Fall Crops

Fall…cool weather, hay rides, fresh salads again, apple butter festivals. What a lovely season! All the hot hard work of summer is winding down and it becomes a pleasure to linger in the veggie patch again.

Here in SW Missouri, fall is as short and unpredictable as spring was. We can miss it altogether sometimes, going straight from deadly hot summer to plain flat cold.

Another drawback to a very long summer season, other than getting tired of zuchinni, is the fall veggies have to be seeded and planted when it’s still quite hot and dry, in September. So my fall crop really does have to be two-season varieties.

Broccoli: a cole crop, needing regular pesticide treatments, from diatomacious earth, pyrethrins, to heavier duty insecticides to protect the crop. The benefits of a fall broccoli is they are harvested in cool weather, making them sweeter. Spacing is 12″-18″, up to 24″

They also need rich soil and fertilizer. A good way to use crop rotation and companion planting techniques is to load up the fall/winter rows with compost in spring, then either leaving it fallow during the summer, or planting pest deterents or soil improvers.

Nemagone marigolds, beans, aromatic herbs, or cover crops are a good way to build soil and control damaging soil pests in rows you intend to plant cole crops.

  • gypsy–a 68 day broccoli with about the best tolerance to the heat I have to sow and plant them in. Vigorous growth and some resistance to powdery mildew, as well as good side shoot production once the main head is harvested.
  • premium crop–less tolerant of the heat, but comes to life and tastes wonderful when the temps cool off. Few side shoots. I’ve grown this under frost blankets when planting as late as the first of October. Would be great as a winter crop under low tunnels
  • broccoli raab–a non heading type of broccoli, like a big bunch of side shoots. It can be harvestable as fast as 40 days, making it great for planting later than September. Strong flavor but very good.

Beets: a root crop, beets need plenty of compost and trace minerals from a fertilizer like Tomato Tone, higher in potash and phosphorus. The greens are edible, making good additions to salads, as well as the great taste of the beet roots roasted with a brush of butter.

The seedlings are weak so they don’t come up if the soil is crusted. They also need even moisture to germinate, so I will drop a soil moist granule in with the seed and cover with very fine compost or a sandy soil mix. They can be harvested as small as golfballs for baby beets.

  • bulls blood–an old variety, 1880’s, not as vigorous or uniform as the new hybrids, but nothing has that deep red leaf color! Very pretty in the lettuce rows, and the salad bowl. Full size in 64 days.
  • cylindra–a carrot shape rather than round, it makes slicing much easier. Perfect for canning or freezing, as it shortens the prep time. If it’s sold out, look for a beet called Tannus, which is also cylindrical
  • Lutz winterkeeper–a big big beet that stores very well, it grows more slowly, 60-80 days to mature, making it a good candidate for a winter growing veggie
  • red ace–a vigorous and uniform hybrid, ready in just 50 days or sooner if you pick as baby beets. A garden workhorse, full size in 50 days.

Cabbage: another cole crop, the fall cabbage can take longer to mature than the spring crop, being remarkably hardy, even in snow. It also needs good care and excellent soil, and benefits from being planted with rosemary, thyme, and other aromatic herbs.

  • Jung cabbage babies–a trio of small headed cabbage, this is ideal for family use. A green, a red, and a savoy cabbage ready in 60-70 days. Space at 12″, expect the heads to be 1 lb.
  • tronchuda–called Portugese kale, this Pine tree garden seed cabbage is a loose head, like loose leaf lettuce. Sweeter and milder than head cabbage, it is perfect for making stuffed cabbage and soups, even using in salads.
  • blue lagoon–a 4 pound head cabbage ready in 70 days, it is a gorgeous deep blue green with large wrapper leaves. Space at 24″
  • bravo–another large head, needing a 24″ space, this is ready in 85 days for a later harvesting cabbage, holding up in late fall cold
  • danish ballhead–a long time long term standby, this 1880 heirloom takes 90-100 days to mature, with large heads up to 10″ across, and plenty of wrapper leaves to protect it from cold.
  • january king–a true winter variety, it was developed in northern Europe to grow in near frozen fields. The reddish color is attractive in a winter garden, ready in 120-160 days, perhaps faster under low tunnels
  • tundra–also a winter variety, it takes 180 to 220 days to mature. Another good cabbage under low tunnels for the first fresh sweet cabbage 6 to 7 months after planting.

Carrots: a root crop, it needs the usual good fertilizer, loose rock free soil, but it also needs a slightly sweet soil from a light application of gypsum. The fall carrots are usually sweeter because of the cooler conditions when harvested, and some winter carrots will stay inground all winter long for you to harvest a leisure.

  • kuroda–a big 1 pound carrot in 70-90 days, it germinates in the heat of late summer here better than most carrots. It’s size makes it good for freezing, and it’s cruncy enough to hold up to canning, and it also is the best carrot for juicing.
  • yaya–a 6″ long uniform thickness carrot, it can be pulled at baby stage in 40 days or left to mature at 60 days. That makes for a 20 day harvesting window. It is sweet and mild, and it’s even thickness makes it good for canning and fresh slicing.
  • tendersweet–the carrot for people who don’t really like carrots. it’s taste is mild and sweet, sweeter even in the fall. Long and tapered, maturing in 70 days
  • meridia–an overwintering carrot, sown in late summer it will harvest 8 months later, for the sweetest of fresh spring carrots.

Cauliflower: another fall cole crop, with the same insect and care needs. The whole plant is harvested, as unlike broccoli there are no side shoots. It is spaced at 12″, and the varieties that are not self wrapping need their leaves tied over the head to protect from sun discoloration.

