Plant now for fall harvest: Get your Garden on

It’s a beautiful foggy morning in the Pacific Northwest; a definite sign of impending autumn.  I’m ready for it.  I mean, I want ripe tomatoes – and please,  oh please, oh please – I really want my few French Breakfast melons to ripen.  But when the light turns gold, the mornings shrouded in mist and the days begin to shorten, I’m ready to move on.  I appreciate all four seasons and fall is one of my favorites…actually the beginning of any season is my favorite!

Unfortunately, after an inexplicably sleepless night, I’m afraid my brain is even more foggy than the skies outside.  Rather than sit and stare at my keyboard and question my ability to string words together into cogent – let alone knowledgeable, witty or compelling – sentences I’m headed out to the garden to begin preparing for my fall vegetable planting.

We have such a mild growing climate here in the Puget Sound area that with some planning and clever sequencing we can harvest cool season crops from the garden nearly year ’round.  How’s that for eating local!  The trick is to always plan ahead and leave room for the next crop to go in.  Here’s a passage from my book Growing Your Own Vegetables:

Growing Your Own Vegetables

Growing Your Own Vegetables

Succession planting keeps the garden in constant production.  Cool season crops like peas, spinach or early lettuce may be planted as soon as the soil is workable in the spring and are harvested before the onset of summer heat.  These are followed up with a sowing of warm-season beans or corn, or planted with transplants of tomatoes, peppers and squash.  Either method allows a second crop to be produced in the same space in a single growing season.  Areas with mild winters may even follow a warm-season planting with another cool-season crop to produce throughout fall or over winter for an especially early spring harvest the following season.

Cool-season plants thrive in the moist, chilly days of spring and fall to produce leaves, stems and roots which are harvested while still young and tender.  In general, warm-season crops require long hot sunny days to flower, fruit and ripen.  Coastal and northern gardens can produce cool-season crops throughout the entire growing season but may require heat saving devices and weather protection to produce warm-season crops.  Hot summer regions will yield warm-season crops with little additional protection but may require partial shade, or planting in the cooler seasons on either side of summer to produce cool-season crops.  Those plants that tolerate both cool and warm weather are resilient and oftentimes very productive crops which yield over a very long season.

So it’s a matter of knowing your garden’s growing environment and planning accordingly working with the ‘ole vegetable time-space continuum!  I may yearn, lust and drool for my melons to ripen but the sure money is on rows of kale, chard, lettuce, beets, fennel, arugula, radishes, and herbs.  That’s a lot of delicious, and certain food I’d miss out on if I gambled only on warm season crops in our sometimes heat-challenged PNW summers.

So this morning as I downed cup after cup of strong coffee in an effort to gain consciousness, I sorted my seed packets and made a list of those seeds or transplants I need to hunt down in the next week.  Here’s my list:

Broccoli Raab
Dino Kale (or Calvolo Nero Kale)
Parsley – I seem to ONLY be able to grow parsley over the fall & winter
and of course…Fava Beans
Flashy chard

Flashy chard

Kale hedge

Kale hedge

I’ve still got young crops of lettuce, beets, and bulbing fennel coming along nicely from seed I sowed in early August.  My stand of kale – I call it my kale hedge – is still going strong and will just improve in flavor with cooler temperatures and a bit more moisture.  Rainbow Swiss chard – not the most exciting tasting veg, but certainly one of the most beautiful (& nutritious) – is finally calming down and not trying to bolt (go to flower & seed) every week.  I’ll pick from these cool-season crops all winter.  Usually it’s my own reluctance to go out into the dark, wet, nasty weather that precludes a harvest more so than the vegetable’s lack of production.

my tiny urban plot

my tiny urban plot

To hear me talk of it, you’d think I had a true “back 40” planted in food!  In fact, my tiny vegetable garden measures a mere 15′ x 15′ with the occasional crop tucked in among my ornamental plantings.  But this little garden lives larges and provides us with a just-enough stream of fresh food most months of the year with some bonus harvests in August (anybody want some climbing zucchini?!?)


