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Planning a fall garden happens much earlier than most people think in order to have the crops in the ground with enough time for development before the cooler temps and frosts hit. Don’t worry, with this fall planting guide, you’ll have all the info you need to grow fresh veggies through the fall and winter months!
Fall gardening has many advantages to the summer garden. Especially with the pandemic, knowing when and how to plant a fall garden will allow for fresh vegetables in fall and winter without a greenhouse from your own backyard, score!
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #265 Planning a Fall Garden & When to Plant for Fall Harvest, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
Growing up and when I first started gardening as an adult we just planted a summer vegetable garden. All the crops for the year were planted at the same time. When the first frost arrived we were done. Which meant you had to preserve and put up anything that you weren’t consuming while it was fresh.
As I got deeper into this rabbit hole of providing for ourselves and becoming more self-sufficient I noticed there were a few gardeners that planted things very early. I learned there was a difference in the types of crops planted and when.
If you’re brand new to gardening you may not have realized that either. In a nutshell, warm weather crops will not grow in or survive any type of frost. In fact, a lot of the warm weather crops like beans or tomatoes will go into hibernation when overnight low temps get below 55 degrees Fahrenheit and it stresses them out therefore they won’t produce anything. The’re killed with any type of frost.
A typical summer garden consists of tomatoes, peppers, green beans, winter squash, summer squash, and corn. All of these are wiped out and killed by a frost.
There are a lot of cool weather crops that you can plant when the soil and overnight lows are lower and will tolerate some frost. This means you can plant them earlier in the spring and get a much earlier harvest as well as in summer for a fall harvest.
Many times people plan to do it, but then miss their window of opportunity because they didn’t understand when exactly to plant. You’d think, with it being called Fall Gardening, you’d plant in the fall but that couldn’t be further from the truth…with a couple of exceptions.
Planning a fall garden means planting most of the vegetables in the middle of summer. Knowing your first average frost date is key to understanding when exactly to plant the fall garden.
You need to know when your first average frost date is and then count backward to find your planting date for each specific crop. If your average frost date hits in mid to end of September, you’re doing most of your planting in July. If your frost date doesn’t happen until October or maybe even November, you’ll be doing your planting more in August. There are a couple of exceptions to this and we’ll cover that a little later.
Planning a fall garden requires a calendar. Find your first average frost date and count how many weeks (defined by the crop) backward. This lets you know when you need to begin planting those crops.
Broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and peas are at about 12 weeks and need to be started from seed before your first average frost date. 10 weeks would be pushing it (but I say do it, you can always use a row cover for extra warmth if needed).
You have a little bit more time for other brassicas such as cabbage and kale along with spinach and lettuce which needs six to eight weeks before the first frost. Beets and carrots need to be direct sowed about 8 weeks before the first frost.
Radishes give you more leeway. Especially if you’re planting something like French Breakfast Radish, which is ready to harvest in just 21 days. For a complete list refer to the When to Plant Fall Garden Crops A-Z Guide below.
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage do best when seed started indoors for a fall garden. If the soil is too hot, they won’t germinate as well. Need help seed starting? Click here for The Ultimate Seed Starting Guide- Planning, Starting & Mistakes to Avoid
If you didn’t start your seeds indoors in time you can find starts at a local nursery. Watching your pennies? Direct seeding is your most economical option. That’s my preference.
If the weather is too hot, cool weather crops won’t germinate. Set up something to shade the area where you’ll be planting.
Watch the weather and try to pick some cooler days. Keep soil moist for a few days before planting to keep the soil cooler and wet for germination. Hot weather is one reason why many gardeners opt to start seeds indoors. Keep in mind though that just like in the spring, those starts need to be hardened off before planting. Don’t skip that step when it comes time to transplant them outdoors.
Another option instead of starting seeds indoors is to use a permaculture design. We did this last year. It worked very well and I’m implementing it again this year.
Use your taller crops – like corn, pole beans, peas – anything that is on a trellis and casts shade where the soil will be cooler to plant and direct sow. For these cool-weather crops, it’s a microclimate you create in the garden. I did this with Swiss chard last year and grew it all summer long without bolting. I planted it at the base of my bean teepee and situated it in the garden where the Swiss chard would get some early morning sun, which we know is not as hot. By mid-afternoon, when it was really hot out with the sun directly overhead that Swiss chard was shaded by the beans on the bean teepee.
