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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Five Fall Crops Worth Mentioning

Posted by Thomas, from A Growing Tradition

When our family moved to our new home in late July, I was a bit disappointed that we had missed out on being able to grow many of the traditional summer crops that seem to dominate seed catalogs these days. While other gardeners were tending to their tomato, cucumber and melon plants, I was breaking ground, raising fence and sowing my fall garden. Looking back, I was glad for the experience. Here in New England, many of us are so focused on getting our summer crops to mature in September (and rightly so) that we often overlook the extended bounty that a traditional fall garden can produce. I experimented with many different types of fall crops this year. And while I've had my fair share of failures along the way, I've learned that all of the planning and effort that goes into growing a proper fall garden is well worth it.

There are many things I look for in a good fall vegetable - quick maturity dates and cold hardiness to name a couple. Instead of listing them all, I thought I'd highlight five crops that I believe exemplify many of these characteristics. In no particular order:

1. The Obvious - Cut and Come Again Lettuce

lettuce mix
30 Days to harvest - Fall lettuce/salad mix is the ideal gift that keeps on giving. I can appreciate a crop that will allow me to harvest from it over and over again until a mighty November frost intervenes (longer if you give it some protection). Cooler weather offers two added benefits - 1) you don't have to worry about your lettuce bolting unexpectedly and 2) certain greens (such as arugula) that would normally be too sharp for my taste during the summer months develop a milder flavor. Finally, I consider a fall harvest of salad greens to be the perfect break between the succulent vine-ripened crops of summer and the hardier root vegetables of winter.

harvesting lettuce mix

2. The Esteemed - Hakurei Turnips

hakurei turnips harvest
40 days to harvest - I cannot speak highly enough about this vegetable. Those of you who dislike conventional turnips might appreciate this mild and crisp variety from Japan. Prized by top chefs around the world, Hakurei turnips can be enjoyed raw in a salad or lightly cooked. When steamed and tossed with a bit of butter, these turnips taste like the best cauliflower I have ever had (but much easier and faster to grow). Hakurei turnips are best harvested golf ball-sized and produce tasty greens as well. Sow seeds every couple of weeks from mid-August to mid-September to ensure a steady crop throughout most of the fall.

turnips and carrots 2

3. The Humble - Radishes

easter egg radishes
30 days to harvest - I will admit that radishes are not high on my list of favorite things to eat. However, what they lack in taste, they more than make up for in color, which can range anywhere from brilliant to radiant. This humble vegetable grows easily in cool weather and small-type varieties are very quick to mature. Harvest small-type radishes young as they tend to get hot and pithy the larger they get. I enjoy them raw in a salad or pickled.

radish bouquet 2

4. The Tender and Sweet - Chinese Broccoli

flowering brasscia
45-50 days to harvest - Most Asian greens thrive in cooler weather, and out of these, many are exceptionally cold hardy. The disadvantage of growing Asian greens is that most are susceptible to the same pests that plague other brassicas. Therefore, protection in the form of row covers is generally needed. The advantage is that they usually have relatively short maturity dates. One variety that performed very well for me this year was a flowering-type brassica known as Green Lance, more commonly referred to as Chinese broccoli. The stalk, leaves and flower buds of this plant are all edible. In particular, the stalk (like asparagus) is very tender and sweet. I will continue to grow this vegetable in place of fall broccoli as it is faster to mature, more productive, and in my experience, much less vulnerable to pests.

flowering brassica 2

5. The Nutritional Powerhouse - Spinach

Fall Spinach 3
40 days to harvest - There are several varieties of spinach that are exceptionally winter hardy. While other fall greens slowly succumb to frost, spinach will remain surprisingly resilient with a bit of added protection in the form of a cold frame or row covers. The variety that I am growing currently is called "Space". Spinach, like lettuce and most Asian greens, can be harvested during most stages of development, making them a particularly reliable fall crop regardless of how quickly the weather turns cold. And if that is not enough to make you want to grow spinach, its nutritional value should.

