Summer’s end is within sight, and many new gardeners might feel like the best of the growing season has already passed. But no need to fret! There’s still plenty of time to grow oodles of delicious plants.
In fact, you can grow almost as much in an autumn vegetable garden as you can in a summery one. It’s just a matter of choosing the right species.
The edible plants to cultivate from now until wintertime need to embody two important traits: they need to grow quickly and withstand cooler temperatures.
Here are 22 of the best options to sow now for a late fall harvest.
Since lettuce tends to bolt in hot weather, starting these seeds in September (or even later) will result in a healthier, more prolific harvest. Better still, there will be fewer ravenous insects around to devour your crops.
Aim for mesclun mixes, Bibb, and other leafy varieties rather than Romaine-style or Cos. They grow more quickly, and you can sow successively every couple of weeks for a constant harvest.
Add a bit of nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the soil now and then to boost production, and avoid depletion.
Do you have a growing bed that’s full of loose, well-drained soil? Pop some carrots seeds in there 8–10 weeks before the first expected frost date. If you choose small varieties like Little Finger or Parisienne, you can harvest them in about 55 days.
Remember that carrot tops are edible too! This can double their usefulness when it comes to your autumn vegetable garden. Triple, if you also use those greens to feed livestock or herbivorous animal companions.
The average beet takes 50–60 days to mature, and they actually get sweeter and crunchier as the weather gets cooler. They need to be sown directly into the same loose, well-draining soil like carrots, and they can even be grown together as companions.
Best of all, beets are dual-purpose food plants. Their greens can be harvested as soon as the leaves are large enough to be worth eating. Eat these raw in salads, or used like spinach or chard.
This diminutive member of the brassica family is also known as roquette (or “rocket”) and is prized for its delicious, peppery young leaves. Since it bolts in a heartbeat during hot weather, it’s perfect to sow as soon as the days grow cooler.
Here’s a tip: sow seeds successively every couple of weeks so you can harvest straight through ’til mid-November.
These tasty root vegetables aren’t as popular in North America as they are in the UK, but they’re worth trying out. They taste like spicier carrots and sweeten exponentially once colder weather arrives. In fact, they’re so hardy that if you cover their bed with straw, you could harvest them well into winter.
They can also be companion planted alongside radishes, so you can double your harvest in a single bed.
If you have the space to grow cabbages, then dive in and get some growing! They’ll do well right into wintertime, provided they have nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, and plenty of sunshine.
Now, we’re not kidding when we say nutrient-rich soil. These plants are heavy feeders. Make sure to work plenty of aged manure or compost into the soil, and replenish with compost tea or other nitrogen-rich fertilizer every other week until mature.
Peas don’t thrive well in summer’s heat, so planting them as the weather cools will give you healthier plants, and a heartier yield. They grow and mature rapidly, so you’re sure to have at least one harvest before the snow starts to fall.
Go for petite varieties, as they’ll mature more quickly than larger pods. Dwarf varieties like Tom Thumb produce even faster and are ideal for balcony container gardens, too.
You may not be too familiar with kohlrabi, but they’re hardy, rather tasty members of the cabbage family. Their leaves aren’t particularly tender, but their bulbs are crunchy and can be eaten raw or cooked.
This is another species that tastes better once exposed to the cold. As a result, feel free to sow it late, and grow it well into November or December.
Since spinach can take a while to mature, it might not immediately come to mind as ideal for an autumn vegetable garden. That said, if you plant seeds in late summer, and do successive plantings every couple of weeks, you can harvest the baby leaves as soon as they’re a couple of inches long.
These plants are heavy feeders, so if your soil is depleted from summer crops, work some nitrogen-rich compost in before sowing.
If you’re searching for a dual-purpose crop that grows quickly, look no further. Radishes can reach maturity in just over two weeks, and their leaves are as nutrient-dense and scrumptious as their roots. Sow directly into loose, well-drained soil, and let ’em go.
They’re also sweeter when picked young—if left in the soil for too long, they can get woody and lose their flavor.
Aim for small varieties rather than massive ones (looking at you here, daikon!), and harvest them as soon as they start to push themselves free from the earth.
11. Broccolini (aka Broccoli Rabe, Rapini)
This broccoli cousin is smaller, leafier, and more sharply flavored than the stuff you’ll find at the grocery store. It’s also easier to grow.
Sow seeds directly into fairly nutrient-rich soil in full sun. If your winters are quite mild, you can grow rapini straight through into springtime. Furthermore, it won’t be devoured by white cabbage butterfly larvae in the cold weather, so you’ll have a lot more to enjoy.
Are you seeing a trend here? Kale is yet another member of the cabbage family and absolutely thrives in the cold. In fact, if you choose varieties that are specifically suited to chilly weather, such as Siberian/Russian kales, you can likely grow them in your autumn vegetable garden until the snow buries them.
