In the heat of summer’s end, vegetable gardeners are often drained by the weeding and watering routine, and ready to put the garden to bed.
University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup said, “Fall provides some of the most productive gardening of the year when vegetables are planted in late summer and mature in the cool temperatures of fall. At this time of year, think root crops, brassica transplants, and leafy greens.”
Lower temperatures cause a release of sugars in fall-grown plants, giving most crops a sweeter or milder flavor. “You get better tasting produce, and there is less weeding and less watering,” she said.
Plant carrots at the end of July into early August. Plants seeds one half inch deep and thin plants to about half an inch apart. “Thinned greens can be made into a carrot-inspired pesto or added to a salad,” said Allsup.
About three to four weeks after planting, cover carrot tops with added soil to prevent sunburn or green tops. Harvest Carrots when they are about half-inch to one inch in diameter.
Baby carrots take about 50 days and full-size carrots may take up to 80 days.
Carrots can even benefit from a light frost, making them sweeter than ones matured in the summer heat.
They also can be left in the ground until a killing frost and can be insulated by straw.
Beets can also be planted through late July and early August. Soak seeds at least 24 hours before planting or pre-sprout in a moist paper towel. Beet greens can be harvested as you are waiting for the roots to develop.
“Taking about a third of the plant tops to add to your salad or your eggs in the morning will not affect your future harvest,” said Allsup. Harvest beets when they reach 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter and thin seedlings to two inches apart.
Radish is the fastest fall crop, ready to harvest in about a month, and can be planted until the end of August. Plant seed half-inch deep and thin sprouts to two to four inches apart.
Along with the previous, brassica transplants like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be planted before the end of July into August as well. However, these plants can be hard to source in garden centers as they do not have a market for fall gardening.
Other brassicas that can be started from seed are Kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabaga. Rutabaga takes the longest and seed should be sown in late July.
Kohlrabi can be planted through mid-August, and turnips can be planted as late as the end of August. Rutabaga is sweeter than turnips.
Kohlrabi is reminiscent of broccoli stems. Turnips should be thinned to two inches, and Kohlrabi and rutabaga should be thinned to five to six inches.
Leafy greens can be grown in full to partial shade and grown as a mix for a baby green salad all the way into the beginning of September. A mix of extra seeds from fall may include kale, swiss chard, mustard, lettuce, bok choi, collards, arugula, endive, watercress, and even beets.
Harvest leaves when they are less than three inches tall for the best taste. Larger greens are best when cooked. Greens thrive in soil high in organic matter and are consistently moist. Plant that mix of leftover seeds every week until September for salad greens throughout the fall months.
Try vegetable gardening in the fall, and you just may forgo the early spring race to get seeds and plants in the ground.