You want to make sure that you do it early enough. Even though these crops will grow with the cooler temps, as the days get shorter and the frosts begin to roll in, they will go into hibernation. So while they may be tiny, they won’t really grow after that until the following spring.
I had some carrots that I didn’t get into the ground early enough for last year’s fall garden so in the spring they started growing again. The problem, or benefit, was that carrots are biennial which means they went to seed that spring. I was happy to be able to collect carrot seeds this year from them. Those carrots, once they go to seed, are no good for eating.
When carrots are sown early enough (at the proper time) they can be mulched with straw and harvested through the fall and winter.
If you’re in a more northern climate where you get hard freezes and you can’t dig anything up I realize that won’t work. You’ll have to use root cellaring techniques or preserve them.
For things like broccoli and cabbage, if they aren’t planted early enough they won’t develop ahead. Or it will be super, super tiny. That’s why timing is really critical.
Since we’re putting in these cool-weather crops in the height of summer, keep an eye on the weather. When you see that you may have some clouds coming in, or maybe some rain or cooler temps, start watering the ground so that it stays moist. Moist soil stays cooler than dry soil, right?
Start that a few days before you think you’re going to be planting and try and time it around a cool stretch in the weather. Or at least a couple of cloudy days. Then keep it well watered before and after you plant for a few days just like any type of new plant.
You need to make sure that they have adequate water, especially for direct sowing seeds. This is especially important for carrots because if they dry out during the germination phase they won’t sprout. Make sure to keep that soil really damp or in a shaded area, like the backside of the corn.
There are a few crops that you can actually plant right at your first frost date. It’s going to be your garlic and potatoes.
Get certified seed garlic because it’s certified to be free of disease. You do not want to be introducing any type of disease into your soil, which is a big risk you run if you plant garlic cloves from the grocery store. What happens is that disease stays present and will affect anything in the allium family for up to seven years.
Anything like garlic, onion, shallots, or leeks would be affected. Get your orders in now for your garlic. Keep in mind you will not be harvesting the garlic until the following summer. I plant my garlic in October and harvest in July.
You can also plant potatoes. I have not done this yet, but when you plant them in the fall, in the spring when the conditions are right in early spring, they begin to grow. Then you would have an early potato harvest. Basically you’re getting a jump start on them.
If you have my book, The Family Garden Plan, then you have all the charts that tell you exactly how much to plant per person for a year’s worth of food. The book helps you calculate out how much that’s going to be based on your family. You can also grab the free worksheet here.
Arugula – 4-6 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Beets – 8-10 weeks before first frost direct sow. Cover with straw or leaves for winter harvest.
Bok Choy (aka Pak Choi or Chinese Mustard Cabbage) – 6-8 weeks before the first frost. Tolerates light frost.
Broccoli – Direct sow 10-12 weeks before the first frost. OR 15-17 weeks before start seeds indoors for transplanting. At 10-12 weeks before transplant seedlings.
Broccoli Raab – 6-8 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Brussels Sprouts – 10 weeks before the first frost.
Cabbage – 6-8 weeks before the first frost.
Carrots – 8-12 weeks before the first frost.
Cauliflower – 10-12 weeks before the first frost start seeds indoors. At 8-10 weeks transplant into the garden.
Chard – 10-12 weeks before the first frost.
Cilantro – 6-8 weeks before the first frost.
Claytonia – 6-8 weeks before the first frost.
Collards – 14-16 weeks before the first frost start seeds indoors then transplant at 10-12 weeks before. OR at 10-12 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Endive – 8-10 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Garlic – Plant cloves in the garden between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after the first frost for a summer harvest the following year.
Kale – 6-8 weeks before first frost direct sow. OR 12-14 weeks before start seeds indoors and transplant at 8-10 weeks before.
Kohlrabi – 12-14 weeks before the first frost start seeds indoors and transplant at 6-8 weeks before. OR direct sow at 10-12 weeks before.
Lettuce – 6-8 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Mache – 6-8 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Mizuna – 8-10 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Mustard – Direct sow 6-8 weeks before the first frost.
Parsnip – Direct sow 12 weeks before the first frost.
Pea – 12 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Radish – Direct sow 8 weeks before the first frost.
Scallions – Direct sow 8-10 weeks before the first frost.
Spinach – 6-8 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Tatsoi – Direct sow 5-7 weeks before the first frost.
Turnip – 4-6 weeks before first frost direct sow.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.