Summer! I’ve been harvesting my spring-sown crops, and already looking toward the bounty of fall. At our mile-high elevation, our average first fall frost date is near the end of September, just a little over 2 short months away. For a couple of reasons, there are many cool season crops that are more dependable in the fall than in the spring: 1. Fall weather is more reliably cool; 2. Some varieties, like winter radishes, need the shortening days of fall to create a crop; and 3. Many cool season varieties like parsnips and broccoli are sweeter when they have been kissed by frost.
Timing and planning is everything, partly because in our busy lives we will forget to sow the cauliflower and broccoli of our fall dreams, and also because some of these crops need 100 days to grow before harvest. Here is my method to ensure I don’t forget about fall sowing:
- Mark your average first fall frost date on a calendar.
- Look on your seed packet for “Days to Maturity” or use our Outdoor Sowing Guide for Late Summer/Fall. Soils may be hot, and quick to dry in summer, so you may consider starting some fall crops indoors or creating some shade over the garden bed. Some cool season crops like lettuce and spinach will not germinate in soils over 80°F or 85°F respectively, so you may want to start them inside if the soil is still too warm. However, root crops should always be direct-sown.
- From your average first fall frost date, count backwards the number of days to maturity, which will bring you to your ideal sowing date. Move your sowing date up 1 to 2 weeks to accommodate cool growing temperatures and shorter days that may slow growth, unless you plan to use season extension techniques like row covers. Most cool season varieties have a sweeter flavor after a frost, as cool weather increases the sugar content in these varieties in order the help them survive cool temperatures.
- Mark your calendar with variety sowing dates, and use it year after year.
Now that we created a handy, reusable schedule, all that is left is the fun part—sowing!
I am so excited about our new, eco-friendly recycled paper pots that I am using them for all my fall indoor sowing. While outdoor sowing is ideal, it is not always practical (as mentioned above), so I am starting some varieties indoors this fall— broccoli, cauliflower, kale, leeks, and fennel, to name a few. These pots are ideal not only because they are made from 100% recycled, biodegradable materials, but also because they are transplanted directly into the ground with the plant! This avoids transplant stress and root disturbance, and I have easy clean up! Romanesco broccoli and fennel are at the top of my culinary wish-list, and they take a bit more time so I started them inside, allowing me to better regulate moisture and temperature. Romanesco has this awe-inspiring, natural fractal pattern, and when cooked, it has a nutty flavor that reminds me of a cross between asparagus and cauliflower. Fennel elevates many flavors in a dish; we even love it grilled (here is a recipe). Once these seeds sprout, I right away start the hardening-off process or put them in the ground, under a row cover for 1 to 2 weeks.
On this hot summer day, I sow, and daydream about cool, fall mornings, harvesting a colorful bounty to enjoy even into the holidays.
As gardeners we are always growing; share your fall sowing tips with us!