Right now, before you forget, put a rubber band around

your wrist to remind you of one gardening task that cannot be postponed: Planting seeds for fall garden vegetables.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 21, 2016

Above, left to right, Cabbage Kaatarina and Carrot Purple Haze; Beet Avalanche and Radish Roxanne. Below, l. to r., Kale Prizm and Lettuce Sandy; and Garlic and Peas. AAS photos.




As summer draws to a close, gardens everywhere can morph into a tapestry of delicious greens, from tender lettuce to frost-proof spinach, with a sprinkling of red mustard added for spice. In North America’s southern half, as long as seeds germinate in late July or early August, fall gar-dens can grow the best cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower you’ve ever tasted. In colder climates it’s prime time to sow carrots, rutabagas, and turnips to harvest in the fall. Filling space vacated by spring crops with summer-sown vegetables will keep your garden productive well into fall, and even winter.

Granted, the height of summer is not the best time to start tender seedlings of anything. Hot days, sparse rain, and heavy pest pressure must be factored into a sound planting plan, and then there’s the challenge of keeping fall plantings on schedule. But you can meet all of the basic requirements for a successful, surprisingly low-maintenance fall garden by following the steps out-lined below. The time you invest now will pay off big time as you continue to harvest fresh veggies from your garden long after frost has killed your tomatoes and blackened your beans.

Count back 12 to 14 weeks from your average first fall frost date to plan your first task: starting seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale indoors, where germination conditions are better than they are in the garden. Some garden centers carry a few cabbage family seedlings for fall planting, but don’t expect a good selection. The only sure way to have vigorous young seedlings is to grow your own, using the same procedures you would use in spring. As soon as the seedlings are three weeks old, be ready to set them out during a period of cloudy weather.

If you’re already running late, you can try direct-seeding fast-growing varieties of broccoli, kale or kohlrabi. Sow the seeds in shallow furrows covered with 1 cm (half an inch) of potting soil. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings germinate, then thin them. The important thing is to get the plants up and growing in time to catch the last waves of summer heat.

When is too late? The end of July marks the close of planting season for cabbage family crops in northern areas; August is perfect in warmer climates. Be forewarned: If cabbage family crops are set out after temperatures have cooled, they grow so slowly that they may not make a crop. Fortunately, leafy greens (keep reading) do not have this problem.

In addition to putting plenty of super-nutritious food on your table, your fall garden provides an opportunity to manage soil fertility, and even control weeds. Rustic greens including arugula, mustard, and turnips make great triple-use fall garden crops. They taste great, their broad leaves shade out weeds, and nutrients they take up in fall are cycled back into the soil as the winter-killed residue rots. If you have time, enrich the soil with compost or aged manure to replenish micronutrients and give the plants a strong start.

You can also use vigorous leafy greens to “mop up” excess nitrogen left behind by spring crops (the organic matter in soil can hold quite a bit of nitrogen, but some leaches away during winter). Space that has recently been vacated by snap beans or garden peas is often a great place to grow heavy feeders such as spinach and cabbage family crops. When sown into corn stubble, comparatively easy-to-please leafy greens such as lettuce and mustard are great at finding hidden caches of nitrogen.

Several of the best crops for your fall garden may not only be new to your garden, but new to your kitchen, too. Set aside small spaces to experiment with nutty arugula, crunchy Chinese cabbage, and super-cold-hardy mâche (corn salad). Definitely put rutabaga on your “gotta try it” list: Dense and nutty “Swede turnips” are really good (and easy!) when grown in the fall. Many Asian greens have been specially selected for growing in fall, too. Examples include ‘Vit-amin Green’ spinach-mustard, super-vigorous mizuna and glossy green tatsoi (also spelled tah tsai), which is beautiful enough to use as flower bed edging.

As you consider the possibilities, veer toward open-pollinated varieties for leafy greens, which are usually as good as — or better than — hybrids when grown in home gardens. The unopened flower buds of collards and kale pass for the gourmet vegetable called broccolini, and the young green seed pods of immature turnips and all types of mustard are great in stir-fries and salads. Allow your strongest plants to produce mature seeds. Collect some of the seeds for re-planting, and scatter others where you want future greens to grow. In many gardens, arugula, mizuna and turnips naturalize themselves with very little help from the gardener, as long as he or she leaves a few plants to flower and set seed each year.

With broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and their close cousins, hybrid varieties generally excel in terms of fast, uniform growth, so this is one veggie group for which the hybrid edge is a huge asset. Breeding work is underway to develop better open-pollinated varieties for organic grow-ers, but for now, trusted hybrids such as ‘Belstar’ broccoli, ‘Gonzales’ cabbage or ‘Snow Crown’ cauliflower are usually the best choices.

Depending on where you live, your summer harvest might be in full force. Or maybe your main harvest time has passed. Either way, now is a great time to start planning and planting cool weather crops to extend the season into fall and early winter.

When and what to plant depends on your first frost date, assuming you have a frost! However, many crops can benefit from a light frost or two but your planting dates still will depend on first frosts for your general location.

Plant cabbage now for a crop of delicious fall and winter cabbage...perfect for sauerkraut making! AAS Winner Katarina is ready to harvest just 55 days after sowing. It has a perfect smaller head size (4”) and shape to be grown successfully in containers on patios, decks or in-ground beds. Perfect for any fall garden!

An old farmer's tale says that carrots grown in the fall and early winter are sweeter than those grown in spring! Give AAS Winner Purple Haze Carrot a try this fall, it is ready to harvest after 70 days and is a show-stopping purple exterior with an orange interior.

Enjoy beets greens and roots this fall when you plant this cold-weather crop. AAS Winner Avalanche is a new white beet that can be harvested 50 days from seed and presents a mild, sweet taste, delicious raw or roasted.

Add radishes to the list of delicious fall crops this year. Radishes like AAS Winner Roxanne can be started from seed now in your garden and you will be enjoying the harvest 27 days later!

Don't forget those leafy greens like Kale, Lettuce, Spinach and Swiss Chard, they love the cool weather of Fall!

Prizm Kale, AAS Winner, produces attractive short, tight ruffle-edged leaves that are content to be grown in containers as well as in-ground beds and are ready to be picked in 50 - 60 days. AAS Winner Sandy is one lettuce that is so pretty that you can plant it alongside your cool season flowers for added interest as well as edible enjoyment!

For much of the continent, Garlic is planted in the fall for harvest the following summer, usually in late July. Garlic planting should occur about four to six weeks before the ground freezes.

Peas are an excellent and tasty crop to plant this fall! Peas are rich in vitamins and minerals, proving a delicious treat either raw or cooked. With so many different varieties and types to choose from, it will be hard to select just one!

There is much more to tell in this story of fall veggie gardening, I will try to have more next week.


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