This nutrient-dense vegetable is great to sow successively too, since you can allow some of the plants to grow to maturity while harvesting others as baby plants. They’re tender when young, ideal for eating raw, while mature plants are best cooked.
13. Green Onions
Most onions grow well in cooler weather, but green onions, in particular, are well suited to an autumn vegetable garden. That’s because these beauties grow quickly, so you can harvest a crop even if you sow the seeds in late September.
Here’s a tip: green onions are some of the easiest edibles to regrow from scraps. Save the root end of your onions after you’ve used the green bits to cook with. Then pop them into the soil, water them well, and you’ll have bright new green growth in no time.
14. Currant Tomatoes
As their name suggests, currant tomatoes are even smaller than cherry or grape varieties, and mature earlier as well. Seeds planted in rich, well-draining soil will reach maturity in about 70 days.
These plants can be quite prolific. Although they’re much smaller than other varieties, they produce vigorously, and you can expect to keep harvesting right into wintertime. Be aware that wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, and deer seem to enjoy them too.
15. Swiss Chard
Much like spinach and kale, this green normally takes a long time to mature but can be harvested young as baby greens. Pre-soak the spiky little seeds to help accelerate their germination, and plant them in fertile, moist soil.
16. Green Beans
Pole beans are edible as haricots verts long before they mature into large seed pods for dry storage. Plant them now and train them up a trellis, bean tent, or other support structure. Then harvest the tender green bean pods and either enjoy them fresh or preserve them for pantry storage.
Freezing these beans is ideal, but if you’re keen on canning, you’ll need a pressure canner in order to preserve your green beans safely.
17. Bok Choy
Did you know that dwarf or “baby” bok choy varieties grow from seed to maturity in only 6–8 weeks? Find out your area’s first expected frost date, and count 30–40 days back from that, depending on the variety you choose.
As an added bonus, dwarf varieties are also ideal for container gardens.
18. Escarole (Curly Endive)
This delicate green vegetable isn’t nearly as well-known as it should be. It’s related to chicory, tastes rather like radicchio, and needs cooler weather in order to thrive. Sow seeds in compost-rich soil in full sun, and make sure you keep the soil moist! If you let it dry out, the leaves will go bitter.
Harvest after 60–75 days, and either eat it raw or cooked like spinach. Actually, if you’ve never tried Tuscan escarole and white bean soup, it’s a great autumnal recipe to highlight this fabulous vegetable.
19. Snow Peas
As their name suggests, these luscious, sweet peas do wonderfully in cold weather. They can even keep growing after the first frost, provided that their roots are protected.
Grow them in compost-rich soil, and feel free to amend it further with bone meal, if you have it. Make sure they get plenty of sunshine, and they’ll be ready to harvest in about 60 days.
These brassicas can grow quite huge in the right environment (generally moist, compost-rich soil that’s high in nitrogen), but the leaves can be harvested as soon as they’re about palm-sized. They get sweet and tender after a frost and are ideal for an autumn vegetable garden if you’re in zone 6 or lower.
When people say that they’re not fond of collard greens, it’s probably because they haven’t cooked them properly. Although some people like to use the large leaves as gluten-free wraps, my favorite way to eat them is braised, with plenty of garlic.
21. Brussels Sprouts
It’s funny how the bane of most childhood dinners can become so beloved once we reach adulthood. Brussels sprouts are beyond delicious when prepared correctly, and are some of the best options for a late-season harvest.
The seeds need full sun, moisture, and rich soil in order to do well. If you can provide all of those, you’re in luck. They’ll grow right beyond the first frost, and even straight into winter if provided with a bit of shelter from deep snow.
22. Miner’s Lettuce
This plant made it to our list of edible wild plants you can forage, and it just happens to be ideal as a cool-season crop as well. It only takes about 50 days to mature, is delicious and vitamin-rich, and only thrives in cooler weather. In fact, it may even keep growing after a light snowfall or two, depending on your growing zone.
It grows best in shaded areas. Scatter the seeds liberally into moist, rich soil that has quite a bit of sand content. Keep the soil damp, and harvest before it gets too leggy, in 50–55 days.
Don’t Give Up on Gardening Once the Weather Cools
When selecting varieties for your autumn vegetable garden, make sure to look at their growing requirements. Then, choose the ones that have the shortest number of days to maturity. For example, some radishes ripen fully in a month, while others only take 18 days to mature.
Choose smaller root vegetable varieties for quick harvests, and members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). Not only do these vegetables grow quickly, but they also become sweeter and more tender as the weather gets cooler. I’ve even dug kale and Brussels sprouts out from under a foot of snow, and they were absolutely delicious.
If you’ve harvested your summer crops already, clear out any detritus to keep new plants healthy. Work in some aged compost and fertilizer, and get growing! Your fall garden will be lush and productive before you know it.