As we live through the winter season, most of us dream of growing and tasting sun-kissed tomatoes, gorgeous peppers, crunchy cucumbers and flavourful corn. As soon as the weather is right, we busy ourselves planting and filling our gardens with all kinds of warm-season seedlings and seeds, like beans, eggplants, squash, pumpkins, potatoes and all varieties of tomatoes. (See my Seed Starting Calculator for specific planting dates for your hardiness zone.)
However, just because summer is halfway through, that’s no reason to stop planting. There’s still plenty to get in the ground. As we pull up and harvest our warm-season veggies, we open up space for planting cool-season crops.
If you’re interested in extending your gardening season beyond warm-season vegetables, this list will give you some ideas for what may be planted now, to provide a plentiful fall bounty.
What is a cool-season vegetable? A cool-season vegetable is one that grows best in a cooler climate. It can withstand a light frost and will thrive in lower temperatures, moist, cool soil, and shorter days. These conditions are typically encountered in early to mid-spring and late-summer/fall. Crops that grow best in this climate do not produce fruit (seeds encased in fleshy skin). Instead, these crops produce chlorophyll-filled leaves and/or edible roots.
In hot conditions, these crops will bolt, producing an elongated tough central stem, followed by flowers. The flowers eventually mature and produce seeds. In cooler temperatures, bolting is delayed and the plant grows strong and healthy. The more you harvest leafy green crops, the more leaves they will produce. Root vegetables will remain tender in cooler temperatures and won’t become tough and woody.
Some examples of cool-season vegetables are lettuce, radish, beets, Swiss chard, carrots, kale, green onions and peas. Any of these crops may be sown directly in the vegetable garden, or started indoors to get a head start. Just be sure to sow your seeds several weeks before harvesting your warm-season vegetables, in order to have your seedlings ready for transplanting into the same location after harvesting your warm season crops.
What to Plant Now:
- Carrots – A traditional root vegetable and a “must have” for any vegetable garden. We typically sow our carrot seeds in the early spring. But why not get a second planting in for the fall?
There are so many varieties available out there, ranging in colour and shape. Colours are available from orange, yellow, white, red or purple. Carrot shapes are available in long or short, stumpy or round like a golf ball, thin or thick. The varieties are endless.
What you need to decide on is a fast-growing variety. Seeds should be sown in the soil at a minimum of 12 weeks before the first frost date. Some carrot varieties have a longer maturity period, while others are early. You may be able to get away with planting your carrot seeds at 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost, if you choose a fast growing variety like Cosmic Purple, Little Fingers, Napoli or Yaya.
- Peas – Plant your pea seeds approximately 2 months before the first frost date. There are many varieties from snow peas, snap peas to shelling peas. Most snow and snap pea varieties are ready for harvest in approximately 58-60 days. Shelling peas require a few extra days, to a week. Choose varieties that mature quickly. Prepare the soil by removing old plant material and sow your seeds 1-inch deep and 1-inch apart. Provide support with a trellis, netting or bamboo canes, because peas grow best vertically.
Hint: Legumes contain nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots. In order for the soil to benefit from the nitrogen produced by legume plants, the nodules need to decompose in the soil. In the fall, cut the pea plants at the soil line, leaving the roots in place. Over the winter, they will break down and release the nitrogen nodules from their roots and boost soil nutrition.
- Beets – Beets may be sown successively from the spring to mid-summer, every 2 to 3 weeks, for a continuous harvest. However, once soil temperatures reach mid 80F or 26C or above, they slow down their growth. In this case, wait until the soil temperature cools down to around 75F or 24C and their growth will resume. Either sow your seeds directly or transplant beets sown in seed trays to a prepared bed.
Alternatively, if you have a shady spot in your garden, sow your beet seeds there. The shade will help to keep the soil cool. Be sure to water regularly as the seedlings grow and develop their leafy tops.
Delicious roasted, steamed, shredded raw into salads, boiled, souped, etc., planting a fresh crop of beets in mid-summer will ensure a nice supply of beets into the winter season.
- Swiss Chard – A member of the Beet family, Chenopodiaceae, Swiss chard leaves are similar in taste to beet greens, minus a large bulbous root underground. Swiss chard is excellent at growing all summer, providing you a fresh supply of leaves the more you harvest them. If your supply of Swiss chard is beginning to run low into the summer, consider sowing a couple of extra rows. It takes approximately 5 to 7 days for seeds to germinate, so add a week to your time table when planting directly in the soil. Swiss chard is ready for harvest approximately 30 days after sowing. Either harvest individual leaves or leave extra space when planting and cut off entire bunches, leaving an inch or two of the crown. Leaves will begin to grow anew from the centre.
Swiss chard is hardy to a light to medium frost, so there is some flexibility when planting your seeds. Feel free to sow seeds until several weeks before the first frost of fall.
There are many colours of Swiss chard available, from white, yellow, pink, red, orange, purple and many shades in between. It’s a lovely crop that adds a lot of colour to your garden.
