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18 Vegetables for Your Autumn Garden

Fall is rich with hearty root vegetables and nutritious greens. Give the garden one last go before winter arrives with these cool-loving crops.

By Samantha Johnson


18 vegetables for Your Autumn Garden - Photo courtesy Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

With the long summer days behind us and the shorter, cooler days of autumn approaching, it’s natural to think about packing away the garden tools for the season, but don’t do it! You easily can reap a garden bounty with vegetables perfect for cool-season planting. Expand your garden with 18 common vegetables well-suited to an autumn harvest.

1. Arugula

When to plant: Direct seed arugula into the garden every few weeks throughout the growing season, making your final planting approximately 30 days prior to your area’s first frost.

Spacing requirements: Plant seeds 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep in rows 12 to 16 inches apart.
When to harvest: Begin to harvest arugula leaves after about three weeks; harvest leaves frequently to encourage production.

Yield: 2 to 3 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Water regularly. The amount will depend on a variety of factors, including growing location. Grow in well-drained soil, and keep the soil moderately moist.

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: A member of the Brassica family, arugula is extremely easy to grow. Pick the leaves while still young to avoid a bitter flavor.

2. Beets

When to plant: Plant seeds outdoors approximately 10 weeks before the first frost.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep with seeds 1 to 2 inches apart in rows 12 to 24 inches apart. Thin beets to 4 inches apart unless growing them exclusively for greens, in which case 2 inches apart will suffice.

When to harvest: For the best taste, harvest beets after about 40 to 50 days while they remain less than 2 inches in diameter. Leaves can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat. Leave at least two-thirds of the leaves on each plant so it can continue to grow.

Yield: 10 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 inch per week, keeping soil lightly and consistently moist. Maintain moisture with mulch made from straw, grass clippings or leaves.

Light needs: full sun to partial shade

Special considerations: Light, loose soil is optimal for growing beets. Avoid transplanting, and opt for sowing directly into the garden. Beets prefer cool temperatures.

3. Broccoli

When to plant: Direct seed or plant broccoli seedlings outdoors eight to 10 weeks before your first frost. 

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, and lightly cover. When transplanting seedlings, allow 18 inches between plants and 3 feet between rows. 

When to harvest: Harvest broccoli while florets (buds) remain tight and before heads grow too large to prevent bolting (going to seed). Broccoli produces side shoots after the main head is picked, which you can continue to enjoy after harvesting the initial head.  Harvest broccoli early to avoid a bitter flavor.

Yield: Six heads per 10-foot row

Watering needs: approximately 1 inch of water per week

Light needs: Broccoli benefits from full sun, but excessive heat isn’t ideal for its growth, so partial shade is acceptable.

Special considerations: Broccoli thrives in well-drained soil. Fertilize with a nitrogen-based fertilizer three times during the growing season.

4. Brussels Sprouts

When to plant: Transplant seedlings at about 85 to 100 days before your average first-frost date.

Spacing requirements: Start seeds indoors 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Place your transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart.

When to harvest: Harvest when Brussels sprouts reach 1 to 1½ inches in size, but don’t hurry to harvest them; a light autumn frost improves their flavor.

Yield: 5 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: approximately 1 to 1½ inches of water per week

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: Brussels sprouts thrive in cool weather and can handle a mild frost, but cover them if you anticipate a hard freeze (generally, 28 degrees Fahrenheit or colder). Brussels sprouts grow well in sandy loam soil with good drainage.

5. Cabbage

When to plant: Direct seed or plant cabbage transplants approximately eight to 10 weeks before the first frost date.

Spacing requirements: Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep. Space transplants 18 inches apart for early-maturing varieties, which are smaller, and 24 inches apart for late-maturing varieties, which grow larger. Allow at least 24 inches between rows.

When to harvest: Harvest cabbage heads when they appear completely full and firm. Cut at the base of the head with a sharp knife.

Yield: Six heads per 10-foot row.

Watering needs: 1 inch of water per week

Light needs: Cabbage is best planted in a sunny area of the garden, although it tolerates some shade.

Special considerations: Cabbage thrives in evenly moist soil. For fall planting, try Mammoth Red cabbage or bok choy, a popular variety of Chinese cabbage.

6. Carrots

When to plant: Direct seed carrots approximately eight to 10 weeks prior to your average first-frost date.

Spacing requirements: Sow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in rows about 12 to 18 inches apart.
When to harvest: Begin harvesting when carrots are approximately finger-sized or wait until they are fully mature.

Yield: 10 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Carrots require a lot of moisture; mulch with a light layer of grass clippings to keep soil moist while germinating.

Light needs: Carrots can tolerate a bit of shade, but they do better in full sun.

