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.
Walking Onions, the best allium ever
A friend of ours recently gave us one of my favorite housewarming presents ever: A pot of Walking Onions.
Walking onions are onions that don’t produce flowers as they get older. These onions instead produce clusters of mini-bulbs at the end of every stalk. Eventually, the weight of the baby bulbs causes the stalk to fall over and touch the ground. From their, the onions start an entirely new plant!
It’s an onion that plants itself!
Also known as tree onions or Egyptian onions, the walking onions are a bit strong in flavor, but make excellent scallions in the Spring time. As the bulbs mature in the ground, they elongate, similar to leeks. They can be peeled and fried or chopped up to add to any dish, just like any other onion. The bulblets are tiny little things, but they can be pickled, eaten whole or cooked into other dishes as well.
It’s one of my favorite things to plant, because once you get some in the ground, you don’t really have to pay them any attention again.
You probably should put them in a raised bed. If you aren’t careful, the little darlings will take over a patch of earth.
If you keep an eye on them, and harvest them regularly, then you won’t have to worry too much about them. While they are considered invasive, they aren’t as tough to manage as mint, or other invasive plants.
Harvest the tiny bulbs when they’re about the size of a pearl onion (approximately 1/2 inch in diameter). Mature bulbs can be harvested from under the ground whenever they’re ready. Trim the stalks off with scissors or a harvesting knife to gather the green onions.
Come winter time, it’s a good idea to mulch them, just to give them a head start on the growing season in the spring. Like most bulbed plants, however, the plant will go dormant through the colder months and return as soon as it’s warm enough.
If you’re interested, you can purchase them here:
My Favorite Seed Storing Tips and Methods:
Now that we’re in the full grip of Summer here in North America, there’s some things you just shouldn’t be growing until the weather gets a bit cooler. For us in North Carolina, it’s too late to start tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers and a few other odds and ends. But I’ve still got tons of seeds lying around that I definitely don’t want to throw away.
So, I’m going to store them until the Fall season rolls around — or some until next February.
Here’s my favorite methods of seed storage. Try them out and share your ideas in the comments below.
I try to put most of my seeds in Mason jars, jelly jars to be specific. It’s the right size to hold most seeds, unless you’re dealing with pounds of cereal grains that you need to put up. I just put them in the jar, screw a lid on, and use a dry erase marker to jot down the variety and date on the top.
If I avoid smudging the dry erase marker for a while, then the writing will stay and then when it’s time to reuse the jar, a bit of rubbing alcohol takes it right off.
Plastic Zipper Bags
This one is pretty self explanatory: Put seeds in a bag, zip it closed. Label it.
If I’m going to be using a seed within a couple of months, I’ll usually just stick it in an envelop with the variety and date on the front. This keeps light away from the seeds and they can be put in a file-folder for later use and better organization.
Plastic bins are great for larger amounts of seeds, especially things like grass seed and cereal grains. I’ve got about 10 pounds of blue corn seed stored away in a plastic bin. You can get these at dollar stores, big box stores and more. Just take your seed, dump it in there and close it off.
The main thing to remember whenever storing seeds is to keep moisture away from it and keep them in a cool space. Sealed mason jars do a pretty good job of that, as do zipper bags. Plastic bins usually aren’t air tight, but if you keep them away from moisture in a cool dry place (I keep them in a cabinet in a storage room) then you shouldn’t have a problem.
The Rodale Institute suggests making a desiccant package from powdered milk, which I’ve never tried. I have used bags of baked sand (take playground sand, put it in a shallow pan, bake it at 250 degrees in your oven for about 3 hours, put the dry sand in a thin, cloth bag, tie it off) to absorb moisture in my plastic bins.
Other uses have success storing seeds in freezers for long periods of time, but I’ve never had to keep seeds more than a season or two. The sources suggest allowing your seeds to reach room temperature if you keep them in the freezer before opening the package they’re kept in: It’ll prevent moisture from condensing on the seed.
Also, if you keep your seed in the freezer, you’ll have to use airtight methods, like Mason jars or freezer bags.
So, now you know how to keep seeds for a minute, go out and get a bunch of vegetable seeds on sale and have them ready and waiting for next season. Enjoy!
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