K3__7731 - Brassica oleracea, Broccoli, seedling

The days are getting hotter, but they are also getting shorter.  Fall is coming, and with it, our opportunity to grow tasty cool weather vegetables like collards, cabbage and beets.

Late July

Growing fall vegetables with a long maturity period is somewhat difficult in the South.  These include broccoli, cabbage, Irish potatoes, cauliflower and kohlrabi.  You need to get them in the ground while the days are long enough to get the sun they need, but not so soon that they bolt in the heat.  These get planted in late July or early August, for an expected harvest in November or December.  If we get too much heat, these may fail.  Broccoli and cauliflower are particularly elusive, but I have had consistent success with cabbage and kohlrabi.

IMGP5259 - -Bull's Blood-, Beet, Beta vulgaris, dripline

August and September

Vegetables which don’t take so long to mature, like carrots, beets, English peas, mustard greens, kale, turnips and radishes are planted in August and harvested September through November.  Collards can be planted anytime in the summer and harvested throughout the fall and most of the winter, although I have the most success planting them in August.  All of these plants are more susceptible to heat, so if fall is hot or late in coming, they may fail.

September

Finally, once the worst of the heat has passed, usually in late August or September, you can plant cool season crops which don’t tolerate heat at all, like lettuce and spinach.  Forget iceberg lettuce: we won’t have the long cool season it needs.  But all kinds of leaf lettuces and butterheads will grow well here.  Romaine is very heat tolerant, but don’t expect the large firm heads.  Harvest when at the baby stage or it has produced small heads.   Spinach, once established, can be harvested “cut and come again” all fall and early winter, and many years spinach overwinters entirely and you are still harvesting in spring.  (“Cut and come again” mean cutting off young leaves without taking too much of each plant, and letting them regrow.  It’s a great method to use for a household that wants to harvest fresh for each meal.)

Handling Uncertainty

What the fall weather will be like, from a gardening standpoint, is much less predictable than spring.  With all this uncertainty about timing, your best bet is to succession plant.  Plant seeds every week during the planting window to minimize risk.  At worst, some of the earliest and latest seed may fail.  At best, you have a steady stream of vegetables to harvest throughout the whole season.

Keeping track of what to plant when is easier with my free North Alabama Planting Calendar reference chart.  You can find it on the Resources page of the Southern Foodscapes website in the “Growing Food” section at the bottom.

Not ready to let go of summer yet?  There’s still time to get banana peppers, hot peppers and summer squashes like zucchini and yellow crookneck in the ground.  Even some short season tomatoes, like most cherry and grape tomatoes, can be planted now and still mature before cold weather hits.

Nicole Castle Brookus

Nicole advocates a non-dogmatic approach to sustainability, integrated pest management, permaculture, community involvement and resilient local food systems, and is available for on-site consultations and speaking engagements. She lives in Madison, Alabama and is also a nature photographer. Learn more about Nicole's work towards sustainable food systems at Southern Foodscapes and see her art & photography at Brookus.com.