Special considerations: Carrots need deep, loose, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter, such as compost. Avoid hard and rocky soils. Carrots are notoriously slow to germinate and might slow down even more during the colder days of early autumn.

7. Cauliflower

When to plant: Place cauliflower transplants in your garden approximately eight weeks prior to your average first-frost date.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep indoors. Space transplants 18 inches apart in your garden, allowing 18 to 24 inches between rows.

When to harvest: Harvest cauliflower when heads reach 6 to 8 inches in diameter and before the buds begin to separate.

Yield: Six heads per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 to 1½ inches water per week; mulch to help keep soil moist

Light needs: full sun; tolerates some shade

Special considerations: To retain the whiteness in cauliflower heads, tie or pin the leaves together (use string, clothespins, twine or strips of cloth) over the heads. This process is called "blanching;” otherwise, they can turn yellow or brown. Harvest seven to 14 days later. Some varieties of cauliflower are self-blanching, meaning the leaves naturally grow to cover the head, rendering additional blanching unnecessary.

8. Collards

When to plant: To harvest a fall crop, direct seed or transplant approximately six weeks after your last frost date in the spring.

Spacing requirements: Allow 12 inches between plants in rows 18 to 24 inches apart.

When to harvest: Harvest large leaves when the plant reaches 10 to 12 inches high, allowing younger leaves to continue developing.

Yield: 8 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Water regularly, up to 1½ inches per week.

Light needs: full sun; partial sun is acceptable

Special considerations: Collard greens are a versatile crop. They are extremely cold-hardy (frost exposure actually improves the flavor), as well as heat-tolerant. Grow collards in  nitrogen-rich soil.

9. Kohlrabi

When to plant: Direct seed approximately eight to 10 weeks prior to your first frost, or start indoors and transplant seedlings approximately six weeks prior to your first frost.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 3 to 6 inches apart, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, with 12 inches between rows or as much as 18 inches between rows for transplants.

When to harvest: Harvest when the bulbs reach 2 to 5 inches in diameter. Waiting until after a light frost might improve the flavor.

Yield: 5 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 to 2 inches per week

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: Popular as a winter storage crop, kohlrabi can be found in purple, white, green and king-sized varieties. This unusual-looking Brassica proves remarkably hardy, but plants are cold-sensitive and will bolt with even brief exposures to freezing temperatures.

10. Lettuce

When to plant: If you succession-plant your lettuce, you can continue to do so into the fall, stopping about six weeks prior to your first-frost date. If you live in a warmer climate that experiences 80-degrees-F weather for days in a row, you might have better success with your lettuce crop by starting seeds indoors and then transplanting them.

Spacing requirements: Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. When thinning or transplanting, allow 10 to 12 inches between plants for head lettuce, and place in rows 18 to 24 inches apart.

When to harvest: The beauty of growing lettuce is that you can harvest it pretty much any time during the growing season; simply harvest the amount of lettuce that you need on any particular day. For head lettuce, harvest once the head becomes firm.

Yield: 10 heads per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 to 2 inches of water per week; mulch to maintain soil moisture

Light needs: Lettuce tolerates full sun in the late fall, but it can grow better with some shade.

Special considerations: Fertile, well-drained soil is ideal for growing lettuce.

11. Onions

When to plant: This depends on your location and the type of onion you’re planting. Gardeners living in cooler climates should plant onions in the spring for a late-summer/early-autumn harvest. If you live in a warmer region, you have more options. Onions planted in late summer/early autumn can be harvested upon maturity or in the spring, depending on your climate.

Spacing requirements: When planting from sets (immature, half-grown onions) or plants, space each bulb 2 to 4 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart.

When to harvest: Harvest onions when plant tops begin to die back and fall over; pull onions out of the ground, and let them dry for at least several days prior to storage, a process is known as "curing.”

Yield: 20 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Water regularly, and mulch with grass clippings to keep the soil moist.

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: Onions are easy to grow and very hardy. Choose from different day-length varieties (short day, long day and day-neutral); you’ll need to plant the appropriate variety for your growing region. For autumn planting in warm climates, consider multiplier onions, aka potato onions.

12. Parsnips

When to plant: Plant in springtime for a fall crop.

Spacing requirements: Plant seeds no deeper than 1/4 inch in rows spaced 24 inches apart.

When to harvest: Exposure to cold can improve parsnips’ flavor. Harvest during the late fall after a few frosts. If your climate allows it and the ground doesn’t freeze in the winter, continue to harvest throughout the winter. If needed, add several inches of straw on top of the parsnip bed, or leave them in the ground all winter, and harvest in spring.

