Gardeners split into two camps when it comes to fall vegetable gardens. There are those who breathe a sigh of relief as the traditional gardening season winds down and they look forward to the first frost when they can jerk those battered tomato vines out with a clear conscience. Other gardeners, whose beloved leafy vegetables bolted to seed during the summer, look forward to a second crop in the cooler months.
The challenge of a fall garden is that it must be planted before summer is really over. Seeds and seedlings need frequent watering until they’re established. The spring rains assist with that, but late summer and fall are our driest months. If you’re willing to provide the necessary water, you can have a fall garden.
The usual candidates for a fall garden are leafy vegetables and root crops. These don’t need time to ripen like tomatoes, eggplant, corn, and beans. You can allow greens, spinach, kale, and leaf lettuce to reach a mature size or pick them as baby greens any time you want. Radishes and turnips can also be harvested before they reach maximum size
If your garden is large enough for you to rotate crops, plant your second crop in a different section from the first crop. At the garden across the street from Douglass High School, our summer greens have been damaged by leaf miners and beetles that are especially attracted to those species. It’s an organic garden, so we’ll clean out the old crop and plant our fall greens in a different bed that didn’t attract these pests. We won’t compost the old greens because that would provide the bugs a cozy hotel for the winter. Instead, we’ll discard the old plants in plastic bags, hoping a lot of the bugs ride out in the bags too.
I’ve been ambivalent about fall gardens, but some volunteer carrots last winter made me reconsider that position. Carrots are normally planted here in February or March and harvested in May or June before the summer heat sets in. In 2018 at Douglass we planted our carrots too late in spring, so they didn’t perform well for us.
We allowed the carrot plants to go to seed and talked about their kinship to Queen Anne’s lace (also called wild carrot) and parsley. Then the carrots were forgotten until one day in the winter when we noticed seedlings coming up. We thinned them, and as we started to plant our spring garden we harvested a tasty little crop of carrots. This year we didn’t try a spring crop, but we’ll plant some late this month in hopes of another mild winter.
The Memphis Area Master Gardener calendar advises planting leaf lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips in early September.
In mid-September, plant Irish potatoes and spinach. You can plant turnip greens all month. Broccoli, bush snap beans, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and even summer squash and cucumber are listed for August and are probably worth a try. Garlic planting is October-November, so save that project for Halloween.