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  • Writer's pictureEllen

Planting a Fall Garden

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Did you want to plant a garden this spring, but things got away from you and now it's too late? Or maybe you did plant your tomatoes and cucumbers on schedule, but you want to still have a good variety of fresh produce later in the season? If so, it's time to start planting your fall garden!

In early August, it can often feel too soon to start thinking about fall. The days are long and hot, and we are starting to get overwhelmed by summer veggies like tomatoes and zucchini that are just hitting their stride. But don't be fooled, winter is coming quickly (it is northern New York, after all) and it's time to start seeds for plants that thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall.

In this post, I'll share some of our favorite fall garden plants. Our first frost here is usually around October 1st, which is about 55 days away. However, many of the crops here can tolerate a light frost, and some are even improved by it! So, we can get away with planting some crops that take longer than that time period to mature.

One More Round of Summer Veggies

Here in upstate New York, we can usually squeeze in another round of some of our faster-growing summer favorites. Plants like yellow squash, zucchini, lettuce, and cucumber grow quickly enough that you can often get another good harvest out of them if you plant them at the beginning August. Our favorite zucchini, "Green Machine," takes 45 days to mature, and lettuce takes only 50 days. You can cover the plants with a sheet or frost blanket to help extend their harvest window later in the fall.

Herbs like basil, cilantro, and dill are also fast-growing enough to squeeze in one more planting before frost. Be careful, though - tender herbs like basil will NOT tolerate any frost. Plant them in containers if you are worried, so you can move them in on cold nights.

Napa cabbage on our farmer's market stand.

Napa Cabbage

This is one of our favorite vegetables to plant in fall. It grows extremely well in the cool fall temperatures, and is hardy enough to last through a few light frosts. The crunchy, sweet, wrinkled leaves are great in stir fries and slaws, and make an excellent topping for fish tacos. Our favorite variety, "Minuet," makes miniature heads that are ready in just 48 days. We start these seeds inside, then transplant them out in the garden when they are big enough.

Bok Choy

Another one of our favorite greens, bok choy is best grown in cool fall weather. It HATES the summer heat and will bolt almost immediately if the weather is too warm. We like to grow miniature varieties to use whole in stir fries and hot, steaming bowls of homemade ramen. Bok choy can be direct seeded - no need to start indoors. We like "Li Ren Choi" from Johnny's Seeds, which is ready to pick in 37 days.


Now, I feel a bit disingenuous putting carrots on our "favorite" fall vegetable list, because in the past I've hated growing carrots! They take a long time to come up, they need a lot of hand weeding, and they do best in loose, stone-free soil (hard to come by on our rocky New York farm). But, we had success with our spring planting of carrots this year, so I'm actually excited to plant another round for fall. The changes we made were 1) planting them in our deep-compost-mulch permanent beds instead of in the field, which has kept them relatively weed-free, and 2) only planting ONE packet, instead of 2,000 seeds like we usually try to do! For fall plantings, we like "Bolero" which stores well over the winter, although at 75 days it takes a bit longer to get to full size. This is a bit tight for planting in early August, but luckily carrots are one of those veggies that actually taste better after a frost. Plus, you can continue to harvest carrots until the ground freezes solid, so they can actually last quite a while in the ground here.


Last but not least, we have Curt's favorite fall vegetable - fennel! This licorice-flavored veggie is a staple of Italian cooking, and tastes great quartered and roasted on a sheet pan with a mix of root vegetables. While it technically takes about 80 days to reach full size, it can actually be harvested at any point after it starts to create a bulb, and will tolerate a light frost. Fennel does best if you start it indoors and then transplant it out into the garden.

This list is certainly not comprehensive - there are lots of other veggies you can plant in a fall garden, such as radishes, beets, spinach, and more. But these are a few of our favorites, and I hope these suggestions encourage you to start a fall garden of your own. What are you hoping to harvest this fall?

Curt's favorite fall hunting snack - fennel! The deer can smell him from a mile away!

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