by Rachel McAlister

With a busy summer of tying back tomatoes and wrestling squash boring beetles, fall can sneak up on home gardeners and leave us with too little too late. Planning fall gardens should start before summer has run out and grocery stores start stocking copious amounts of candy and spindly scarecrows. Pumpkins and winter squash, for example, should be sown directly in the ground as early as May and June to ensure a Halloween harvest.

In mid-July and August, summer heat is often at its peak. However, the best time to begin fall vegetable seedlings is about 12-14 weeks before the first frost date in our region. Brassicas such as cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts should be started indoors. Lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, peas and potatoes can be sown directly. Spinach requires colder temperatures to germinate and can be directly sown later in the season along with arugula, Chinese cabbages, Asian greens, turnips, mustard, and lettuce. Adding mulch will help protect less cold hardy plants and maintain moisture in the last days of summer.

In both the garden and the kitchen, home gardeners can pair herbs and vegetables. With shallow roots, herbs require the addition of compost and most require 6 hours of sun per day to maximize aromatic oil production. Some require well-drained soil—rosemary, thyme, and sage—while others need damp soil—chervil and parsley. Borage, with beautiful blue, star-shaped flowers are eaten in salads and used as a garnish. With its cucumber-like odor and flavor, it is a great companion to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, peas, and squash. Coriander also pairs well with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower as well as carrots. The leaves may be used as cilantro and the dried seeds are often used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. Quite aromatic, chervil has edible, thick, carrot-like roots and the parsley-like leaves may garnish soups and salads. It pairs with garlic, lettuce, parsley, radishes, and coriander. There herbs are just a few of the many that are in season during fall—for more information see this website:

By the end of summer, the soil is exhausted and needs replenishment. Composting is a great choice, as it gives you the nutrients that are needed without the expense associated with production. Organic fertilizers may also be used, yet these cover the crops.  Legumes planted in areas occupied by high nitrogen users, such as corn, can double as fall vegetables and cover crops that fix nitrogen back into the soil. Leaf and mushroom composts add necessary nitrogen and micronutrients back into the soil. If using leaf compost, ensure that it is sufficiently broken down; uncomposted leaves actually remove nitrogen from the soil as they decompose.

If fall has caught up with you, there are ample farmers markets and local farms that can provide fresh fall vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Additionally, some farms also have seedlings for sale that you can use in your own garden. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are another option for seasonal vegetables. The following website links to a number of local farmers markets and CSA programs:

Click to view the Winter Hardiness and Care of Herbs from NC State University




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