The Fall Veggie Garden

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

When it’s hot, it’s difficult to think about a cool-season vegetable garden. Yet, it’s time to do just that – and time to begin prepping and planting one. If you have a warm-season summer garden of squash, melons, cucumbers and peppers, maybe some of those plants have produced all they can and can be removed to make room for cooler crops like spinach, lettuces, onions and collards.

Once you rip out old plants, add some aged compost or work in some 10-10-10 fertilizer to prep the soil for the newer ones. Transplants of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts can be planted now and harvested before the first killing frost sometime early November. Spinach, on the other hand, can withstand lots of cold and even make it through the winter, same goes for collards. In fact, it’s said that the kiss of frost makes collards sweet and tender, and some people don’t harvest collards until frost has done its duty. Kale, evergreen bunching onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips and carrots are other crops that may survive all winter in the garden, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Mulch those overwintering vegetables with 8 inches of mulch to prevent heaving - freezing and thawing - of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as needed throughout the winter or in early spring.

If you don’t have room for an in-ground vegetable garden, sow lettuce, onion, spinach and other seeds in large pots with good drainage holes. To harvest lettuce bowls, just use scissors to snip off greens and let the lettuces grow again. Colorful lettuces make colorful seasonal shows in fall, especially when the pots are paired with containers of ornamental kales and pretty pansies. My dream is to plant a year-round veggie garden in an old wooden rowboat. That way I can control the soil, amending it with lots of compost and shredded leaves and take bets that the veggie-munching bunnies can’t hop that high.