"Planting a Fall Veggie Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about planting a fall veggie garden. Cooler nights and shorter days are the triggers that get our fall crops growing, so late August and early September are the ideal time to make it happen.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about planting a fall veggie garden. Cooler nights and shorter days are the triggers that get our fall crops growing, so late August and early September are the ideal time to make it happen. There are several factors that go into having a successful fall garden. Here are some of my thoughts…

Timing: It is important not to wait too late to plant. Once our soils get cold, plants will slow down and stop growing, so getting an early start is important. As you harvest your summer crops and spaces open up, fill them with some fall varieties.

Location: Make sure your garden will be in full “winter sun.” I realize the term “winter sun” is a bit of an oxymoron, but as the sun moves south for the winter it will cast a longer shadow over the garden. Do what you can to maximize the available light.

Soil Prep: Vegetables can take a lot out of the soil. Before you plant, be sure to replenish the ground with organic fertilizers and compost. E.B. Stone Organic’s makes a veggie compost and raised bed mix that are full of nutrients and microorganisms ready to incorporate into the beds. I like to add some additional veggie fertilizer and as a real treat, a few handfuls of earthworm castings and some lime. All of these amendments will get your plants off to a very good start. Don’t skimp or you will be disappointed with the results.

Seeds or Transplants: For some reason garden purists seem to think they have to start everything from seed, which is fine but it takes a whole lot more planning. For me, I am more than happy to let the growers start my veggies at the appropriate time and I will plant the transplants when the time is right. Neither technique is either right or wrong, it is just a matter of preference. Garden centers have their new 2018 seeds in stock now and there are several veggies that are easy to grow from seed. Others make more sense to plant as transplants, which are available now too, because they will mature faster. Here’s a list of what we can plant now…

  • The following veggies can be grown from seed or transplants (except for radish) and harvested this season: Arugula, Cilantro, Lettuce, Radishes, Spinach, Mustards.
  • These varieties can be planted now for spring/early-summer harvest: Beets, Endive, Fava Beans, Garlic, Long season Cabbage & Carrots, Shallots, Snow Peas.
  • These varieties are easy to grow from transplants: Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages, Cauliflower, Green Onions, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuces, Parsley, Peas, Spinach, Swiss Chard.

Winter Protection: This is the real trick with fall gardens. We have had years where the first killing frost didn’t happen until December and other years where it occurred the first week of November. While a light frost won’t hurt our veggies, a good hard killing frost (mid to low 20’s) will damage leaf crops and generally slow everything down. Some form of frost protection will go a long way to extending the season.

A “frost blanket” is an inexpensive item that can be purchased at most any garden center and when applied over the top of a crop, will add at least five degrees of protection. It is a lightweight fabric that is permeable so both water and air can pass through it. I do not recommend using plastic unless that is all you have. Just be sure to remove it as soon as possible.

You can also create temporary structures called cloches out of PVC pipes and cover them with a clear plastic that will capture the heat from the sun, keeping things growing nicely. Be sure to keep the ends open on the cloche to let air pass through (you can close them at night) and don’t forget that you will have to water inside the cloche since the plastic cover will deflect the rain.

Growing a fall crop of veggies is largely a race against time and while we have no control over what Mother Nature will throw at us, if we plant early, prepare our soil and be ready with some frost protection, we should be able to expect a reasonable return on our efforts. It’s really no different than when we plant a cool season crop in the spring, hoping to get it growing and harvested before it gets too hot. If you were successful in the spring, then you should be successful in the fall. And if not, what’s the harm in trying anyway? What have you got to lose?

Sunnyside will be hosting “Growing Fall Veggies,” a free class, Saturday August 26th at 10 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at

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