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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Growing Together: Some crops can still thrive in the fall
Spinach is a hearty fall crop that doesn’t take much time from seed to harvest. RICHARD HARLEY/MIDJOURNEY

Is your vegetable garden starting to have bare areas as the harvesting of some crops comes to an end?

Time is running short, but why not fill in those empty spots with a few fall crops? There is still some time left to plant some cool season vegetables and continue to enjoy fresh produce from the garden.

The Farmer’s Almanac says the first frost date this year for Niagara will be Oct. 16, but usually our first killing frost isn’t until the end of October.

Some of the vegetables that prefer cooler temperatures and that we typically associate with spring harvesting can also be grown starting late summer to early fall. Think of autumn as a second spring.

When considering what crops will work best, look for ones that will be ready to harvest in 30 to 45 days. It is a fact that many of the cool-weather favourites get even sweeter after a light frost.

Why consider a fall planting?

  • Planting fall crops lets you continue growing fresh, healthy food at home. Plus, there is nothing like home-grown crisp, leafy lettuce.
  • Warm soil is key to good germination. With the summer sun warming the soil for the last few months your seedlings will grow like mad. Also, the lower air temperatures are perfect growing conditions for cool-season vegetables. 
  • Cooler temperatures mean less watering and less sweating for you.

Here are some vegetables to consider for late summer-early fall planting.

Leaf lettuce and other salad greens: There is a wide variety of lettuce to choose from, in all colours, shapes and flavours. They all grow best with cooler air temperatures. 

The great thing about most salad greens is you can harvest what you need and more will grow to be harvested later. You can get speedy harvests from lettuce, in as little as 30 to 40 days. To prolong your harvest, be sure to snap outer leaves first and keep the centre growing point intact so the plant can keep producing new leaves.

Spinach: Fall spinach can be sown in late summer and picked throughout the fall. Sow seeds directly into the soil one inch deep around six weeks before the first frost in a sunny position in the garden. 

You can grow spinach in the ground, in raised garden bed or in containers. Although spinach salads sound super refreshing in the summer heat, this tender green loves the cold. Autumn spinach has more sweetness and more bolt-resistance than spring and summer greens.

Plus, it can be harvested just 30 days from the time of seeding. Gardeners in zone 6 and warmer can often overwinter spinach without protection. The greens can even regenerate from beneath a blanket of snow.

Radishes: A very fast growing vegetable, radishes can be sown in fall for quick harvests. If you grow radishes in pots then you can bring them under cover when the colder weather hits to further extend the season.

Green onions: Green onions (aka scallions) are a very cold-tolerant vegetable with optimal growing temperatures of 20C to 25C. They can survive heavy frosts once established. Plant four to eight weeks before frost.

Swiss chard: This is another hardy green that reaches an edible size in 25 to 30 days. Given some extra protection when frost threatens, chard can last well into fall. If well-mulched, you could be harvesting into late fall.

Bok choy: Another vegetable that does not like hot weather, bok choy tends to be sown in spring and fall. This Asian crop, also known commonly as pak choi or Chinese cabbage, produces edible stalks and leaves.

Bok choy can either be harvested as tender leaves or grown to maturity to be used in stir fries.

Sow seeds directly into fertile soil around half-an-inch deep, sowing successionally to ensure a steady supply of harvests. Bok choy is fast-growing, baby leaves can be ready within 30 days while it may take 60 days for mature plants.

Sow in early fall for a crop later in the season. It’s ready to harvest in 40 to 45 days.

Just writing this article has made me start to crave some more fresh produce from the garden. Enjoy some time out in the garden, planting some seeds and reaping another harvest before the end of our growing season.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.


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