The third season – fall vegetable gardening

Summer is moving right along. My March planted peas are done, the lettuce and kale have bolted and there are now gaps in my garden ready to be replanted. A number of vegetable gardeners are unaware of the opportunities for growing late-season crops. They get all excited about gardening in the spring, do all the work and then simply wait for their tomatoes and other warm season crops to ripen, never realizing they could extend their season.

Gardening can easily have two and possibly three seasons, if you plant a second and a third time. Late summer days with cooler temperatures provide excellent growing conditions for many vegetables. Lettuces, chard, kale, collards and spinach thrive as summer winds down. There are other vegetables worth planting in August such as Chinese cabbage, peas, carrots, beets, some herbs and radishes. Root veggies grown in the fall often taste sweeter because of the warm soils and cooler air temperatures.

Beets are a vegetable for all seasons. You can eat their leaves and roots. They are hardy to 15 degrees if covered with a layer of mulch to protect the roots. Lettuces are easy to grow and you can grow so many interesting varieties! They too are hardy to 15 degrees. Spinach (not the New Zealand variety) does well in the shorter cooler days of late summer and early autumn and is hardy to 0 degrees. If you plant it now, you may be able to harvest from late October to December. Carrots will grow in most any garden with well-worked soil. They too should be mulched to extend their harvest. If you plant radishes now, you can have a crop almost instantly while you wait for everything else to come up.

I asked Wendy Hanson Mazet, our master gardener coordinator, her thoughts on late summer planting. She says one trick is to plant lettuce and spinach where you had first planted peas. The nitrogen fixed in the soil by the peas is just what these two crops need. However, she pointed out that putting root veggies such as carrots where peas or beans were will produce lots of green on the carrots and very little root.

A later planting gives you a second spring, the favorite season of many gardeners. You just might find that some of the very best food from your garden will be the greens and root crops of autumn.