As the late summer bounty rolls in, many vegetable gardeners are tempted to rest on their laurels. After all, with this many zucchini and tomatoes, what else could you need? However, September, October, and in some zones, even November can be lovely months to start a brand new veggie crop. The following vegetables are able to weather some levels of autumnal chill, and by selecting varieties that state on the seed packet that they are hardy in your zone of the country, you can ensure you'll have a new, fun crop before Thanksgiving rolls around.
Lettuce is one of those crops that, except for in the hottest of climates, can be grown in partly shady spots any time except winter. A new batch of lettuce will pop up quickly and can be harvested piecemeal by clipping leaves, resulting in a salad that looks like the "baby greens" from the store. This is true for other leafy greens like spinach or mustard greens. For head lettuce, you may prefer to wait a little longer for the entire plant to fill out.
Because each carrot plant yields just the one root, a good way to get carrots all season long is to re-seed your carrot area whenever you pick and eat one. Aim for the loosest, fluffiest soil possible. Additions like peat moss and some vermiculite in the soil can help maintain drainage, which will prevent your harvested carrots from being spindly and small. As long as the soil temperature itself isn't dropping too low, you can usually maintain a carrot crop. As long as you keep an eye on the carrot greens, you'll know if the carrot has been hit with a freeze. When those leaves go limp, harvest immediately.
Kale is a cold-hardy plant that just keeps growing! If you want to use your kale for salad or to make kale chips, try to harvest as early as possible, clipping the leaves you want to use. The larger the leaves get, the tougher the stems will be, and there is more chance that bugs will get to them. However, even kale that's not picture perfect due to factors like frost has great uses such as making an unconventional pesto where you add kale instead of just basil.
If you want your kale to get bigger and stronger, start it inside 12-14 weeks before first fall frost.
Leeks are a great addition to autumn soups and stews, and grow well even as the weather turns chillier so growing these in mild winters should be no problem. One thing to keep in mind though, is to start them indoors in late summer so they'll be ready to transplant when cool weather arrives. Their flavor is actually accentuated by cold, so as long as you don't end up with leeks fully frozen into the ground, your leek crop can go well past an early frost.
When fresh fruit is harder to come by, beets are a great crop for adding some color and sweetness to juice. Beets can handle some cold and can be directly sown as early as 10-12 weeks before the frost date. Consider covering them with a cloth or tarp if they are almost ready but light frosts are happening overnight. Their greens are also edible, though don't overharvest them if you want the roots to get big and tasty.
One of the easiest plants to grow in many different conditions, radishes grow quickly and can be harvested in rounds. Cold-weather radishes are arguably the rounder, more delicious flavored radishes, since early radishes can be unnecessarily spicy. Make sure you harvest them on time, based on the mature date on the package - they get less delicious if you let them stay in the ground too long.
If you happen to be reading this 12-14 weeks from your first frost date, start some cauliflower indoors now! They take quite a while to grow, but they can handle the chilly weather right up until that first light frost. Even if you're not fortunate enough to have that much time, cauliflower and broccoli have some fast growing varieties that might be good options for the few weeks you have left until the first fall frost. Heads of cauliflower appear like beautiful cloudy bouquets, livening up the garden as other plants begin to go dormant for the season. While finicky and never happy with lots of heat nor lots of cold, mastering an autumn crop of cauliflower will make you feel like a gardening champion.
Early Fall Harvesting
No matter which fall varieties appeal to you, choose your veggies with careful attention to your zone's first fall frost, the current date now, and how rapidly these plants can grow. There is more wiggle room for spring crops, since some plants can handle a mild early summer, but a frost tends to be detrimental for many plants, so sneaking in these lovely fall crops requires just a little attention to detail and the ability to count backwards from that fall frost date. Enjoy your autumnal vegetables!