Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden
We are so lucky in the Pacific Northwest to be able to grow veggies nearly year-round with a little help from season-extending materials but the fact is that many vegetable gardeners don’t take advantage of the opportunities that exist in mid-to-late summer to plant vegetables for fall and even extra-early-spring harvests.
Maybe we’re all a little less confident of what to plant and when. Or maybe, arms laden with enormous squash and eyes glued to ripening tomatoes, we stay in the “care-and-harvest” zone, forgetting that too soon we will be lamenting the lack of garden-grown produce (and sunshine).
Maybe we hear the term “fall vegetable garden” and think fall planting. But mid-July through August is the ideal time to plant. Whether you already have a thriving edible garden or haven’t had time to start a vegetable patch this year, it’s time to get outside and get started! This fall gardening guide will help you plan and plant a successful fall garden.
Planning the Fall Vegetable Garden
Missed planting peas last spring? No problem. In the PNW, we can grow peas for a fall harvest! Have some space where your newly-harvested lettuce used to grow? It’s perfect for fall beets, broccoli, or even more lettuce.
Let’s look at where to plant, how to improve the soil, and whether you should plant seeds or starts (baby plants), then I’ll provide a list of vegetables suitable for the fall/winter garden.
Where to Plant
When planting for autumn, it’s a good idea to practice crop rotation. If you can, plant something different than what you had in that spot in spring and summer. This is especially important for crops in the Cabbage family (broccoli, kale, radishes), and for carrots and onions. Some of the pests that attack these vegetables could still be around and planting the same thing in the same spot makes it all that much easier for them to feast.
Remember also that you can sow seeds or even plant starts (baby plants) in tight spaces if the vegetables that are currently growing there will be harvested soon. Radishes and carrots can be planted in between rows of maturing lettuce or bush beans, for example.
Improving the Soil
Your summer vegetables have most likely used up essential nutrients in the soil, so adding a natural vegetable fertilizer (try Dr. Earth or Espoma brand) will give your new plants a much-needed boost. You can also amend your soil with high-quality compost, such as E.B. Stone Planting Compost or Gardner & Bloome Harvest Supreme. For containers, always use potting soil (again, E.B. Stone and Gardner & Bloome offer excellent options) mixed with fertilizer, added according to package directions.
Now is also the time to mulch your soil, after planting, with several inches of compost (Gardner & Bloome Soil Building Conditioner is great as mulch) to keep summer’s heat in the soil and help retain soil moisture.
If you decide not to plant your entire space, consider sowing a cover crop such as crimson clover, vetch, winter peas, or favas in the fall. These legumes are nitrogen fixers and will improve your soil. Let them grow through the winter, then till them into the soil in early (can’t emphasize that enough) spring and voilà – improved soil!
Starts or Seeds?
Planting starts will allow you to harvest earlier in many cases. For many of the edibles mentioned below, starts are preferable to plant in August. However, fast growers like lettuce, parsley, radishes, arugula, or vegetables you will harvest small (baby carrots and young leaves of spinach, kale, and Swiss chard) can easily be grown from seed or starts, depending on your preference. If sowings of seed fail to germinate in early August because of heat and inconsistent water, try again in late August and September when they may germinate more easily.
Note: Many vegetables have varieties that are best suited for fall and winter. At Swansons, we carry fall gardening varieties of plant starts in July and August. For seeds, check seed packet information to see if a variety is recommended for fall gardening.
What to Plant
Vegetables are often separated into two groups: cool-season and warm-season. The warm-season veggies are at their peak at the height of summer: think tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. Cool-season veggies prefer milder weather and can generally be planted in spring and again in late summer/early autumn.
Some cool-season veggies grow fairly quickly and, if you plant them now, you will be able to harvest this year. Lettuce, most greens, radishes, and peas can be harvested before the first frost or covered for protection (see “Cold Protection”, below) while beets and carrots can handle a little frost and may even become sweeter for it.
Other cool-season vegetables can be planted now but won’t be ready until next year. They will “overwinter,” meaning they will stay mostly dormant until early spring and then begin growing again, giving you earlier harvests than if you waited to plant them until early spring.
So what should you plant? Here are some options.
Plant these in mid-July for Fall Harvests
These vegetables need to be planted very soon so they will have time to mature by fall.
Summer Gardening in the Northwest
The only way to ensure you have the freshest vegetables is to grow them yourself. Plus, with growing your own you know they are commercial herbicide and pesticide free.
By mid-summer, most gardens are in full swing. Crops such as lettuce, radishes, peas and spinach have had their growing season and are being harvested by this point. Others can be planted now for a delightful Fall Harvest.
Lettuce/Mesclun Mix – the earliest time to plant lettuce is as soon as the risk of frost has passed (generally the second or third week of May). It is a fast-growing vegetable and is ready for the picking in late June/early July. Most lettuce will quickly bolt to seed if the temperatures rise too high, but some varieties are exceptionally well adapted to heat. The best part is, you can enjoy lettuce again in the fall, as the next planting can be the third week of July for an end of September harvest.
