Summer vegetable gardening enthusiasts seem to out-number those that grow vegetables in the fall by quite a bit. We're not really sure why. Fall vegetable gardening has a lot of things going for it. The temperatures are not as hot, so the garden does not require as much water as it did in the summer; it's also much more pleasant to garden in the cooler weather. There are not as many pests and generally the weed growth is not quite as rampant.
Of course, the variety of vegetables you will be growing in the fall will be different. While summer is all about plants that bear delicious fruits (think tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, etc.), fall vegetables shift the focus to leaves, stems, roots, flower buds and pods.
Leafy vegetables include lettuce, chard, spinach, collards, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, endive and chicory. In the lettuce category, you can grow either leaf lettuce or head lettuce and there are enough varieties to keep your gardening endlessly interesting. Until recently a rarely-grown vegetable, healthy kale seems to be enjoying a cult-like following of late, with many recipes available for a variety of dishes, from modernized steamed dishes to kale chips. Leeks could also be put in this category, as the edible part of the plant is actually the bundle of leaf sheaths near the soil surface. Leaf crops like ample water, so be sure to keep the soil evenly moist.
A well-known vegetable grown for its stems is celery. Try celery only if you have some experience with gardening. It is slow growing and requires a long, cool growing season of 120-140 days to produce a crop, so be sure your climate can provide for its needs before planting. Another, less well-known stem-type vegetable is kohlrabi; give it a try if you're feeling adventurous!
In the root vegetable line-up we have beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips and celery root. With flavors that range from slightly bitter to pleasantly sweet, these vegetables will contribute some interesting additions to your fall and winter menus. Useful in salads, they also provide a hearty addition to soups and stews and many are great roasted.
Broccoli and cauliflower are the contenders in the flower bud category. These plants will form heads best when the nighttime temperatures average 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. With broccoli, once the large main head is harvested, the plant will form side shoots which also can be used.
Garden peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas make up the pod section. Garden peas are the traditional pea which must be shelled before eating; snow peas have a translucent, thin pod and are never shelled; sugar snap peas are a cross between garden peas and snow peas, with a thicker edible pod than a snow pea. All varieties are available in climbing and bush varieties. Regular water is the name of the game for peas, with a slight drying-out period between applications.
When selecting the area for your garden, choose a spot that will receive at least six hours of sun per day (more is even better). Cultivate the soil (either by hand, if the area is small or with a rototiller for larger plots), mixing in a good amount of organic soil amendment and some pre-planting fertilizer. An efficient way of planting is to plant the vegetables right in the water ditch; this way the water is immediately available to the roots of the plants.
Think about starting a garden journal to detail your successes and failures. Keep track of varieties used (save the seed packages or variety labels that came with the plants) and problems encountered. This will help you decide which vegetables to plant in next year's fall garden! Bon appetit!
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