What to Plant Now for an Autumn Harvest
While most would assume that autumn gardening happens in the fall, it actually begins right around now in late summer! For most cool weather plants, June and July are too hot for more successions, so it is best to wait until the late summer or early autumn months like August and September to get your fall plantings in the ground. I have talked before about planning an autumn garden and even gave you FREE access to my Fall Planting Guide, which walks you through week-by-week on what to plant and when. It’s a really nice resource that I recommend and use when I am teaching my classes on edible garden planning!
Here in southeastern Iowa (zone 5b) we just finished planting our fall crops last week. This year, I did not start any seeds indoors, but rather used my knowledge of Days to Maturity to choose varieties that would be ready in enough time before our first predicted fall frost, which is October 11th if you are curious. If you do not live in the same zone as I do, then this will be widely different for you. The best place to look for your predicted frost dates is on the Farmer’s Almanac website. This is your best tool; simply count the weeks backwards from said date and then figure out when it’s best to start seeds or direct seed specific crops. For instance, I really want cauliflower so I had to find a variety that grew in 68-70 days or less, rather than 90 like most varieties. I went with Amazing Cauliflower by Johnny’s Select Seeds.
This year, I have made a few new discoveries when it comes to fall plantings and have made changes accordingly to how and what I am growing. Every single year, I gain additional knowledge about what works and what does not. For instance, Days to Maturity was not something I paid much attention to until last year. Autumn 2018 was the second year that I started broccoli seeds, planted them out in the garden, and watched as they grew but never reached the point of producing crowns until it was too late - hard frost came and took them out. Bummer!
One of my fellow master gardeners gave me the advice of instead of starting autumn broccoli super early or finding a quick-maturing variety to simply leave my summer broccoli growing all throughout the hot months. By doing this, you simply cut away the bitter broccoli (caused by warm weather) and toss that to the chickens. When the weather cools again, you will continue to get delicious florets. Genius! This year, I left our broccoli to grow all throughout the summer. In truth, I probably would have found this tip out myself this year since our broccoli still have not produced crowns. This spring was really hard on them, and they are just not beginning to show signs of heads forming. What a crazy season!
A few other things I am doing include:
Use of row cover to keep insects off of our next round of greens (salad mix, pac choi, tatsoi, red Asian greens, arugula)
Planting arugula only in fall! I did not know this was a thing, but it apparently just grows best in fall rather than in spring. Noted for next season!
Planting quick maturing varieties for certain vegetables (Amazing cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, Flash Collard Greens, Kohlrabi)
Putting in a fall planting of both peas and beans (something I have not done before!)
If you are also wanting to get a jumpstart on your autumn garden, here are is a quick list of wonderful plants that tolerate cold and light frosts. If you would like to extend your season even further, I suggest using a cold frame or low tunnel with frost protected row cover. We have used row covers in the fall before, and they work great! Just make sure to take them off if a heavy snow is predicted - it can rip and ruin them if there is too much weight piled up.
Brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, etc
Cucumbers and Summer Squash (this is new knowledge for me, but worth trying if they mature fast!)
Salad mix and other greens (Asian, arugula, spinach, etc)
What are you planting this autumn? I’d love to hear your ideas!