Plant now for fall vegetables’ last hurrah

The heat of summer has finally arrived.

The blazing sun and sticky humidity are enough to make you want to stay in the cool breeze of the air conditioner. It seems an odd time to be thinking about fall, but it is time to plant a few things in the garden so that you can have a last hurrah in the veggie patch.

Most people think that the only time to plant a vegetable garden is May. Those people are sorely mistaken. One of the most productive seasons in the garden is fall, and even early winter.

The cool-season crops — such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale — are surefire additions to the garden this time of year. These crops will thrive as the temperatures cool, and will even endure frost and light freezes. In fact, many of them have a milder, sweeter flavor after a frost because of a reaction that the plant has to produce sugars after a cold snap.

Chard, beets, carrots and radishes are also common fall garden fare (radishes will need to wait until it is cooler, but the time is ripe for sowing beets and carrots right now). You’ll also want to wait until cooler weather to sow a crop of lettuce or spinach for the fall and winter.

Don’t think that fall planting is limited to cool-season crops, though. Many fast-maturing warm-season crops can be planted in late summer for late-season garden glory. These are convenient to fill in space vacated by early crops or by diseased plants that need to be removed. I know a certain bed of tomatoes that may find itself replaced if it doesn’t slow down with the Septoria leaf spot.

Beans are a good candidate for late-summer planting, but you’ll need to make sure they are a fast-maturing variety. Bush beans are usually the quicker growers. Pole beans and lima beans usually take a longer period, so those don’t do as well later in the season.

It is also a possibility to squeeze in a late crop of cucumbers or summer squash as well. This can be good if your cukes and squash succumb to disease, squash vine borers or cucumber beetles. Planting late can often mean that you are missing the primetime for specific pests. You’ll probably have fewer problems with squash vine borer in the fall than you would in the summer.

The key to fall planting is to know how many days it takes for the crop to mature. Check out the seed package or the plant tag — there should be a time to maturity on there. Just count backward from the first frost date (usually during Oct. 20-30 for most of our area). Be sure to add a few weeks to account for slower growing in cool weather and to allow for a reasonable harvest time.

For the cool-season crops, you don’t have to worry about frost, but you will want to get them grown before a good freeze.

You can give yourself a little more time if you plan on incorporating a season extension practice in the garden. Using a row cover or constructing a low tunnel can give you several more weeks of growing time. It can be possible to enjoy a fresh tomato or green beans straight from the garden on the Thanksgiving table, or some fresh broccoli or kale at Christmas. But it all starts with a little planning in the heat of summer.

Urban ag conference

Those who want to increase their knowledge and skills for urban agriculture should take a look at the second annual West Virginia Urban Ag Conference. It is a conference that I co-coordinate on behalf of WVU Extension with the folks at WVSU Extension, the Capitol Conservation District, and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (in partnership with the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service).

During the conference, you’ll get to hang out with me, my urban ag friends, and some of the best experts in the region.

This year the conference has moved to Sept. 18 and 19 on the campus of West Virginia State University.

Workshops will include gardening, small-scale livestock, conservation, homesteading, marketing and more. The first 100 people who register for the rain-barrel workshops in the conservation track will go home with a free complete rain barrel.

One of the featured speakers will be my friend and fellow garden professor Joseph Tychonievich, an author and plant breeder, who will be presenting “Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener.” Tyler Baras (The Farmer Tyler), an urban hydroponic farmer with The GrowHaus in Denver (, will be presenting “Successful Urban Farming!” thanks to a sponsorship from HortAmericas and

The conference will kick off on the evening of Sept. 17 with the Urban Ag Hop, a self-guided tour of gardens, urban farms and community gardens in the Charleston area. The tour will end with a local-foods afterparty at the J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden. Locals who do not attend the conference will be able to participate in the Urban Ag Hop as well (registration to come soon).

Early-bird registration is open until Saturday for a discounted registration fee of $60. The price goes up to $80 on Aug. 9 and $100 on Aug. 23. To register for the conference, visit

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