Best crops for Fall gardening
It’s time to get ready to plant your Fall garden! This is, at least in the South, hands down, the best time to plant a garden.
In the Southern states (and other very lucky places), Fall veggies can be grown nearly through January, with the proper row covers and what not. And, you don’t have to fight disease outbreaks, insects or the oppressive Southern heat. (Fun Fact: Most veggies stop growing and producing fruit whenever the temperatures get over 85 degrees F. Which means July and August in most parts of the South are a no go).
And we get to grow Brassicas! Brassicas are a family of vegetables that include most of the yummy greens: Cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and mustard. Scientists believe all the brassicas resulted from a strain of wild mustard greens. The various flavors of brassicas actually result from the different species attempting to fight off insects. The pungent flavor of mustard, for example, comes from the plants attempts to fight off nematodes and other parasites by producing a chemical toxic to them.
But, there are other plants to grow during the fall seasons. Here’s our list of favorites, including our favorite Brassicas:
Cabbages are a great crop, versatile and put up well — especially if you make your own sauerkraut. If you’re going to grow cabbage, it’s best to start the seeds indoors (a south facing window sill will do in a pinch) about 8 weeks before the first frost date in your area. You can start the plants in origami newspaper pots, or buy commercial trays here. Harden them off about a week before transplanting. Transplant the starts in early August to September. Plant them in the soil with compost or manure, about 1-2 feet apart. Most cabbages mature over about 70 days. Cabbage, like most cool season crops, can withstand a frost, but if temperatures drop below 25 degrees F, row covers are recommended overnight. A lot of sources suggest a red cabbage variety for Fall gardens.
Believe it or not, kale can be grown nearly year round in most parts of the world, especially with row covers. It’s a hardy crop, able to withstand heat and cold relatively well. Kale grown in the warm months will often be bitter. These bitter greens however, are a popular folk remedy in many parts of the world, recommended for digestive issues, nursing mothers and more. Kale grown in the cooler months, however, is often sweet and tender — nearly a completely different crop. Like Cabbage, start kale indoors. When the plants have true leaves, and are about four inches tall, harden them off for about a week. Most gardeners and seed companies suggest planting kale about 12 inches apart, but I’ve had success planting them as close as six inches apart. Try this variety, it’s my favorite.
If I’m being completely honest, I don’t like eating Chard. The stems tend to have a texture that I don’t like. But, watching Chard grow, especially Rainbow Chard, makes me very, very happy. These lovely plants can add a splash of color to a Fall garden, which admittedly tends to be a steady shade of green for most of the season. Follow the same instructions for planting Kale, as seen above. Chard, however, can be grown as close as two inches apart.
Arugula is a fast growing leafy green. It can be started indoors, but it’s probably best to plant these seeds directly in the ground, as soon as the worst of the summer heat has passed. Arugula grows incredibly fast — they’re also known as rocket greens.
The seeds should be planted about 12 inches apart, but closer plantings don’t seem to bother this fast growing herb. The plants are usually ready to harvest less than a month after planting. They tend to taste spicy, and if left out too long, they’ll flower, which intensifies the flavor. While most people tend to think the plants are too spicey after flowering, they are still edible, including the flowers. If you’re worried about early flowering, then try a slow bolting variety.
Garlic planted now won’t be ready this fall, but it can be overwintered, which is just plain fun. Plant your garlic cloves in composted, loose, well turned soil. The point of the clove should be pointed up, and about two inches deep. Water the cloves for about four days then cover with six inches of straw mulch. Then ignore it all winter long. In late spring, mulch again with another four inches of mulch. Let the stems of the garlic get about 6-8 inches tall then cut them down to encourage bulb development. The garlic will be ready to harvest in mid summer.