We are solidly into fall, nearing the end of October: Duhn duhn duhn, cue the spooky music. In the summer months there is such a rush of energy, color, and aliveness that at some point it seems unreal that fall and winter are ahead. In the midst of the heat, it feels that summer must be endless.
Our plants can be the first to remind us through their acute perception that days are indeed getting shorter, temperatures dropping, seasons changing. It can be hard as we watch our summer harvest come to a close, with thoughts of a veggie-less and green-less winter filling our minds. But this fall can be different, because there are plants that want to be planted right now. Gardening doesn’t have to stop. Seize this time to plant some seeds and remind yourself that your garden will come alive once again.
Planting vegetables in the fall is smart because with some species you will have something growing all winter and with others, you will have an early harvest in the spring. A lot of fall vegetables can feel uninspiring (think potato, onion, carrot). So here you are presented with some more unusual veggies to plant right now, ready to add pizzazz to your garden and kitchen.
Chinese Chives (Allium tuberosum)
“Regular” chives are loved by those who appreciate a crisp bite and mild onion flavor, but have you ever heard of Chinese Chives, sometimes called Garlic Chives? They have a mild garlic flavor instead, making them a great addition to anything, well, anything to which you might want to add a mild garlic flavor (that’s pretty much everything for me). The white flowers are also beautiful, edible, and can have a stronger garlic taste.
This species is a perennial and is very strong once established, growing in less-than-perfect soil and preferring full sun but tolerating some shade. The soil should be kept moist and it is best to have good drainage. Plant seeds in the fall if living in a mild climate, and you will see plants emerge in the winter/spring. Once established, clumps should be split to promote growth. If you let the flowers go to seed, this plant has the potential to rapidly spread, so cut the flowers off earlier if you don’t want this.
Minimum temperature: It will initially survive and grow between 40° and 85°F (4.44°C and 29.44°C). Once established, this species can survive temperatures of -35°F (-37°C).
Elephant Garlic (Allium ampelopramus)
Continuing with the mild garlic theme, Elephant Garlic looks like your typical garlic but is, you guessed it, bigger. Interestingly, it is actually more closely related to a leek than garlic, and usually alternates yearly between producing cloves and one large bulb (picture a giant, round clove). The flavor is less pungent than typical garlic, and it therefore is great for adding directly into salads, dressings, etc. and for using as a roasted vegetable.
This species is a biennial, surviving for two years. It is best to plant it between September and November and harvest it in late spring/early summer. When planting, bury a clove about 5 inches (13 cm) deep in soil and 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart. It is important that the soil has good drainage, because if it is too wet the bulbs will rot. Full sun is suggested. For optimal growth, cut scapes off (they make great pesto) the following spring/summer before they start to curl and harvest bulbs when the leaves turn brown. If you begin harvesting, and dig up one bulb instead of many cloves, you can rebury it for another year and it will most likely split into cloves.
Minimum temperature: There is no hard minimum for this species, as it is recommended in hardiness zones 4-9, with zone 4 tolerating temperatures to -34°F (-37°C). It will do better if given some time to create a strong root system before temperatures really drop, so planting in fall is best.
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes)
A funky, fun looking vegetable, kohlrabi is cold-tolerant and is extremely versatile when it comes to consuming it. It can be eaten raw, with a taste somewhere between radish and turnip (others say close to broccoli), or cooked in any number of ways – pureed, roasted, steamed, whatever is your favorite. It even improves in taste, becoming sweeter, when growing in colder conditions. Kohlrabi can be planted in the fall for a winter harvest if you live in a milder climate. It’s optimal growing temperature is in the 60’s (°F) / (15-21°C), but it will tolerate frost and lower temperatures.
This unique veggie should be grown in full sun (but it can tolerate light shade) and well drained, composted soil. Adding additional compost a couple times while it is growing will be beneficial. Plant seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart and then thin seedlings to about 8 inches (20 cm) so that they have space to grow into their full expression. If in a container, only leave one seedling per container. The part you harvest seems like a bulb, but it is actually the swollen stem, which you cut just at the base. The greens are also edible; they can be cooked and eaten as you would cabbage.
Minimum temperature: 15 °F (-9.5°C).
Broad Beans (Vicia faba)
Also called Fava beans, this cool-weather loving plant has been grown for thousands of years, and has even been found in Egyptian tombs. They are large and leafy, with some varieties growing up to 7 feet (2.1 m) tall. No worries to those of you with limited space, there’s also 2-footer (60 cm) varieties. The stalks are sturdy and grow straight up, unlike some other bean species that are climbers.
When planted in the fall these beans can take about eight months to mature, so they are perfect for creating a beautiful, bean-y spring. Sow the seeds about 2 inches (5 cm) deep, 2 inches (13 cm) apart, in rich, well-draining soil. Full sun to partial shade is preferred. They might need to be staked depending on the size, and even the smaller plants have heavy beans that could cause drupage and need stakeage. You want to harvest them before they begin to dry out, and cook them if they are not very young and tender. If they are very tender, simply pick them when they feel full-ish and pop them, pod and all, in your dying-for-fresh-veggies mouth!
Minimum temperature: 40°F (4.5°C), but can usually survive a short and light frost.
Radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum)
The burgundy color of radicchio looks beautiful in a salad and even more beautiful when it’s a salad in the middle of winter. There are also endless ways to cook it, and if you search for it on social media you will see how many people are inspired by using its color in dishes. It has a slightly bitter flavor, which like arugula some love and some hate, but if you have never had it it is totally worth a grow and a taste.
This is a very frost-tolerant plant, even becoming sweeter with a few frosts. Sow seeds in well-composted soil about half an inch (1 cm) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. When seedlings emerge, thin to 6 inches (15 cm) apart. As with kohlrabi, if planting in a pot it is probably best to thin to one per pot. To harvest, simply cut off the head at ground level, just like lettuce. And then go inside and enjoy some freshness in the middle of winter.
Minimum temperature: 27°F (-3°C)
Hopefully you are feeling inspired by the possibilities for crops that can be planted in the fall. And of course this is only the beginning, there are lots of options for fun fall vegetables. Having even one veggie growing as we enter into winter brings a sense of happiness, hope, and renewal. Whether it is something that can be enjoyed in six weeks or won’t be ready until we’re well into spring, the act of continued sowing and growing can brighten up a whole winter.