This year has had everyone enthusiastically gardening and even though you may be into the thick of the harvest in your home vegetable gardens, the planting season isn’t over yet. Continue your obsession for fresh food by planting a fall vegetable garden as a great way to extend your season. Fall gardens are easy to grow and some of the flavors you’ll harvest are delicious!
Of course not all vegetables can be planted now but I’m going to give you some of our favorites that can be successfully harvested in 60 days or less. Start by determining what the average first frost date is in your particular area. In Cortez it’s generally September 30- October 15th. Check the number of days to maturity for the vegetable you wish to plant and add 14 days. You’re going to add these days as a buffer because unlike when planting a spring garden, as the days get shorter, the nights longer, and the days cooler, your plants will take slightly longer to mature. Using that number (days to maturity plus 14) count back from the average first frost date and find the date you should sow your crop. In most cases, it’s going to be right now.
If you want to plant leafy greens, then consider Rocket Arugula which only takes 40 days and is a fast, easy crop to grow. Flash Collard Greens will survive nighttime temperatures down to 20 degrees so that makes it a good choice for many in our area that have cool nights already. Kale is a popular favorite because of its highly nutritive value. If you don’t enjoy the sometimes bitter taste of kale from your summer garden, note that it’s one vegetable that is exceptionally cold tolerant and in fact, is much better after its been cold sweetened, and one that often lasts well into the winter. Lacinato is good but takes 65-80 days so try Red Russian instead which only takes 50 days to mature.
Lettuces of all types are great choices. I like fall lettuce because since it can be cut at almost any stage so it’s easy to harvest if we happen to get an unexpected early hard freeze. Marvel of Four Seasons, Black Seeded Simpson, Mesculun, Salad Bowl, and Red Sails are my favorites at around 45-52 days.
Spinach is another favorite that’s easy to grow and another whose flavor is enhanced with some cold sweetening. It is possible to over winter spinach here in some areas and at 42-46 days to maturity, it’s a quick crop. We like Seaside because it stays smaller and doesn’t bolt as fast, but Bloomsdale is good too.
Aside from the leafy greens, there are also other vegetables that you might want to try in your fall garden. Peas are always a favorite and varieties like Patio Pride only take 40 days. Sweet and flavorful, they taste like springtime. Beets and radishes are also some favorites of mine. Early Wonder Beets can take a little long at 57 days, but you can pull them early if we have threat of a frost and eat them young and tender. Radishes are perhaps the quickest of all and many varieties like Sparkler, only take 25 days. Cherry Belle is a old favorite and at 21-27 days, it’s a goof proof choice.
A trick I like to use is to plant some of the fall crops in pots. If the pot is large enough, most of these crops will do just fine and you’ll have the advantage of being able to move them under a covered porch, or into the garage for shelter should we have an early freeze. By planting this way, if your plants are doing well, you can also move them inside to a bright, sunny spot and be able to continue to harvest into the winter.
Fall can be a great time to plant because the ground is warm from the summer sun and seeds tend to take off quickly. You’ll also have to worry less about pests, diseases, and bolting. Don’t forget that you’ll need to add your 14 days onto these maturity dates and you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather. If you plant in the ground outdoors, have some frost protection handy too, just in case we have an exceptionally cold or early frost. Have fun with your flavors of fall – they can be the most delicious!