In photo: (top) nearly perfect Zuchetta Rampancante or Climbing Italian Zucchini, (bottom) too bad I don’t have chickens!!!  BTW – like my new Boise State garden clogs?  Go Broncos!

Again, from GYOV:

Another way to make a small garden “work bigger” is to take advantage of the space between slower-to-mature vegetables with a crop that is quick to mature.  For instance, plant lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, baby carrots and beets between rows of winter squash or melons.  These “catch crops” are quick to mature before the neighboring vines sprawl to fill in their growing space.  Similarly, fall crops of broccoli, kale, and cabbage are easier to get started in the cooler shade beneath mature tomato plants or bean teepees in hot growing regions.

It should be noted that the success of any “intensive” growing plan is dependant on adequate soil fertility and good garden management, keeping pests at bay and harvesting crops to keep the plants in production.  Knowing the growing conditions specific to your garden and what each plant needs to succeed is the key to getting the most out of your plot be it large or small.  Your reward will be more delicious, fresh, healthy food.

Here’s a great brochure put together by the good folks at Washington State University, Oregon State University and the University of Idaho you can download for free.  It’s valuable information that will put good food on your table with little effort on your part during a typically quieter time of the gardening year.

Even though this is prime planting time for cool season vegetables, it can be hard to scare up starts at this time of the year; nurseries play inventory pretty close to the vest with bad weather just around the corner.  Encourage your local nursery to stock up…then follow up and buy them out!  It’s a win-win situation for all concerned.  Also watch for plants at farmer’s markets and area plant sales; the Arboretum Plant Sale, Northwest Horticultural Society’s Fall Plant sale and Seattle Tilth’s Harvest Fair are just around the corner.


Like I keep saying:  Everybody’s gotta eat – Get GROWING!!!

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4 Responses to “Plant now for fall harvest: Get your Garden on”

  1. John September 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm #

    Nice article! I am getting ready to try to grow Mache for an over the winter harvest. I will be planting and building the cold frame this weekend. It can get snowy hear in northern New Jersey. Any advice is appreciated.
    .-= John´s last blog ..Mâche, Lamb’s Lettuce, Corn Salad, Field Salad & Rapunzel =-.

  2. admin September 19, 2009 at 12:51 am #

    Hi John, I think you’ll love the tender “sweet” flavor of mache. I found that the seeds were somewhat slow to germinate but once they started they were the tortoise of the winter vegetable garden…slow and steady all through Nov., Dec., Jan., and Feb. until things warmed up in March and they quickly grew and wanted to flower or “bolt”. Really, I didn’t even have them in my coldframe until late January or Feb. when I built it over the bed these plants were already growing in! Maybe you’ll have quicker germination if they’re covered. Enjoy! I highly recommend a light lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette

  3. Sara Dunn July 21, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Hello, I think I have read excerpts from your book in the past (must have been quoted in a magazine somewhere) and would love to learn more about succession planting. I am attempting to feed my large family of 7, so far, with a small garden. I have only box gardens, totalling about 100 sq ft. I live in Virginia in zone 7. I know I could get a lot more out of my gardens with the relatively long growing season we have. I just have had a hard time finding information on succession planting in this area. Seems like all the info is on the Pacific Northwest. I also get all confused as to how to best rotate my crops in the beds I have. Do you have any suggestions as to good books or other resources to address succession planting in my area?

  4. lorene July 27, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi Sara,
    Thanks for commenting… You might try copying some of the succession planting tips you find from the NW. We’re not that far off when it comes to winter temperatures. Also, I’ve got a page on my website entitled Right Plant, Right Place that outlines some tricks for maximizing the harvest in any garden. Good luck, and keep trolling the internet waves – I’ll bet there’s someone in your neck of the woods with the answers!