Fall Spinach 2
I hope you consider growing some of these vegetables in your fall garden. One final peace of advice - please bear in mind that precise sowing dates are much more crucial when planning a fall garden (sow too late and you will end up eating mostly baby greens). You can mitigate this somewhat by utilizing row covers. To be on the safe side, add a couple of weeks to the maturity date listed on the seed packet to help ensure a harvest. If you have any fall crops you particularly love that I have not mentioned here, or have any fall gardening tips that you would like others to know, please share!



Please, can you tell me if I can harvest my lettuce (Romaine, Bibb, Iceberg) by only clipping rather than pulling? This would be similar to harvesting chives.

Diana said...

A great post, thank you very much, Thomas, and especially for the pickled radish idea, I never thought one could pickle radish! I'll definitely try that next year.

Chiot's Run said...

I'll have to give those turnips a try. I'm always game to try a new vegetable, particularly those that mature quickly.

Thomas said...

Hi Maybelline, red romaine is one ingredient in the lettuce mix that I'm growing and I've heard of other gardeners harvesting the young outer leaves of their Bibb lettuce, but Iceberg I'm not so sure. The obvious factors to consider are 1) taste and 2) whether the plant will recuperate after being trimmed this way. I suspect that will Bibb and other head lettuce, this haircutting approach will not do (seen in the second photo), rather you should be a little more deliberate in your cutting and harvest only the larger outer leaves. And with most cut and come again lettuce, I always leave a couple of inches above the base when trimming.

Diana- I hope you do try the pickled radish! It makes for a fantastic quick pickle in my opinion.

Susy (Chiot's Run)- I hope you do try the Hakurei turnips. They have been the highlight of my fall garden. Space the seeds at 2 inches apart and thin to 4 inches apart to ensure timely bulbing. The greens and thinning are delicious in soups and stir-fries.

The Mom said...

Excellent article. I also love parsnips and swiss chard. They both keep plugging away.

Thomas said...

The Mom - unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to sow some Swiss chard until about a month ago. Currently, I have them growing under cover. It will be interesting to see what becomes of them in the coming winter months here in New England.

Kate said...

Wow, those are GORGEOUS turnips. Thank you for the recommendation. I'm going to add them to my seed list for next year. I've always been lukewarm on turnips, plus your glowing recommendation, and their fast growth rate, has swayed me.

Daphne said...

The two that I love that you didn't mention were Chinese cabbage and carrots. They aren't as fast as your fall picks though. I usually plant them in July for a fall harvest.

Do the turnips work as well in the spring? I'm always looking for fast thing to grow in the spring.

Thomas said...

Kate - I hope you enjoy them next year as much as I have.

Daphne - Yes, these turnips can be grown from early spring to late summer.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Great garden even though you got a late start! Hakurei turnips are a staple here - we find we eat so many of them straight out of the garden, and actually prefer them raw at the table too. They ARE NOT gramma's turnips definitely!

Hopewell said...

Very interesting. I'm planning a container garden for next spring, guess I could try a few of these as well...

safirasilv said...

Your fall garden is killer. I got my fall crops in far too late this year and as a result am getting only baby greens--but they're tasty. I recommend mizuna as a good addition to the late-season (and early-bird) garden.

Katie said...

Would any of these work well for container gardening? I will be moving to an apartment soon so I am trying to find things for all seasons that will grow well in containers!

Thomas said...

Katie, lettuce mix and most salad greens (like arugula) will DEFINITELY work grown in a container. If possible, stick to an organic potting mix as in my experience, lettuce does not take well to the conventional stuff. Remember that veggies grown in containers are dependent on you for EVERYTHING, so they would probably benefit from supplemental feedings in the form a seaweed/fish emulsion every 2 - 3 weeks.

You can also try certain Asian greens like baby pak choi and tatsoi. Swiss chard is regularly grown in containers as well. Good luck!

pete said...

if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at