THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON RODALE’S ORGANIC LIFE.

These veggies actually thrive once the sunniest days of summer are past.

 

Summer is over, which can only mean one thing—it’s time to get planting again! There are plenty of reasons to grow a fall vegetable garden, chief among them that it can be even easier than tending a garden in spring and summer. “In fall, soil temperatures remain warm, while rainfall is more predictable and cool nights help prevent water from evaporating from the soil,” says John Toepfer, a life-long gardener and co-founder of Blooming Secrets, a website that provides personalized gardening tips and tools. These factors create the perfect conditions for seeds of cool-weather crops to germinate. Plus, you’ll have fewer weeds and pests to deal with in autumn, since most are at their peak during summer. Score!

(Whether you’re starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

Before you get digging, you’ll want to know the average first frost date in your area. This will help you determine when and what you should plant. You can find it with a simple internet search, or you can look it up in the The Old Farmer’s Almanac. You want your plants to be mature before the first frost date to ensure they’ll be strong enough to survive chillier nights. To figure out when to plant, Toepfer says to simply check the seed packet for the number of days it takes the crop to reach maturity, and then count backward from your first frost date (check out these seeds you should be planting in autumn). For example, if your average first frost is October 20th and your seeds take 35 days to mature, you should aim to plant them by September 16th.

So what should you plant? “One of the characteristics that you may notice about late-season vegetables is that many of them grow very low to the ground, which helps them to stay warm,” Toepfer says. “You can give them a little extra protection from cold by adding a layer of mulch.” We’ve put together the list below to get you started, but there are plenty of other veggies you can choose from, especially greens, members of the cabbage family, and fast-growing root vegetables.

Arugula

Give your salads a kick with this spicy green (try it in arugula pesto). Toepfer says arugula is ideal for planting in fall because it will taste bitter if temperatures are too warm. It grows quickly, too—you can harvest most varieties within 35 days of sprouting, making it perfect for a short growing season.

HOW TO PLANT

Sow seeds in rows about ¼ inch deep, and keep the soil moist until the seed germinates. Toepfer recommends planting seeds every week or two to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the fall.

Turnips

Don’t turn your nose up at this root veggie! There are dozens of ways to eat them, from salads to stews to sides (try this ridiculously tasty vermouth roasted turnips recipe), and they grow best in cool weather. In fact, Toepfer says that waiting to harvest turnips until after the first frost actually improves their flavor.

HOW TO PLANT

Sow seeds about ½ inch deep in loose soil. After sprouts appear, thin seedlings to 2-3 inches apart. If you plant too late for roots to develop, you can always feast on the tops, just like beet greens. Read more about the best ways to grow turnips.

Kohlrabi

If you’ve never grown this unusual-looking vegetable, now’s a good time to start. Its signature bulb-like stem can be added raw to salads, but you can also roast and steam them, or throw them in a soup. The leaves are a great addition to a salad, too. Toepfer recommends harvesting when they’re young for more flavor.

HOW TO PLANT

Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep, 10 to a foot-long row. Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart. Toepfer advises harvesting when the bulbs are 2 to 3 inches in diameter to prevent them from becoming tough. Read more about how to grow kohlrabi here.

 

Spinach

Hot weather makes spinach bitter, so it’s actually best when grown during the refreshing days of autumn. Some varieties are even hardy enough to overwinter and be harvested in spring if you give them some protection.

HOW TO PLANT

Sow seeds in loose soil 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost, and thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. Keep plants evenly watered as dry spells will encourage the plants to bolt.

 

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