Now that summer is starting to wind down, many of our vegetable gardens are, as well. However, this doesn’t mean your vegetable gardening has to be done for the year. Cool season crops can be planted now for harvest in the fall. In addition to the benefit of extending your gardening season and having fresh produce longer, there are several other advantages to planting a fall vegetable garden. Often there are fewer pest and weed problems. Many vegetables have better quality when they are grown in the fall. Some vegetables will also develop better flavor when grown in the fall, too. Finally, fall gardens often require less time and labor because the soil has already been worked in the spring.
There are two types of plants that do well in a fall vegetable garden, semi-hardy and hardy. Semi-hardy plants such as beets, carrots, cauliflower and lettuce can tolerate light frosts (32°F). The median first frost for this part of Illinois is October 10. Hardy plants such as broccoli, cabbage, radishes and spinach can tolerate hard frosts (28°F). The median first hard frost for this part of Illinois is October 22. While it’s a little too late this year to plant broccoli and cabbage (due to their longer growing period), crops such as lettuce, mustard, spinach and radish can be planted until mid-September.
To plant your fall garden, make sure to clean up the garden. Remove any crop residues from previous crops and pull any weeds that may be present. Soil can also be tilled and one to one and a half pounds of an all-purpose fertilizer (per 100 sq. ft.) can be incorporated. When planting the seed, follow the directions on the seed packets. Make sure to keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated. In order to get good germination, the upper two inches of soil should remain moist at all times. Because the seeds are being planted at the end of summer, the soil moisture will need to be monitored closely. To help maintain moisture, you can place a board over the seeds. Once the seeds germinate, make sure to remove the board. It is also helpful to provide some shade to seedlings in the afternoon while the temperatures are still high and the plants have become well established. Once your plants have become established, the maintenance is just like any other garden. Make sure to control weeds and pests if necessary and water when needed.