Yield: 10 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: keep the soil lightly and evenly damp

Light needs: full sun; partial shade is acceptable

Special considerations: Parsnips grow best in midrange loam, a mixture of clay, silt and sand. They’re slow to germinate and grow, requiring a minimum of 110 to 130 days to reach maturity. Make sure to use fresh seeds to maximize germination.

13. Peas

When to plant: For a fall crop, plant peas during the heat of summer, though this isn’t ideal for them. As such, aim to provide shade until temperatures cool to less than 70 degrees F during the day.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds directly into the garden—1 to 1½ inches deep, 1 to 2 inches apart and in rows 24 inches apart.

When to harvest: Peas with edible pods should be harvested while the peas remain small and tender. Shell peas are generally harvested when the peas just begin to fill out the pod. Waiting too long to harvest can lower the plant’s production and cause the peas to lose flavor. Eat the peas immediately after harvesting or freeze them; they tend to lose flavor rapidly.

Yield: 2 to 6 pounds per 10-foot row, depending on variety

Watering needs: Keep soil moderately moist.

Light needs: partial shade

Special considerations: Pea vines are fragile, so be careful when working around them; even weeding and picking can damage the delicate vines. Peas typically require some type of trellising for support.

14. Radishes

When to plant: Direct seed into the garden every few weeks throughout the growing season, making your final planting approximately 20 to 30 days prior to your first frost.

Spacing requirements: Sow radish seeds 1/4  to 1/2 inch deep, spaced approximately 1 inch apart, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart.

When to harvest: Radishes have a very fast maturity rate; most mature in less than a month. Harvest radishes when they approach usable size (typically about 1 inch in diameter).

Yield: 2 to 5 pounds of radishes per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Radishes should be watered regularly, though the amount will depend upon the type of soil in which they are planted. Maintain regular, even watering; this allows radishes to grow steadily and in a uniform manner. Mulching helps to maintain moisture content in the soil.

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: Winter radishes require a longer growing time (six to eight weeks versus less than a month for spring radishes) and grow to a larger size than spring radishes. Winter radishes are better for long-term storage. If time allows, experiment with a winter-radish variety, such as daikon, in addition to your regular radishes.

15. Spinach

When to plant: Direct seed approximately five weeks before your first-frost date in autumn. Spinach can handle very cold temperatures.

Spacing requirements: Sow spinach seeds 1/2 inch deep; then thin your plants to 4 to 6 inches apart. Space the rows 12 to 18 inches apart, using similar spacing if transplants are used.

When to harvest: To avoid bitterness, harvest the leaves before they grow too large.

Yield: approximately 2 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: Keep the soil moist.

Light needs: Spinach prefers full sun and well-drained soil.

Special considerations: Spinach bolts (goes to seed) when temperatures become warm, which makes it the perfect partner for cool-season planting. Tyee, a popular semi-Savoy (a combination of smooth- and crinkle-leafed) variety, is suitable for fall growth.

16. Swiss Chard

When to plant: Direct seed approximately four to six weeks before the first frost.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart; space rows 12 to 18 inches apart.

When to harvest: when the plants reach about 6 inches

Yield: 10 to 12 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 to 2 inches per week.

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: Swiss chard is relatively easy to grow and can be found in assorted colors. Brighten your garden with an eye-catching variety.

17. Tomatoes

When to plant: Tomatoes cannot handle frost, so cold temperatures will put a stop to your tomato-growing season. For a late-season harvest, calculate the planting date based on the information provided on the seed packet.

Spacing requirements: Start seeds indoors at 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. When transplanting, allow 2 feet between plants and 4 feet between rows. Tomatoes need plenty of air circulation to remain healthy.

When to harvest: Harvest once the tomatoes reach full color.

Yield: 60 pounds per 10-foot row or an average of 10 to 20 pounds per plant

Watering needs: Tomatoes require plenty of water—at least 2 inches per week. Use soaker hoses to deliver water slowly and steadily while keeping the leaves dry to prevent disease.

Light needs: full sun

Special considerations: For fall planting, look for varieties that mature quickly, ideally in fewer than 60 days: Try Siletz, Fireworks, Stupice or Early Girl.

18. Turnips

When to plant: Direct seed into approximately six to eight weeks prior to your average first-frost date.

Spacing requirements: Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep, then thin your plants to 4 to 6 inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart.

When to harvest: Harvest greens when they reach approximately 4 inches high and bulbs when they’re 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Yield: 10 pounds per 10-foot row

Watering needs: 1 inch per week

Light needs: full sun; partial shade is acceptable

Special considerations: As with most Brassicas, a light frost actually might improve the flavor of your turnips. Growing in well-drained soil is beneficial.

This article originally appeared in Hobby Farms Presents: Vegetable Gardens – Fall Edition. 

 

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