A Guide to Fall Vegetable Planting

Fall vegetable planting can be a heartwarming adventure, preparing you for months of nourishing meals. Despite the chill — or because of it — autumn is a second growing season unto itself. Farmers and gardeners savor the rich offerings of their late harvest and the winding down of a busy season. Here's everything you need to know to transition your vegetable garden and embrace the colder months.

What to Plant

Believe it or not, many vegetables actually grow best in colder weather. Carrots and parsnips, for example, become sweeter after the first frost hits, as the vegetables convert their starches to sugar according to the Washington Post. The best winter vegetables, says Maryland's ECO City Farms, fall into three categories: Brassicas, root crops and leafy greens. These category names may not be familiar to you, but you'll no doubt recognize the vegetables that fall into them according to ECO City Farms.

  • Brassicas: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and turnips
  • Root crops: beets, carrots, celery, leeks, onions, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas and scallions
  • Leafy and cooking greens: arugula, bok choy, lettuce and salad mixes, mustard greens, parsley, spinach, Swiss chard and watercress

When you look for seeds to plant, try to find heirloom varieties. Heirloom seeds have been passed on through the years (hence the name). Unlike conventional seed hybrids created to maximize efficiency, the rarer heirloom seeds ensure you experience distinct, beloved tastes. Utilizing heirloom plants can have an incredible impact on the flavor profiles of your dishes, surprising and enlightening guests.

In addition to acting as the perfect setting for hardier vegetables, early autumn is a wonderful time to plant pansies, spring bulbs and beautiful calendula — an edible flower that you can add to desserts and salads as a finishing touch. Spring bulbs such as irises, tulips and daffodils can grow their roots until the ground freezes and then bloom in the spring, which is a wonderful surprise after a long winter.

When to Plant

When planning your fall garden, you need to account for the maturation period of each of your seedlings. Plant each with enough time to grow and mature before your first frost. Each seed packet lists the maturation time frame of the accompanying vegetable. To facilitate perfect timing, look up the expected frost freeze date in your area at The Old Farmer's Almanac, and subtract the maturation time from there. For example, if your geographic area usually has its first frost in late October and your plant has a 40-day maturation period, plant seeds in September to make the most of your harvest.

What to Cook

Fall vegetable planting allows you to enjoy autumn flavors and colors, not from the grocery store but from your own garden. As long days grow shorter and you spend less time outside, make yourself comforting meals:

  • Try carrot soup from Food52, which adds another autumn vegetable — onions — for a savory, well-rounded flavor.
  • Looking for a way to make kale more appetizing? Simply Recipes shows how to roast your favorite fall vegetables with so much flavor, everyone will want a bite.
  • After you've roasted some veggies, try these baked parsnip fries from Shrinking Kitchen, which also includes a homemade mayo dip.
  • If you want to experiment with more worldly flavors, make this bok choy stir-fry from Season with Spice for a spicy kick.
  • Don't forget dessert! POPSUGAR's pumpkin-carrot bars pack the flavors of fall into a healthy treat.

Photo credit: Flickr