Seven Cool Season Vegetables To Grow for Fall Harvest

cool season vegetables for fall harvestIn the heat of summer, the last thing that comes to mind for most growers is starting new vegetables.

Baby green tomatoes are forming, cucumber plants are climbing and squash plants have leaves bigger than dinner plates – your focus is likely on preparing for the impending harvest, not starting another wave of growth.

If that sounds familiar, you are missing out on a great opportunity.

One of the major pitfalls of the weekend farmer crowd is becoming too focused on one primary August(ish) harvest.

When everything in your garden matures at once, instead of enjoying the fruits of your labor, you race to eat, can, dehydrate or preserve your bounty.

With limited space it becomes essential to adopt a staggered harvest plan, and fall is the season so many under-served crops actually thrive.

Here are seven cool season vegetables you should start in summer, and enjoy eating in fall:

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Bok Choy

Like most greens Bok Choy thrive in a cool growing environment, so picking the right spot to grow becomes essential. The obvious choice is a shady spot in your garden, but if you don’t have that, consider growing this cool season vegetable in the shadow of your cucumber trellis, or your large tomato plants. These will give them just enough protection to get a head start in the summer and bust out come fall.

Most variations of Bok Choy, including Tatsoi, mature in under 60 days so planting in late July will give you wonderful healthy greens in September. And don’t fear a little early frost, Tatsoi is tolerant own to 15 degrees!

How to use them: If you’ve never grown Bok Choy before, plan to use it as a crunchy addition to stir fries, curries, fried rice and most any Asian inspired dish. Tatsoi has a stronger mustard taste, but also has higher levels of calcium and other nutrients.   

cool season vegetables bok choy

Bok Choy will thrive in low temperatures making it a versatile addition to your garden plan

Turnips

Turnips need a better PR firm working on their behalf.

Often ignored by growers and buyers, turnips are one of the most versatile plants you can grow. Their greens are highly nutritious, their roots can be roasted, mashed or unlike potatoes, eaten raw – plus they store very well.

Why is there no love for these globe shaped beauties?!

Turnips can actually be grown all season long in successive plantings every two weeks, but I find they get sweeter when the weather is cool.

How to use them: If you plan on eating them raw, harvest when the globes are around 2”, after about 50 days. If you plan on growing them to roast, mash or cook in some other method, let them grow for 60-65 days and get their roots to about 3 inches in diameter.

The greens are always tasty – I cook them up with a little olive oil and garlic for a great side dish, but you really can’t go wrong, raw or cooked.

Napa Cabbage

Fan of fermenting? Crazy for Krauts? If not, you should be.

Fresh vegetables from your garden have a very distinct flavor profile, but adding fermentation techniques to your tool belt adds a whole new flavor perspective, long-term storage potential and it’s really good for your gut.

Any type of cabbage can be the foundation of your efforts, but Napa is one that I prefer for the fall season because of its relatively short period of just 50-55 days to reach full head size.

Growing notes: Napa Cabbage likes the cool, but not the frost, so discover the average first frost date for your area and track back 8-10 weeks to safely plan your planting.

These cool season vegetables thrive in cooler 60-65 degree temps, so you need to plant them in a protected area of your garden. Look for areas shaded by trees, or in the shade of your larger more established plantings.

cool season vegetables

Cauliflower tastes better when it’s heads mature during cool weather, making it the perfect veg for fall planning

Cauliflower

There is an obvious difference to the cool seasons of spring and fall.

In spring, the weather starts cool and gets hot as summer approaches and plants near maturity. That combination works for many plants.

In Fall, on the other hand, plants start hot and get cool as they mature. This distinction is important for many cool season vegetables, especially Cauliflower, which does best when their heads mature in cool temperatures.

From personal experience, I have struggled to grow quality cauliflower starting in spring, but starting in summer and harvesting in fall… bingo!

Growing notes: For a real nice cauliflower head, expect 100 days of growth. That’s a long time, but it’s worth it – homegrown cauliflower has a much better taste than grocery store (and works great in the fermentation discussion we had above).

These aren’t great in the frost, so know your average last frost date and track back 100 days or more to start planting. Consider starting your cauliflowers inside and transfer after 4-6 weeks – bugs love the tender leaves of early cauliflower plants, so protecting them inside makes a huge difference.

Kale

Hipster Kale. Featured on witty T-shirts and in fancy restaurants, Kale is an acquired texture to say the least. Sure, the health benefits are vast, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you can blend Kale seamlessly into your meals.

But here’s the good news: Kale leaves get more tender when they are exposed to cold, frosty weather making them an ideal plant for your fall/winter growing. Swiss Chard on the other hand, won’t tolerate the frost as well, so while many prefer its taste, it is better left for spring production, coupled with the heartier Kale in the fall.

Growing Notes: Most Kale varieties mature around 55 days, and since they thrive in some frost, figure out your average last frost date and track back just 4-6 weeks, that way their maturity will overlap with some cold!

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Brussel Sprouts

Speaking of hipster – Brussel Sprouts have emerged from the boiled soggy mess of your youth to a trendy roasted veggie.

Fair warning, Brussel Sprouts are hard to grow successfully because they have a very long growing period – upwards of 120 days. This long of a growing period makes them susceptible to many growing hazards – weather, pests, disease – you name it.

Like Kale, frost actually helps these mini-cabbages gain flavor, so don’t fear the frost. Personally, I’ve failed the last three seasons to grow Brussels…but I’ll be trying again this year because the challenge, and the benefit, is what makes being a weekend farmer so much fun!

Beets

Like Turnips, Beets are a root vegetable that offers much more than a simple root. The greens are incredibly healthy and easy to prepare, plus there are so many different varieties of this cool season vegetable that you can really change the flavor of your harvest season-to-season.

Beets are another vegetable (much like Brussel Sprouts) that get a bad rep based on youthful memories of poor preparation, but in fact, they are highly nutritious and tasty when roasted, pickled or just plain steamed.

Growing Notes: Each seed results in multiple seedlings, which will need to be thinned when they reach about 2 inches tall.  But that’s not such a bad thing, the tender greens from the early thinnings are a delicious add to salads or just straight from the garden into your mouth!

What cool season vegetables have you had the most luck with? Let us know in the comments below!

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Seven Cool Season Vegetables To Grow for Fall Harvest
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Seven Cool Season Vegetables To Grow for Fall Harvest
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In the heat of summer, the last thing that comes to mind for most growers is starting new vegetables, but there are whole host of vegetables perfect to start in summer and eat come fall!
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