The long summer days are winding down and your tomato plants are finishing up their last few tomatoes of the season. The end of summer may mean the end of many summer activities, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your garden. It’s just as easy (maybe even easier) to grow fall crops as it is to grow summer crops. Growing in raised beds is a great way to keep your garden going deep into the cooler months.
Benefits of Raised Beds
Raised beds have gained popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. Traditionally, gardening was labor-intensive and could be hard on your back and joints. Raised beds help to eliminate some of that hard work and the toll that it can have on your body. Raised beds won’t make gardening completely labor-free, but pretty darn close.
Raised beds are garden beds that are elevated off of the ground and then filled with soil. Simply elevating the bed off of the ground has the benefits of reducing weeds and making it easier on your back. Gardens that are planted directly into the ground often compete with weeds as the grasses nearby steadily try to invade the rich garden soil. The sides of the raised beds help to keep the weeds at bay. And if you do find yourself pulling the occasional weed, you won’t have to stoop as far down to do so.
When you fill raised beds with soil, it’s usually a healthier soil than your traditional garden bed may start off as. Filling raised garden beds with soil may be costly up front, but you won’t have to amend it as much as the soil in your yard to start gardening. The entire raised bed works similar to a giant container, so many of the rules regarding container gardening will apply. Be prepared to use less water and less fertilizer in a raised bed, while still getting an amazing harvest.
Fall Vegetables to Plant
Green vegetables are the predominant plants to look for when planning your fall garden. All fall crops can be planted in raised beds since most of them are on the smaller side. Even the largest fall crops, like cauliflower or broccoli plants can thrive in raised beds. Greens, lettuce, cruciferous vegetables and some root crops are the stars in fall gardens.
Mustard and turnip greens are a fall garden staple. These fast-growing greens will breathe life back into your garden. The seeds for both mustard and turnip greens are easy to sow, despite their tiny size. Simply scatter them across the top of the soil and drag a rake over them to sow them.
To harvest, cut the leaves off at the ground. You can either cut the entire plant at the ground or remove a few leaves at a time. If you want to grow turnips, remove a few leaves at a time, focusing on removing the outer leaves. Don’t remove more than half of the leaves at any time to allow the plant to grow the turnip properly.
You may think of lettuce and salads as being a summer thing, but it’s actually quite difficult to grow lettuce outside in the summer. Lettuce is better suited to growing when temperatures range between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that go above 70 degrees will cause lettuce to bolt. Bolting occurs when the lettuce tries to create flowers.
This moves and changes the natural sugars in the plant and creates a bitter tasting crop. You can avoid bolting by growing lettuce in you fall garden. Both head and leaf lettuce will perform equally well in your raised beds. Pay attention to the amount of time it takes to grow the lettuce variety that you choose; some varieties of lettuce are ready to harvest in as little as 30-40 days after sowing seeds.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower) grow extremely well in fall gardens. You’ll see these plants in your local garden center at the beginning of summer, but don’t be tempted to buy them then.
Broccoli doesn’t tolerate heat well and needs cooler temperatures to thrive. Broccoli grown in the fall has less pests to bother it also.
Cabbage is a hardy cool-weather crop that prefers to grow when temperatures are between 45-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, cabbage an even tolerate frost and temperatures that dip as low as 20 degrees.
Cabbage is one of the slower-growing crops on this list, taking anywhere between 80-180 days from seed.
Start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before you want to plant them in your raised beds.
Cauliflower is notorious for being difficult to grow, but many gardeners have trouble with it simply because they’re trying to grow it during the wrong time of the year.
Cauliflower doesn’t tolerate extreme heat or cold, so it’s best to start it at the beginning of fall and harvest it before the hard cold sets in. Ideally, temperatures need to be in the 60’s to grow large heads of cauliflower.
Brussels sprouts are well worth planting them in your garden. They grow best when temperatures are between 45-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sow seeds in your raised beds at the end of the summer to start harvesting Brussels sprouts in the fall. Harvesting Brussels sprouts is unique. The sprouts grow on the stalk of the plant. When the sprouts are 1-2 inches in diameter, snip them off starting at the bottom of the plant.
Radishes are one of the fastest-growing crops that you can plant. Many radishes can be ready to harvest in as little as 21 days. They’re a great vegetable to grow if you’re gardening with kids since you can almost watch them grow.
Look for fall radish varieties, like ‘China Rose’ or ‘Long Black Spanish’ for the most flavor. Since radishes grow so fast, you can plant them alongside other fall crops, or you can plant multiple sets to get more than one harvest.
Carrots are another root crop that performs really well in the fall. Sow carrot seeds at the end of the summer when you start to pull up your summer garden. It can take up to 70 or 80 days for carrots to reach maturity. If you want carrots that are sweeter, plant them closer to your frost date.
Carrots that are hit by one or two frosts are much sweeter than those pulled up before a frost can get them. Succession planting with carrots is a good practice since they won’t take up much room in your raised beds. Plant a group of carrots each week to extend your harvest.
Parsnips look like the large, white cousin of carrots. This versatile root crop thrives in the fall. It takes parsnips longer than carrots to mature. Most parsnips require 95-120 days to reach maturity.
Similar to carrots, parsnips are sweeter when they’ve been hit with a frost or two. Since parsnips take nearly three months to reach maturity, plant them alongside faster growing crops like lettuce or greens.
Spinach is a very hardy vegetable, despite its tender vegetation. Spinach can grow during the cool fall months and may even survive harsh winters, coming back up after the snow has melted away. Harvest a few leaves at a time to extend the plant’s life.
Spinach can be harvested from for months. Consider covering your raised bed with clear plastic if you want to be able to harvest spinach throughout the winter.
These crops aren’t the only ones that you can grow in a fall raised bed. You can also grow bok choy, parsley, kale, beets, peas, beans, kohlrabi, arugula, leeks and many other vegetables.
What will you be growing in your raised beds this fall?
This post about fall gardening in raised beds comes from Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence.com [https://farminence.com/]. Shelby is a former agriculture teacher and a multi-generational home gardener. She currently lives on a small farm with her husband and three children where they raise way too many animals and grow a large vegetable garden each year.