I fully admit that we’re not the best at executing our plans to grow cool-weather crops in the fall. There’s just something so sad about having to say goodbye to those last, red tomatoes, and begin hacking up the browned twigs and bits sagging about our garden that was teeming with life just a mere month ago.
Despite this letdown, it’s well worth gearing up for the cool-weather crop phase that is fall. Before long it will be time to harvest pumpkins and big squash; pick dark, leafy kale greens for a hearty soup; and put those garlic bulbs in the ground for a long winter’s nap. The bounty of colorful fall vegetables delivers immune-bolstering doses of iron and vitamins A and C as well as calcium, potassium and other needed minerals. The imminent cold and flu season is reason enough to get excited for your fall garden harvest.
So shake off the end-of-summer blues, break out your hoe and pitchfork, and clear out the rubble from your garden beds. Add some compost, mix it in with the existing soil, and smooth everything out for another round of planting. Think about what meals you’d like to enjoy during November and December, and plan your fall garden selections accordingly.
When to plant fall vegetables in NJ Zone 6:
August 1-25: Beets and Radishes, Kale.
Beets thrive in the cooler weather, and can be direct-sown in the garden for a virtually maintenance-free fall crop. Cover them with 1-2 inches of compost, and water deeply and frequently as this is a thirsty plant. Plant with enough room for the beets to grow to mature size, and for the leaves to spread above ground. (Beets greens taste delicious sauteed with a little garlic and oil and sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice.)
If your beet plants seem to produce funny looking little nubs instead of nice, fat beets, try adding some lime to the soil to boost the pH level.
Kale is a fantastic, fall-weather crop that should mature by the time the first frost hits. Your kale plants love the cold weather and will keep producing into December if the NJ winter is a mild one. They can take temps as low as 20 degrees… and in fact, taste better this way. This winter, brush the snow off your garden bed, and you may find some happy kale plants there, ready for picking, cooking and eating!
Here in Hardiness Zone 6, the first frost occurs around October 15, so get your fall kale plants in the ground by August 15 if possible. If you’re growing your kale from seed, germinate the seed in soil that’s about 70 degrees, and give them a good 2 months to get a growing head-start before planting in your garden beds.
August 5-Sept 20 – Spinach, Turnips.
Spinach actually does better in the fall than in springtime. In spring, the warm, longer days trigger the plants to bolt and go to seed, which means they stop producing leaves. So don’t give up on your spinach plants – just save some seeds for the autumn harvest.
Plant spinach seeds 4-6 weeks before the first hard frost. Around August 1 would be the best time for NJ Zone 6. As mentioned in our article on when to plant early spring vegetables in NJ, spinach thrives in well-fertilized soil. Add some compost to your garden before planting. You may also wish to spray on some fish fertilizer to increase the health of your spinach plants.
Turnips. Plant these about ½ inch in the ground, and plan to later thin the plants to 3 or 4 inches apart. Once the turnip plants appear, cover them with 2 inches of mulch to ensure even water dispersion and drainage. Small turnips can be hand-harvested, and larger ones, carefully dug out with a little gardening fork.
Sept 1 – Lettuce, Onion (you can plant onions all the way through to Dec. 25).
As we mentioned in our spring planting article, lettuce is a simple and fun crop to grow. Just a sprinkle of seeds over a well-prepared bed will do. But you can also find exciting varieties of lettuce at a good, local nursery that sells organic plants. We buy ours from Cierich’s in Pohatcong, NJ.
This article says that if you want to enjoy lettuce all through the spring, summer and fall, then plant lettuce crops every month or so. They also offer detailed information on how to plant different varieties of lettuce.
Some tips: wait until an overcast day before transplanting your already-started lettuce plants into the garden. Water the plants 1-2 hours before planting in your garden beds.
Your fall lettuce will prefer to grow in the full sun (summer lettuce can do just as well in less than 5 hours of sun per day). If you’re really into lettuce, you can set up a cold frame to protect your lettuce plants from the frost.
Onions. If you plant onions for the fall, they’ll be ready to eat in early spring. Purchase multiplier onions in clumps. Divide the clumps into individual bulbs, and plant 2 to 3 inches deep in the ground. Plant so that the pointed part is facing up (otherwise, the onion will be upside-down). Be sure the garden beds where your onions grow offer full sun and good drainage.
Sept 20-30: Broccoli, Cabbage
Broccoli, like all other fall veggies, will be much sweeter and more tender if grown as a cool-weather crop. So be sure to leave a full month or more for those broccoli plants to get started before the expected frost on October 15. Full sun and slightly acidic soil will yield strong, healthy broccoli plants. Add lime if you’ve had poor broccoli results in the past. Work in some good compost or manure to get things going.
Broccoli should be picked from the crown (middle head) first. You’ll know when to harvest your broccoli – it will look like it does in the produce section of the grocery store, but probably greener and far more impressive all around. Use a paring knife to make a clean cut of the crown from the stem. After that, augment the soil with some fish fertilizer to encourage the growth of side shoots.
Cabbage is a hearty, cruciferous vegetable that goes great with your typical fall harvest fare (think sausages and cabbage), and is simple to grow. It also is just as good as broccoli in preventing cancer. Plant your cabbage plants with plenty of room around them for the heads to grow, and be sure the soil is loamy and well fertilized with compost. You can also order cabbage caps to place over young plants and protect from frost.