Who says gardening is just for spring and summer? For many green-thumbed Canadians, a fall vegetable garden is a fun and fruitful way to enjoy fresh produce in the cooler months and to prepare the garden for spring.
The secret to success? You have to know your garden well (your area’s climate makes a big difference, especially in fall) and you have to know which vegetables to plant in the fall. When planted in early fall, certain veggies will continue growing through the autumn — so you can have a bountiful harvest in late fall and even winter — while other crops can be enjoyed in the spring if you plant them before the first frost. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up our picks for the best fall veggies to plant before winter hits.
Tip: It’s a good idea to look for the estimated frost date for your area (you can search the Almanac online by postal code, for example) to help determine if a particular crop has a good chance of thriving if you plant it by a certain date.
Frost resistant and semi-hardy, cabbage is a good choice for planting in cool fall weather — provided they can get full sun. Ideally, you’ll want to plant cabbage about six-to-eight weeks before the first frost. Depending on what variety of cabbage you plant, you may be able to harvest in early winter or early spring.
Similar to cabbage (in fact, it’s part of the same family of brassica crops), kale is a versatile leafy green vegetable that is tolerant to frost. To enjoy kale during the winter, plant your kale before the winter frost hits (in most areas, six weeks ahead of the first frost is a good bet).
Salad lovers, take heart: fall is an ideal time to plant lettuce in your garden. While the exact timing of when to plant depends on the variety you choose (romaine, butterhead and loose leaf lettuces tend to do well in cooler temperatures) and the conditions of your area, you can typically plant lettuce six-to-eight weeks ahead of your region’s first frost.
Another cool-season vegetable that can be planted in fall, Swiss chard is quick growing, colourful and cold-tolerant. Depending on your region’s climate and first frost date, you’ll want to plant it about six-to-eight weeks ahead of the frost. Worried about pests? Planting thyme as a companion plant for your Swiss chard may help keep them away.
Want to enjoy shallots next year? Plant your crops before winter (typically, a few weeks before your area’s first frost). When planted in fall, shallots are able to establish roots before winter kicks in, which means you can harvest them in late spring or early summer.
When it comes to garlic, autumn is actually an ideal time for planting. Similar to shallots, the goal when planting garlic in the fall (in most regions, sometime after the autumnal equinox in September, but a few weeks before the first frost) is to allow its roots to set in before winter hits. This way, you can harvest the crops in the spring and summer to enjoy in your favourite garlicky recipes.
Crunchy and sweet, carrots make for a delicious crop in your veggie garden. By planting carrots in a sunny spot in the early fall (in most areas, about 10-12 weeks before the frost hits), you can grow them through the cooler months. If you live in a milder climate region where the ground doesn’t freeze, you can even leave carrots in the garden through the winter, so long as you monitor and tend to them.
Another variety of cabbage that may just be the star of your fall veggie garden is bok choy. This versatile leafy green is quick to mature, so if you plant it in the early fall (ideally, about six-to-eight weeks before frost hits your area), you can enjoy a bok choy harvest in the winter.
Spinach is a versatile, cold-tolerant veggie that can be planted when the temperatures start to cool. Like bok choy, you just want to be sure to plant spinach about six-to-eight weeks before the first frost in your area.
Ideal for a winter harvest, Brussels sprouts are another cool-season crop that can handle frost — and may even become sweeter and more flavourful when grown in cool temperatures. If you’re planting them in your fall veggie garden, the earlier you plant, the better. You’ll want to get your Brussels sprouts in the ground as early as possible in the autumn (about six-to-ten weeks out from your area’s first expected frost).
Love the taste of hearty root vegetables like beets? Plant them in the early fall, and you can enjoy them during those cold late-fall and winter days. The key to fall beets is to plant them about eight-to-ten weeks ahead of your region’s first frost date.
Quick growing and perfect for growing in smaller gardens or even containers (provided they’re properly spaced), radishes are an often underrated root veggie that you can plant well in the fall. Aim to plant your radishes about four-to-six weeks before the first frost in your region, and you can harvest them in about a month or so.