  • farmer’s extra early–a super fast 40 day cauliflower that simply does not withstand much heat, so it is one of the last cauliflower I plant. But it’s a good tasting cauliflower, and can last longer into the winter than most cauliflower
  • amazing–excellent hybrid tolerating both heat and cold to produce a large 10″ self blanching head of cauliflower in 70 days. Unlike many cauliflower it doesn’t get a purple tinge under stressful conditions.
  • graffitti–a deep purple cauliflower in 80 days, it’s a striking color no doubt. It’s one of the few purples to form a true head
  • cheddar–a bright yellow with good taste. 80-100 days it has 25 times more beta carotene than white varieties, which is what gives it the carrot-y color.

Kale: related to cabbage kale is the hardiest, most reliable snow-toed salad fixin there is, with overwintering spinach as a close second. It comes in some beautiful colors and textures, too.

  • red russian–a smooth cut leaf type, like a red stemmed baby oak leaf with good taste, hardiness, and attractiveness.
  • wild garden kale mixes–a wide variety of color and textures, best picked as baby leaves for salads, or if you like your greens steamed you can allow to grow larger.

Onion: fall onions are often the evergreen bunching varieties, or scallions as you may wish to call them. I start these indoors about 3 months before planting outside, and use them as row markers for slow germinating carrots and beets. Or as “grid lines”, too.

  • candy–the old reliable of my gardens, it is a day neutral hybrid and in fall it really won’t grow to maturity. But it’s sweet enough in the cool weather to have baby onions for freezing and canning as well as fresh eating.
  • red candy–a newer onion, a hybrid red that doesn’t blow the top of your head off or make your sinus cry. it will form little baby bulbs before the cold stops its growth
  • evergreen bunching–a true scallion, non bulbing, and ready for harvest at full size in about 65 days. Mild taste.
  • winter white bunching–also a non bulbing scallion, this one is cold toed enough to last well over the winter without the wilts. 120 days to full size.

Parsnip–I don’t even try this in spring, with its long maturity times. Given that it’s a root crop, I sow parsnips in soil where Nemagone marigolds have grown for 3 months, to prevent the nematode damage. Grown in cool weather and pulled at 6″, parsnips are sweet, creamy, and tender.

  • gladiator–a newer, and faster germinating variety, it is full size at 110 days
  • harris–the whitest and smoothest parsnip, ready in 120 days, it is also the sweetest of the parsnips, sweet enough even to grate into a salad.

Pea–the humble but wonderful legume! So sweet and great for fresh, frozen, or canned eating. It builds the soil fertility, helps other plants grow, and just plain tastes good!

  • sugar sprint–a super fast 58 days sugar snap edible pod pea, it will hold up better in the cold than the gigantic super sugar snaps. Only 24″ tall, it can grow with or without support.
  • alaska–with a name like that…a short vine shelling pea for colder even frosty temperatures. It bears heavily and fast in 55 days or less. Can be sown here as late as October
  • lincoln–the gold standard sweet pea. It’s a 70 day maturity, but a short vining pea that doesn’t need trellising, and is arguably the sweetest of the sweet.

Radish–a fast germinating root crop, often used as a row marker for beets and carrots. It interplants with any other veggie, and is ready in 40 days give or take. Best pulled when small.

  • french breakfast–a cylindrical shape to make slicing easier, it is mature in 25 days
  • purple plum–a shocking purple skin with white interior, 30 days
  • german giant–a crisp but mild radish even at very large size, 30 days
  • icicle short top–an all white cylindrical radish, 32 days
  • cherry bell–bright red round radish, 25 days

Romaine: my favorite salad, romaine is crisp and sweet whether you pick as baby leaf or allow to grow to full size. It holds up better in both heat and cold than regular leaf lettuce. And who don’t like Ceasar salad?

Being a leaf crop it craves nitrogen so I plant with peas and top dress with compost and blood meal, in addition to the usual Tomato Tone for good root growth. I space at 6″-8″ for baby lettuce or 10″-12″ for full size.

  • annapolis–deep red, the deepest of reds in cool weather, and very sweet. It’s tall and strong at 70 days, but super sweet as a baby leaf in 30 days or less.
  • jericho–a light green, heat tolerant Israeli lettuce, handling the hot seeding weather of my area quite well, and one of the first to sow for fall
  • winter density–a small heading type cos lettuce, maxing out at 8″ wide in 70 days. It stands up to unprotected snow, though ice and such requires a frost blanket cover. Long harvest

Spinach–grows like cos/romaine, and a super hardy salad ingredient that can be harvested most all winter with minimal protection.

  • space–a small 4″ spaced smooth leaf spinach that’s mature in just 40 days, it can be sown over and over again until the soil is too cold to germinate.
  • samish–an overwintering spinach to outlast all others
  • bloomsdale–another smooth leaved spinach that will winter in longer than space, and is slow to bolt.

Turnip: another humble root crop, turnips are actually very good and tasty when roasted in the pan with chicken, beef, or plain old butter. Germinates fairly fast and is mature quick enough to repeat sow.

  • purple top–been around forever and easy to grow, mature in 60 days, but makes a great baby root.
  • tokyo cross–a pure white mild root, growing fast at just 35-40 days or sooner.

Cover Crops: for the harvested spring and summer rows, a summer grown cover crop that grows fast and dies in frost would be a great way to provide composting material without with wheelbarrow. Once the frost has killed it, cut it, let it dry some, then till or turn in to compost over the winter.

  • legumes: soybeans, cow peas, field peas, or even just a bunch of bush beans left to grow

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