Fall Vegetable Garden…Preparation & Plant Selection

Planting a vegetable garden isn’t just for spring; here’s what to grow for fall

By Jan Brick
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If the local garden centers have not already stocked the fall garden transplants, they will very shortly. So now is a great time to select your transplants or if you prefer, start your fall garden with seeds.

Dr. William Johnson, past-Galveston County Agricultural Extension Agent, stated that “Experienced gardeners know that late-summer and fall weather favor more productive growth than the harsh spring climate. Not only does the taste of many fall grown vegetables excel that of many spring crops, fall gardening can reinvigorate the spirit.”

He also mentioned that “vegetables will have a longer harvest period than those planted in spring as they mature during the cooler temperatures of the fall season in contrast to spring crops maturing as the summer heat sets in.”

With the anticipated cooling in the weather, we should have been working on our garden beds in preparation of the fall season. We have removed all dead vegetation, added compost, manure and other fertilizers, turned the soil and let it all rest as we awaited planting time.

Meanwhile, let us consider the crop. We have our favorites, of course, and the fall of the year is very nearly an even better point in time than the spring to experience the thrill of growing, harvesting and consuming your own foodstuff.

The basics are the same as with spring gardens: well prepared, well-draining garden soil, good quality seeds or healthy transplants, fertilizer, mulch, sunshine, and water. The use of a garden diagram is helpful, as well as a consideration of the full-grown size of the plants to estimate the amount of space needed. Try not to plant a garden larger than you can manage easily.

Area gardeners have already been growing warm-weather plants like beans, cucumbers, and summer squash, as well as a few tomatoes. The decision now to make is determining what are the best crops to plant in our area during September, October and November.

Fall GardenThis is the season for frost-tolerant crops like broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Follow a planting guide to ensure a good crop for a longer period of time and to ensure that everything produces gradually and not all at once.

Other plants to consider are the Cole crops that include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and collards. These plants grow best in cooler weather and can tolerate much lower temperatures than the garden plants that we typically grow in spring months, even surviving light frosts. To remember the name, think “cole” in association with “cold.”

A popular Cole crop, broccoli, is as much a part of our daily diet as carrots or peas. Once the first large heads of broccoli are harvested, most varieties will continue to produce smaller side shoots extending the yield for weeks.

If you are interested in early maturing broccoli plants try De Cicco, which will mature in 55 days with weeks of side shoots, or Green Comet Hybrid, which will mature in about 40 days but has few if any side shoots.

Other early producers include Green Goliath that produces compact heads in 55 days and side shoots, and Packman Hybrid that matures in only 53 days and has good side shoot development. For the later harvest, try Italian Green Sprouting (70 days), Romanesco (75 days), or Premium Crop Hybrid (82 days).

Cabbage is an important Cole crop in fall gardens, and it is easy to grow and can be at-hand in your garden well into the winter months. Raw cabbage is said to have great healing power and was prized by the early Egyptians for that quality.

The following selections of cabbage should do well in most area gardens. Stonehead produces very solid heads in 65 to 70 days; while the Early Round Dutch matures at 71 days with round firm heads and weighing up to five pounds.

Other options include Red Acre, which is an early, sweet, ruby-red variety, weighing three to four pounds; or Early Jersey Wakefield that will harvest in 60 to 75 days, weighs two- to four pounds and will overwinter.

Try including cauliflower in your Cole crop selection even though you may have heard that this is a difficult or finicky crop in a home garden. Cauliflower grows just like cabbage; to keep the heads white merely cover them with their own leaves for four or five days or cultivate self-blanching alternatives.

Look for cauliflower varieties such as Snow Crown or Early Snowball that mature early in 50 to 60 days and are heat-resistant while also self-blanching, or try Purple Head with its bright purple crown that turns green when cooked and matures in 80 to 85 days. For a complete winter garden, do not forget to include the endless assortment of earlier developing Cole crops like collards, kale, mustard, and turnips that can be seeded directly into your garden in September and October.

Cole crop vegetables contain essential elements: cabbage, broccoli, collards, and cauliflower are rich in vitamin C, as are kale and turnip greens, which are also high in carotene. Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale contain more protein than milk.

For something different try Bok Choy or Brussels sprouts. Bok Choy, Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage are also called celery cabbage as they closely resemble tall stalks of celery; close relatives of the rest of the cabbage family but with a pleasant nutty taste with leaves that are crisp and tender. Bilko F1 Napa is an all-star variety with pale green outer leaves, creamy yellow interior, and mild sweet flavor. Michihili Chinese cabbage can weigh up to five pounds at harvest with light green leaves that are tender with a pleasing flavor. Bok Choy can be added to any salad or stir-fry dish.

Fall GardenBrussels sprouts originated in Brussels, Belgium, hence the name. As with so many fruits and vegetables, the product purchased from the supermarket is a far distant relative to that grown in your own garden, so it is with Brussels sprouts.

As the sprouts grow, the stems become tall and thick. By removing the lower leaves, once the harvest begins, the plant seems to resemble small palm trees with sprouts appearing along the main stems that can grow to three feet tall and be loaded with sprouts.

Most popular varieties include Jade Cross, Long Island Improved, and Rubine Red with its red foliage and sprouts. These types grow best as fall and winter crops with their flavor improving as the weather cools.

An easy side dish can be had by merely sautéing the sprouts in butter, olive oil, and a bit of lemon juice in a skillet stirring as the sprouts soften and become heated through. Season with grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Always wash the sprouts, and remove the top layers of leaves before cooking.

It has been my experience that the word “gardener” is nearly synonymous with the word “generous.” Whether it is advice, cuttings, seeds or crops, gardeners are willing to share. They are likely to have an optimistic and confident view of life and the future.

There are numerous successful vegetable gardeners in our area. Visit with them as regards your garden, and heed their advice. They will appreciate your accomplishments, and perhaps you can share in each other’s bounty.

Planting Guide Suggestions
Broccoli: transplants from September to January Cabbage: seeds may be planted from August to November
Carrots: seeds from mid-October to November
Cauliflower: transplants from September to January
Cucumber: plant seeds or transplants in September and October
Garlic: plant clove in late September to mid-November
Lettuce: seed or transplants from late-September to December
Okra: seed or transplants September and October
Onion: transplants from mid-October to November
Radishes: seeds from September to November
Spinach: seeds or transplants from October to November
Turnips: seeds from September to November