Fall is sacred in the South for two reasons. First, college football returns. (Go, Montana State Fighting Bobcats!) Second, it’s a great time to plant fall vegetables.
Now let’s be clear. Unless you live in a nearly frost-free climate like Florida, it’s too late to start a second crop of warm-weather, long-seasson veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. But many cool-weather crops do great in fall. They’ll take frost and taste even better after it. Another big benefit of fall vegetables is that pests like cabbage moths and cutworms are less numerous than in spring, so you’ll be eating your crops instead of the bugs.
Cole crops, such as broccoli, early cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are a prime example of what I’m talking about. They like the cooler temps, lower humidity, and paucity of pests that autumn brings. That’s my patch of Brussels sprouts above. I know plenty of people hate Brussels spouts, but maybe you’ve never tasted fresh-from-the-garden sprouts that have been sweetened by frost. It’s too late to grow cole crops from seed now (not counting Florida), so do as I did and set out transplants. I worked a tablespoon of slow-release fertilizer into the soil around each one at planting and then followed that up with a drink of Miracle-Gro. They’re doing great.
Leafy crops include leaf lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, arugula, Swiss chard, non-heading Chinese cabbage (bok choy), and kale. These are probably the easiest veggies for anyone to grow and great choices for beginners. Unlike most veggies that require full sun, these will tolerate half-and-half. While they’re quick to sprout from seed, you’re better off setting out transplants at this point. Spinach, mustard, Swiss chard, bok choy, and kale can all take a hard frost with no problem. Lettuce takes only a light frost, but since it grows so quickly, you can still squeeze in a nice fall harvest. Laying a lightweight, polyester row cover over lettuce and other veggies before a hard frost usually provides good protection.
Other Easy Veggies for Fall
If you like them, plant spring radishes (don’t worry about the “spring” tag — they’ll do just fine in fall). Forget about using transplants. Sow radish seeds now and you can be harvesting in less than a month! Another root vegetable worth planting now is the onion. You can either sow seeds or plant small onion plants called “sets.” Plants grown from seeds will take longer to form bulbs. In either case, you won’t be harvesting until next spring.
And While You’re At It…..
Always leave room for cool-weather annual flowers like pansies, violas, and panolas in your fall vegetable garden. Not only will the flowers provide welcome color, but they’re also edible and make a great addition to salads.