- Green Onions – Green onions, or scallions, are the easiest to grow of any onion variety. Simply sow their seeds in place, at a close spacing and at a depth no more than 1/2 an inch. Seeds may also be scratched into the soil or broadcast in a close band.
Plant your seeds approximately 8 weeks before the first frost date, or later into fall where winters are mild. Most green onions will survive the winter if properly mulched.
When harvesting either pull individual stalks, small bunches or cut your green 1 to 2 inches above the soil line, and the onions will grow back. An easy crop that is definitely worth adding to the garden!
- Kale – A member of the Cabbage family, Cruciferae, kale is a hardy green that will produce when all other leafy greens are done for the season. High in vitamins A, C & K, as well as fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and more, kale is a wonderful healthy addition for your vegetable garden.
Sow kale seeds approximately 8 weeks before the first frost and later in milder climates. If mulched properly, many varieties of kale will survive a hard frost in the winter. For northern climates, consider ‘Nash’s Green’, ‘Winterbor’, ‘Redbor’ and ‘Red Ursa’ for the hardiest kale varieties.
- Arugula – A salad green that grows best in a cooler climate, arugula should be sown towards the end of summer and into fall. Sow seeds directly in the garden, 3 to 4 weeks before the first frost date. Seeds will germinate in 5 to 7 days and be ready for harvest in approximately 20 to 40 days, depending on the variety and leaf size.
Arugula is best described as either nutty, peppery or spicy. Some even describe it as tangy. Adding a few fresh leaves to a salad will greatly enhance the dish. Your salad may also consist of solely arugula leaves, topped with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Throw in a few pine nuts and some chopped fresh rosemary for an incredible flavour.
‘Astro’ arugula has a milder flavour is ready for harvest a bit earlier than other varieties. ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ has red veining and ‘Sylvetta’ is a wild variety that will come back year after year.
- Lettuce – If you’ve grown lettuce, you know how much better and sweeter it tastes fresh from the garden, compared to store-bought. Considering how simple it is to grow, it’s a definite “must have” for your fall vegetable garden.
Lettuce is available in countless varieties, shapes and colours, from oak-leaf and romaine, to butterhead, baby green, loose leaf and crisphead. There are speckled leaves, ruffly leaves, red and burgundy leaves, light green and dark green leaves, pink and purple tinged. The list goes on, so it’s best to select your favourite varieties and choose according to your needs.
Sow lettuce seeds every 2 to 3 weeks, up until first frost. A frost blanket or cold frame will help to protect against any light frost damage. Harvest individual leaves, or thin your plants to make room for full heads.
- Radishes – One of the easiest and fastest growing of the root vegetables, radish seeds may be sown directly 3 to 4 weeks before the first frost date. Roots are hardy and will continue to grow after several light frosts. A cold frame or heavy mulch will extend the season.
If planting thickly, thin your seedlings out, leaving a minimum of 3 to 4 inches between plants. These young seedlings are very tasty when added to salads.
There are many varieties of radishes available on the market. Some of my favourites include ‘French Breakfast for it’s uniform long roots and red tops with white bottoms. ‘Easter Egg’ for the surprise of harvesting lovely round roots in either red, white or purple colours. ‘Cherry Belle’ for its traditional slightly spicy radish flavour, bright red skin and uniform round roots. However, there are 100’s of varieties to choose from for your garden.
- Turnips – Not as common a vegetable as some of the others mentioned above, turnips make a lovely addition to the vegetable garden. Young turnips have a mild flavour and may be chopped, sliced or grated into salads. They may also be roasted, caramelized, souped, fried or pickled. They are a lighter alternative to potatoes and are low in carbohydrates.
Sow seeds directly, 6 weeks before the first frost. Seeds will germinate in 2 to 5 days, depending on the variety. The smaller varieties are ready for harvest in as little as 30 days. Choose from ‘Mikado’, ‘Hakurei’ or ‘Tokyo Cross’ for the earlier maturing varieties, or ‘Purple Top’ or ‘Scarlet Queen’ for the later maturing varieties. Decide based on your winter conditions.
- Spinach – High in vitamins and minerals, spinach tastes great raw in salads, added to smoothies, steamed or added to cooked dishes. Spinach prefers to grow in cool soil and grows best in early spring or late summer/fall. Sow seeds directly in the garden, approximately 4 weeks before the first frost date and continue to sow every couple weeks. With protection, spinach will not be affected by winter, allowing individual leaves to be harvested throughout. Then, as the days get longer and warmer, spinach will continue to grow anew.
Sow seeds approximately 1/2 an inch deep and 1 inch apart. Harvest individual leaves, entire plants at the soil line, or cut back plants leaving 1 inch above the soil and the plants will grow back.
For more information on when to sow seeds for your area, please check out my Seed Starting Calculator. There you will find specific planting dates.
Just because fall is around the corner, that’s not a reason to stop planting. With the above listed vegetables we still have lots of options for a fall harvest. So get your seeds out and get them in the garden as space becomes available, then watch your cool-season vegetable garden flourish after your summer vegetables have long been harvested and enjoyed!