Carrots, Spinach, and Onions, Oh My!

By: Darcy Cropp

Even though this area is still in the heat of summer, fall is approaching and it’s time to consider what to plant in our cool season vegetable gardens. There are a lot of options, so grab your seed boxes and start digging to see what is left over from last season. If the box needs some attention, it is always helpful to picture what you would like to eat in a delicious salad. It is hard to resist a medley of carrots, onions, lettuce, and radishes!

With possible plantings in mind, check out what space will be needed for the new crops. Evaluating the space allows us to leave and maintain any crops that are still producing well from the spring and summer growing seasons as well as clean up any areas in the garden that are overgrown. We can also consider any beds that were weaker in production and would benefit from a cover crop of clover, rye, or soy. After deciding what cool season vegetables to plant where, we are now one step closer to planting.

Once there is a plan, it’s time for bed preparation, which means cleaning up the beds before tilling or digging in any compost or organic matter.North CarolinaStateUniversity’s website recommends “seeds should be planted deeper in the fall, because, the moisture level is lower in the soil and the surface temperature is higher.” This could mean planting 1 1/2 to 2 inches deeper than we are used to, but this should ensure a happier, healthier plant. It is also helpful to keep in mind how much space the full grown plant will need to allow for adequate growth and air circulation.

In addition, water needs should be taken into consideration. Not everyone may have been affected by the drought, but those of us who were need to figure out how to keep our seeds and seedlings moist until cooler temperatures set in. For seeds to germinate they need at least an inch of water per week. If watering by hand or with a sprinkler, make sure that the water penetrates the soil to the seeds.

Now that some major factors are in place for planting preparation, we can talk about what options may be hiding in the seed box. There are a variety of greens available: Swiss chard, kale, collards, arugula, lettuce, mustard, and spinach – and these are just to name a few! If there are any leftover nasturtiums or marigolds from the summer, add them to the mix for a beautiful color contrast and peppery taste. Don’t forget that we can still plant cucumbers, so definitely consider adding a couple to the garden.

Onto the Brassica family, which includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Nothing beats some cheesy mashed cauliflower, steamed broccoli with vinegar, or roasted Brussels sprouts. I don’t know about you, but I think we are going to have to plant several of each. We have found that we have better luck with these vegetables in the fall, because, if planted too late in the spring, cabbage moths will destroy any hope of eating any coleslaw from the cabbages!

There are several options for root vegetables as well. Turnips, carrots, beets, radishes, and rutabagas are among some of my favorites. The greens from turnips and beets can also be eaten. We have found that the shorter variety of carrots produce faster so we can eat them sooner, otherwise we could be waiting until spring to eat our first carrots. This is also a good time to plant onion seed and sets. Don’t forget them when thinking of another option.

Also recommended for fall planting are garlic and asparagus crowns. Garlic won’t be ready until spring, so it is good to get a jumpstart on them. Asparagus can take a couple of years until it will be ready to harvest to eat, but it is worth the wait!

Hopefully your mouth is watering and you are heading to your seed boxes and filing through them to see what you can plant. There are so many options, the best thing to do is to figure out what you like to eat and how much work you want to put into a cool weather garden after a long hot summer season. No matter what you decide, it will be worth it!

Happy gardening!