The vegetable garden shines in summer with abundant harvests. As fall approaches, most of the summer crops begin to wind down. Cooler nighttime temperatures and diminishing sunlight takes its toll. The heat loving plants respond by slowly reducing their growth. They struggle to produce that final fruit or vegetable; they devote all their energy to growing and ripening it. The foliage often times shows signs of stress and disease as the plants attempt to give up its final offerings.
Instead of watching your tomatoes, summer squash, and cucumbers struggle to ripen the last few fruits, pull them out and replace them with some quick growing vegetables for a fall garden. You can keep the garden producing healthy crops well into fall by planting some quick maturing vegetables that thrive in the cooler weather and lower daylight hours of autumn.
There are plenty of cool season crops that thrive in autumn.
Use your first expected frost date as a guide (look yours up by zip code here: PlantMaps.com). Select cool season crops with short days to maturity for your fall garden. Check the seed package for the average days to harvest and add a week or two to account for the decreased autumn daylight. Many leafy greens will mature within 60 days. These can also be harvested earlier at baby stage for a delicate and delicious salad or an addition to homemade soups.
13 Cool Season Crops Ready in 60 Days:
Even if your growing season is short, you can still enjoy plenty of harvests from your fall garden if you plant the right varieties. So pull out the summer plants that are no longer producing, clear out any weeds, work in some compost into the soil, and sow some of these quick growing fall crops today:
Arugula/Rocket: This spicy green is ready for harvesting in 30 days. The foliage compliments salads and adds zing to soups. Harvest: Begin cutting outer leaves once they are at least 2-inches long. Allow the plant to continue to produce harvests. Varieties to Consider: Salad Rocket, Wild Rocky, and Dragons Tongue.
Baby Carrots: Select early maturing varieties and harvest around 60 days at baby stage for a delicate, sweet flavor. Carrots can withstand some light frosts, but harvest before the ground freezes to prevent the tender, young roots from rotting. Harvest: Ready to harvest when the shoulders are 1/2 to 3/4 inches. Varieties to Consider: Little Finger, Tonda di Parigi, and Thumbelina.
Bok Choy or Pac Choi: Grows rapidly and is ready to harvest in 30 days at baby stage for stir-fries, soups, or salads. Harvest: Snip outer leaves allowing the plants to continue to produce. Varieties to Consider: White Stem Bok Choy and Toy Choi.
Kale: The small, tender leaves of kale can be harvested in as little as 30 days and make a nice addition to a fall salad. Kale matures fully in 60 days. Harvest: Snip outer leaves and let the plant continue to produce. Varieties to Consider: Redbor, Dwarf Blue Curled, and Red Winter.
Lettuce: Leaf lettuce varieties mature within 30 days. There are so many colors and leaf shapes to add interest to salads and sandwich toppings. Cooler weather intensifies the color of red leaf varieties. Harvest: Snip outer leaves and let the plant to continue to grow and produce more foliage. Varieties to Consider: Black Seeded Simpson, Tom Thumb, and Mesclun Mix.
Mizuna: The foliage has a slightly bitter, mustard flavor. Small leaves are ready to pick in about 20 days, full heads in 50 days. The texture of the lobed leaves blends well with salad greens and is crisp enough to hold up to steaming and stir-frying. Harvest: Clip young leaves when they are around 3 inches tall or cut the head at the soil level when mature. Varieties to Consider: Mustard Mizuna and Early Mizuna.
Mustard Greens: The peppery, tangy flavored foliage pairs well with other leafy greens in salads. Baby leaves are ready for harvesting within 30 days, 60 days for mature leaves. The flavor intensifies as the plant matures. Harvest: Begin cutting outer leave once they are at least 3-inches long. Allow the plant to continue to grow. Varieties to Consider: Red Giant, Ruby Streaks, and Florida Broadleaf.
Radish: Very fast-growing and their peppery flavor complements soups and salads. Harvest: Ready for harvest in about 30 days or when the radish is around 1-inch diameter. The greens are edible too. Varieties to Consider: Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, and Easter Egg Blend.
Scallions or Green Onions: Adds a mild onion flavor to salads, cooked recipes, and stir-fries. Harvest: Ready to harvest at pencil size within 30 days. Pull 6-inch tall scallions at any stage and allow others to develop further. The onion flavor intensifies with age. Hearty varieties overwinter and will begin growing the following spring. Varieties to Consider: Evergreen, Italian Red, White Lisbon.
Spinach: The vitamin-rich and tasty dark-green leaves are excellent for salads and winter soups. Ready to harvest at baby stage in 30 days, 45 days for mature leaves. Harvest: Snip outer leaves and let the plants to continue to produce. Varieties to Consider: Lavewa, Bloomsdale, Space, and Tyee.
Swiss Chard: The tender, young leaves are ready for harvesting in 45 days. Harvest: Begin harvesting young leaves at 3 inches to use fresh in salads. Pick the outer leaves as needed and let more leaves grow from the center of the plant. Varieties to Consider: Bright Lights, Five Color Silverbeet, and Ruby Red.
Tatsoi: The mild mustard flavor of Tatsoi mixes well in salads, stir-fries, and soups. The mild and tender baby leaves are ready for harvesting in 25 days and taste very similar to spinach. The full sized plant can be harvested within 50 days. Harvest: For baby leaves, cut outer leaves once they are about 4 inches or cut tatsoi at the stem when mature. Variety to Consider: Tatsoi Rosette.
Turnips: Grow turnips for both the greens and roots. Greens are ready to harvest in 30 days, roots in 60 days. Cool fall temperatures sweeten the flavor. Harvest: For greens, cut tops leaving at least 2-inches of foliage. The plant will continue to produce more foliage. Harvest roots at baby stage or allow to size up to 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Varieties to Consider: Golden Ball, Purple Top White Globe, Red Round, and White Egg.
Fall Garden Planting Tips:
- Some seeds, such as lettuce won’t germinate when the temperatures are over 80°F. If the weather is still hot, try Presprouting seeds and grow seedlings under lights indoors. Harden off your seedlings and plant them into the garden when weather cools. Water well and shade the transplants until they become established.
- Late summer days can be hot. Be sure to water your new fall seedlings well so they don’t wither in the heat.
- Many of these cool season crops will withstand light frosts when established and with some protection can continue to produce well into winter. Some may even overwinter and begin growing again when the soil warms in spring. It is fun to experiment and discover what you can grow outside the traditional growing season.
Those who garden in areas where frost isn’t expected until November or December have a wider varieties of cool season vegetables they can grow in the fall garden that will mature before the ground freezes. However, even in my Maine, zone 5 garden, I can squeeze out a little more garden yields for fall.
You will be surprised what you can grow in your fall garden in as little as 60-days. Try extending your growing season into fall and you will be rewarded with fresh harvests a little longer. Growing fall vegetables in colder climates can be a gamble, but I urge to experiment with different ways to grow more food.
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