Think gardening season is over just because fall’s moved in? Not so fast! Crisp lettuce, tender peas and hearty baby carrots are just a few of the vegetables you can grow in a fall kitchen garden. Not only will the rewards from your fall harvest taste good, they’ll look good, too! With a little planning, you can extend your growing season, enjoy the beauty of an ornamental garden and all the while munch on fresh veggies well into fall!

Melon on vine

Keep those summertime plants that continue to produce fruit into the fall – like melons – in your new-season kitchen garden.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Sage and tarragon

Fall is an excellent time to add perennial herbs to your kitchen garden, like sage and tarragon.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Cabbage transplant

Consider buying vegetable transplants for crops that are difficult to germinate from seed – it’ll save you time and headache.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Broccoli and toy pig

This little piggie likes broccoli… (Don’t be afraid to use a little humor when selecting kitchen garden ornaments.)

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

The first step in planning your fall kitchen garden is to know your plants. Some vegetables, like cherry tomatoes, melons and winter squash, produce fruit into autumn, but other vegetables are beginning to slow down and need to be removed to make way for the next season’s plants. As you consider the fate of your summer crops, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Are the plants producing inferior-quality vegetables?
  2. Are they dependent on a long day of sunlight and heat to produce or ripen their fruit?

If the answer to either is “yes,” send these plants to the compost bin. (Healthy tomato plants may be the exception here – they’ll flush again in late summer, so it’s okay to stretch the season by removing any dried leaves or spent branches from plants that are still producing fruit.)

After you remove the old veggies – and before you plant new ones – it’s important to prepare the soil. After all, your summer vegetables have just spent several months working hard to produce food, and the soil that’s provided them with a wealth of nutrients now needs replenishing. Choose a balanced fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 formulation, and spread it according to the directions on the packaging. Using a rake, work the fertilizer lightly into the soil and water thoroughly.

Now’s also a good time to add amendments like compost or soil conditioners. These amendments will improve the soil quality to make it easier for your plant to spread roots. Adding trace elements to the soil will improve general plant health, too. Spread your amendments across the soil, work them in, then water. Once you’ve finished amending the soil, it’s time to plant your veggies!

Your primary planting tools should be a measuring stick, a hand trowel and your imagination – because who said rows had to be boring? For that matter, who said you had to plant in rows? Don’t just plant your vegetable garden – create it! Use the colors and textures of your plants to make a beautiful garden spot. Just imagine: bright red and green lettuces growing freely against neat rows of bulky cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Picture your garlic and leeks standing straight against the frilly, lacelike leaves of carrots and fennel. Envision brightly stemmed Swiss chard glowing against the dark green of arugula, and a bed of peas bordered by chicory or radicchio. Use your creativity, and let your eyes and taste buds enjoy the results!

Many fall vegetables, like lettuce, radishes, carrots, leeks and herbs, can be started from seed. Direct sowing is quick and easy:

  • Loosen the soil in the planting bed with a trowel (or other tool) to make it easier for roots to spread.
  • Read and follow the directions on the back of the seed package. Many fall seeds only require that you sprinkle them on the ground and cover them with a 1/8 to 1/4 inch of soil. (If you’re worried you may not recognize the plants as they start to come up, mark each variety with a stake or draw a garden map.)
  • Water the seeds thoroughly, but take care not to wash them away. Use a breaker-nozzle on your hose to create a shower-like stream of water.
  • Mulch your new plants to protect them and to retain moisture once the seeds have germinated.
  • Other veggies, like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, can be started from seed, but you need to start them in midsummer and transplant them to the kitchen garden because they grow so slowly. You can also buy ready-to-plant vegetable transplants at your local garden center or feed store for a reasonable price. Transplanting requires a little more labor, but success is practically guaranteed if you follow these few steps:
  • Water the plants thoroughly in the pack to keep the root-balls intact when planting.
  • Loosen the soil in the planting bed with a trowel or other tool to make it easier for the roots to spread.
  • Dig holes that are a little bigger than the root-balls, and place a plant in each. Make sure that the ground level matches the top of the root-ball. Unlike tomatoes, many fall plants prefer not to be planted deeply.
  • Cover the root-ball with garden soil and water thoroughly.
  • Mulch the plants to protect them and to retain moisture.
  • As you gain more experience with your fall kitchen garden, you may want to try a few more exotic palate pleasers like garlic, arugula, saffron bulbs or Asian-type greens.

Although you may think the reward of fresh vegetables comes to an end with the close of summer, think again. The cooler fall temperatures pamper those healthy green veggies, offering you an extended season of fresh ingredients. And who knows – you may enjoy your fall kitchen garden so much that it’ll become your favorite growing season!