Australian Yellow Lettuce should be called King of Summer, because we can not get it to bolt, even through the hottest days. Its bright green/yellow leaves perk up every night and continue to produce while we harvest the lower leaves.
There are other things to keep in mind during the summer when it comes to gardening. They are:
Keeping the weeds down during the summer can seem like a never-ending battle. It is important to remove them before they go to seed (meaning, the flowers die off and seeds are revealed.) Toss only young weeds in the compost pile. If they have set seed, they need to be thrown in the trash, or better yet, burned. The heat of the compost does not kill all weed seeds.
Water thoroughly, but less often, as only giving your garden a sprinkling does more harm than good. Water during the evening, as the moisture will quickly evaporate in the heat of the day. If you have vegetables that are visibly stressed, spot water during the day then give the entire garden a thorough soaking once the sun has gone down. Rainwater is the first choice for your garden (see: Seattle Rain Barrels), but city/well water will suffice if rainwater is in short supply.
Check your crops for pests and diseases. The sooner you spot a problem, the easier it will be to take care of it. Spider mites and aphids can quickly cause irreparable damage to plants, so getting rid of them quickly is crucial. Many pests and diseases will take advantage of the gardener’s neglect; they seem to know just when you’re on vacation.
Gardening is a rewarding activity, with the harvest being the most rewarding of all. By taking the steps above, you will soon be enjoying a healthy, bountiful harvest. Happy gardening!
A Year-Round Garden Planner will help you plant and harvest at the correct times of the year (ALL year) for your specific climate.
Where to order vegetable and herb seeds online
The seed companies listed below are those most often recommended by gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. They offer seed varieties suitable to the cool, wet, marine climate in the Puget Sound region where the growing season is later and shorter than other areas of the country.
All these seed companies can ship your order. You can also find some of these brands at local nurseries and garden centers where you shop.
How many seeds to you need?
Planting vegetable seeds in a container garden – DepositPhotos.com
Don’t over buy. Each packet typically lasts more than one growing season.
Unless you are an experienced gardener, we recommend you limit your order to 5-6 different seeds at most. Trying more plants than this your first year will be overwhelming. Too many varieties will more likely lead to crop failure and discourage you from continuing to garden.
Each seed packet contains hundreds of seeds. For many vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and tomatoes, you need only to grow one plant per person. For crops such as lettuce and other greens, carrots, peas, and beans, you need only a few dozen seeds per person.
For more information about starting a vegetable garden:
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Seed companies for online ordering
The best time to order garden seeds is late fall and or early winter. The later you place your order, the more risk you run in your first choice being out of stock.
(Listed alphabetically by company name, with headquarter state. Northwest companies are listed first in the highlighted box.)
Deep Harvest Farm (Washington State/Whidbey Island) is a Whidbey Island-based farmer-run seed company that grows 100% Certified Organic, Open-Pollinated, Northwest Adapted produce and flower seeds. Over 90% of their seed comes from Whidbey Island.
Nichols Garden Nursery (Oregon) offers vegetable and herb seeds well-suited to Pacific Northwest gardens.
Territorial Seed Company (Oregon) offers conventional, organic, and heirloom seeds well-suited to Northwest gardens. Check out their Garden Planner desktop application ($29/year), as well as their free growing guides. You can also find Territorial Seeds at retail locations around the Puget Sound region.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Missouri) offers the largest selection of heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds in the country, including seeds from the 19th century, and many Asian and European varieties.
Botanical Interests (Colorado). Check out their section on “easy to grow” garden essentials and plants that are good for containers. Get access to their free coloring book when you submit your email address.
Burpee “Cook’s Garden” (Pennsylvania). Well-known national company offers this selection of popular products for the home garden. Their seeds are widely available at garden centers and major retailers, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Ferry-Morse (Massachusetts). Well-known national company with a large variety of vegetable, herb, and melon seeds. Check out their easy to grow and container-friendly seeds. Their seeds are widely available at major retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Grow Organic (California) offers Peaceful Valley brand certified organic vegetable seeds.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Maine). If you are new to gardening, check out their “easy choice” vegetables category for popular varieties. Also check out their selection of fruits suitable for containers.
Renee’s Garden (California) offers heirloom vegetable and herbs seeds for home gardeners.
Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa) offers vegetable and herb seeds, specializing in heirloom seeds to protect biodiversity. You can also find Seed Savers in retail locations across the country.
Seeds of Change (New Mexico) features organically grown heirloom vegetable and herbs seeds. Check out their “collections” such as best sellers, culinary herbs, kids easy garden, salsa collection, and other choices—a quick and easy way to get started!
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Gardening tools and vegetable starts – DepositPhotos.com
Posted by Carole Cancler on May 9, 2022 | Updated May 9, 2022 Filed Under: Gardening · Home, Garden & Auto · Winter (December, January, February) Tagged With: delivery services· plant sale