Top 10 Crops For The Fall Vegetable Garden

kale in garden

With the summer harvest booming, it’s hard to start planning for the fall garden. But summer is the prime time to get fall crops in the ground so they have time to mature and produce a harvest past what your summer crops will yield. Not all vegetables will grow well into the fall, though.

The best vegetables to grow in the fall garden are greens such as lettuce or spinach, root crops such as beets and carrots, and thick-leaved crops like kale and collards. These vegetables can tolerate the cooler fall temperatures, and many can survive frost.

The top vegetable crops listed here are both cold-hardy and frost tolerant, so if you don’t have the space or desire to grow them all, even a small selection will grow well through the fall weather.

Carrots

small round carrots in a bunch

Some carrots can be overwintered in the ground, while others are best pulled before a freeze. Whichever you grow, they’ll appreciate the cooler soil temperatures of fall.

  • Days to maturity: 60-80
  • Direct sow in garden. Root crops don’t appreciate being transplanted.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Bolero is a good option for fall harvest of typical long carrots.
    • Atlas is a fun, round carrot that is easier to grow in rocky or shallow soils than long carrots.

Peas

snap peas in colander

Peas are great to plant under tomatoes. The seedlings will germinate and grow while the tomatoes are finishing up, and you can repurpose the tomato trellis for the peas to climb. Just cut the tomato stem at the soil level to avoid disturbing the pea plants.

  • Days to maturity: 55-75
  • Direct sow in garden
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Sugar Snap is a reliable, delicious snap pea
    • Oregon Giant is a large snow pea that is versatile in the kitchen

Kale

black kale in garden

A staple in any fall garden, kale leaves sweeten after they experience a frost. The plants can overwinter in the garden and you’ll see early season growth when the weather warms. This will also trigger the plant to go to seed, so you’ll have to plant new seedlings in the spring.

  • Days to maturity: 30-50
  • Direct sow in garden, or start seeds indoors 8 weeks before transplanting to garden.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Black Magic dinosaur kale is my favorite. The leaves are delicious raw or cooked. Aphids seem to prefer this type of kale.
    • Red Russian is delicous when braised or added to stews.

Spinach

spinach in garden

Quick growing and cold tolerant, spinach is a good option for multiple sowings if you like to harvest the young, tender leaves. Sow seeds two weeks apart for a continuous supply.

  • Days to maturity: 25-35
  • Direct sow in garden or start seeds indoors four weeks before transplanting into garden.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • I’ve always been a fan of the standard Bloomsdale leaves which are sturdy plants.
    • Auroch is on my list for this year, with smaller leaves and great cold tolerance.

Swiss chard

swiss chard in garden

Swiss chard will make it all the way through winter in mild climates. The following year the plant will go to seed as the weather warms up, so plan to replant in the spring.

  • Days to maturity: 30-55
  • Direct sow in garden, or start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting into garden.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • You can’t beat Bright Lights, which produces stalks in a variety of colors such as pink, white, and yellow.

Radish

bunch of radishes on ground

One of the easiest vegetables to grow, radishes grow so quickly that it’s wise to make multiple sowings. Harvest them often so they don’t sit in the soil too long and get woody. A great option for kid gardeners!

  • Days to maturity: 20-30
  • Direct sow in garden. Root crops don’t appreciate being transplanted.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • French Breakfast is a fun white and red radish that grows to a couple inches long.
    • Easter Egg radishes are round and colorful in shades of pink, purple, and white.

Arugula

arugula plants in garden

Just a few handfuls will perk up your salads with a spicy, peppery flavor. Great cold tolerance and quick growth make arugula easy to tuck into bare spots in the fall garden.

  • Days to maturity: 30-50
  • Direct sow in garden
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Standard Mix can be grown for small baby leaves when young, or left to mature into larger-sized leaves. Try the baby leaves fresh on pizza!

Lettuce

mixed lettuce leaves in bin

Summer salads with tomatoes might be over, but try a fall salad with carrots and pickled beets. Pick the outer leaves of leaf lettuce and the plant will continue to grow. Head lettuce grows one head that you pick entirely and then replant.

  • Days to maturity: 30-50
  • Direct sow in garden for leaf lettuce, or start head lettuce seeds indoors four weeks before transplanting into garden.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • All Star Gourmet Mix is a fun leaf lettuce mix with green and red leaves.
    • Nancy Butterleaf head lettuce makes soft, tender leaves.

Beets

red beets bunch on table

Roasted or fresh, the roots or the greens, beets make a versatile and cold hardy fall crop. In fact, beets don’t take summer heat well so wait until the days start to cool before sowing beets in the garden.

  • Days to maturity: 50-55
  • Direct sow in garden. Root crops don’t appreciate being transplanted.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Red Ace is a solid red beet. Great for pickling and grated in salads.
    • Touchstone Gold is a golden yellow beet. Try adding it to hummus; it turns the hummus yellow!

Collards

bunch of collard greens in bin

Sturdy, thick leaves hold up well to colder temperatures, and they are harvestable when small or large. They make a great addition to warm soups on a cold fall day.

  • Days to maturity: 50
  • Direct sow in garden or start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting into garden.
  • Recommended varieties:
    • Cash Crop has large, broad leaves make a great tortilla replacement for wraps.

All photos are courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an excellent source of seeds for the home gardener.

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