mature a crop, look up your area's average first fall frost date and count backward to find how late you can start a crop. For example, a variety that takes 40 days to mature should be started at least 60 days before the first average frost date to account for the added germination time and slower growth rate due to dwindling daylight.
When you visit the Burpee site, you can enter your shipping ZIP code on the product page to learn when to sow seeds of that vegetable where you live — and whether to do it indoors or outdoors. You'll also see your region's last average frost date in spring and first average frost date in fall, which will allow you to protect vulnerable crops from cold weather.
Find everything you need for Summer's Second Act at Burpee.