Planting Spring Crops for Fall Harvesting

John Hecker
Adams County Master Gardener

By this time, your cool crop vegetables are all gone, having withered in the heat of summer or gone to seed. It seems a shame that the tomatoes are ripening just as the lettuce, spinach, radishes, broccoli and other salad crops are gone. It doesnít seem fair.

Not to worry, because itís time to plan for your fall crops which are usually tastier than the same veggies you planted in the spring. The leafy vegetables, especially, will be heartier than their spring counterparts. Leaf lettuce in the spring is very mild and sometimes gets lost or limp in a salad. The same lettuce in the fall will jump out say "Booyah"!

What do you need to plan? First, you have to have the seeds or plants to get these things started. Many suppliers are closing out their seed selections and you have a very short window if you want to get seeds locally. I always buy enough in the spring and then seal the rest for fall planting. If you canít find any at your favorite store then youíll have to order through a catalog.

Many places have plants for fall planting. Broccoli is a favorite because of its sweetness in the fall, but also because it will be slow to bolt and the pests that prey on broccoli have already run through their lifecycle. These positives apply to most of the fall crops.

Once you have the plants or seeds, itís time to pick a place to plant. Iím looking to fill the spaces that have been harvested and fill them up before the weeds take over. So, pull out the peas, beans and potatoes, if theyíre finished, and any other crops that have run their course and prep the soil as you did in the spring.

Youíre ready to go. Now itís all timing. Plant too early and theyíll burn out and wither in the heat. Plant too late and they wonít be ready before the first frost. Unfortunately, the answer is Ė that depends. DONíT STOP READING! I have the answers for you.

October 15th is the average date for first frost here in Adams County, although last year we still hadnít frosted well until November. But use October 15th as a baseline and check your seed packet for the number of days until harvest Ė and count backwards. Just make sure that youíll get a harvest before October 15th.

For crops that you are putting in as plants, August 15th is a good median starting date. I usually check the long range weather forecasts and put in the broccoli and cauliflower as soon as a heat wave ends after the first of August.

Leafy crops like arugula, lettuce, spinach and kale should be planted slightly before September 1st. Theyíll sprout in 10-14 days and produce well into November. Radishes grow quickly, so I plant a short row each week from the end of August until the end of September.

For beans, cucumbers, peas, squash and even potatoes, do the math and work back from October 15th. This process seems like a lot of work, but the results will be spectacular and the irregular planting times seem to free up space made by crops that have already been harvested.

Root crops like beets and turnips can be planted in early September and if left unpicked provide a nice winter cover crop.

On a final thought, donít forget to keep pinching off your herbs before they begin to flower and you can be using them until the frost as well. Then look online for how to dry your herbs in the microwave so you can have them all winter. Itís really easy.

Enjoy your fall crops this year and either can or donate your extra crops to your local food bank.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

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