Many of us are a little wistful at the end of summer's bounty; the tomatoes are in, the squash on the vine or clipped, and all the many other plants starting to bolt or die. However, if your zone of the country has another 30-60 days before frost, you are in luck, and for those of you already risking the frosty temperatures, you still have some great varieties available. Picking a cold-hardy variety of the following plants can keep you bringing in the produce from your garden and continue the fun of the autumn harvest.
Broccoli and Kohlrabi
Both of these brassicas are good at growing in cooler weather, as long as it doesn't get too cold. Make sure they get tons of water and that your soil is well-fertilized so that they can pull nutrients out easily. Kohlrabi takes a good 6 weeks to mature, and it packs a ton of flavor into it's often brightly colored bulb. If you've never grown brassicas before, it may take some trial and error to get the right combination of light, drainage, and temperature, but usually cool days and nights aren't the problem if they aren't thriving. Read our other articles on growing brassicas to learn more.
Beets and Radishes
These underground beauties have totally different flavors from each other, but both end up a beautiful shade of red when they are finished. Growing quickly to a small size, radishes can be picked all at once or one at a time by which is growing the most and looks the biggest after the ripening date. Radishes in the winter often have less of a sharp bite, and beets are also quite sweet in the cool weather.
Spicy Greens: Arugula and Mustard Greens
Arugula and mustard greens both grow fine in lower temperatures, and they both have a peppery flavor that makes them quite distinctive. Often, they are incorporated sparingly into salad mixes to add a bit of flavor, but some people prefer an all-arugula salad that fills your mouth with spice. Give the plants adequate space and you'll see many leaves mature. These can often be harvested young or allowed to mature into large, full plants.
Sturdy Greens: Spinach and Kale
Spinach and kale take longer to mature entirely, but within just 4 or 5 weeks you will have substantial "baby" leaves of each, which are often packed with flavor but not tough or hard to chew. For winter crops, snip off the best looking leaves as you need them for a stir fry, salad, or any other meal use. They are packed with nutrients and add an excellent punch to any dish they join. Kale, in particular, crisps up nicely in a low-temperature oven with a little olive oil and salt for what is known as a "kale chip." Don't knock it till you try it; they are addictive!
Turnip Greens and Roots
Turnips are a double bounty - easy to grow, they produce salad greens atop and sturdy, starchy turnip roots underneath. Both can factor into your late fall, early winter cooking and thrive in a variety of zones. Turnips can be sliced to make baked fries, eaten as part of stir fries, or many other options, and the fact that many varieties are cold-hardy is a great boon to the gardener who chooses them as a last-minute crop for their fall garden.
Want something with a little bite to garnish your latest meal masterpiece? Pull the six-inch or higher green onions you planted, leaving any that are still growing, and cut the little tubes of the shoots for use in your salads. The pearl-like bulbs can be cut up and used like any other onion, and they tend to be very cold hardy, able to overwinter in certain zones of the United States, which makes them an unusual and valuable crop.
While many pea varieties require longer seasons or hotter weather, some varieties of snow peas and other kinds of peas can be grown in the Fall and mature quickly. Peas are great as a bright green snack at any time, but they also factor well in stir fried veggies and chicken, and can be a topping for other foods, like a tasty pasta dish.
No matter what you choose to grow in the waning Fall days, aim to get a nice quick harvest, especially choosing those choice first leaves and shoots if the chance of a hard frost is coming. Use the same kind of measures that you use to protect early Spring plants if you know that a frost is coming: see if a sheet of plastic will hold some of the frost off your most delicate plants, and talk with your garden center about which seeds are most cold-hardy and appropriate for your zone.