While you may think of planning for and planting a garden as primarily a spring chore, not all vegetables require the summer sun to thrive. Cool weather vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and kale — members of the cabbage family — prefer chilly fall temperatures and taste even better with a touch of frost. Let’s take a closer look at 20 nutritious vegetables you may want to include in your garden this fall.
Hardy Fall Vegetables Such as Brussel Sprouts and Collards Taste Better With a Touch of Frost
The vegetables you can plant in late summer for a fall harvest can be divided into two groups: “hardy” and “semi-hardy.” Hardy vegetables1 can tolerate hard frosts in the 25 to 28 degrees F range. Their taste is accentuated by cool weather and, if you live in a warmer region, you may be able to grow some of them through the winter. Due to their frost tolerance, some of these vegetables will continue growing and producing in your garden for a few weeks after the first hard frost in your area.
Arugula contains the highest concentration of nitrates of any vegetable. Your body uses the nitrates in food as raw material to make nitric oxide, which supports healthy blood vessel function, blood pressure and mitochondrial health. Easy to grow, arugula matures in about 40 days and can be harvested after just a week or two of growth, when nutrients are at their peak. Arugula is also an excellent source of calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins A, C and K.
With each satisfying crunch, broccoli delivers great-tasting nutrition and a slew of health-promoting vitamins and minerals. Broccoli also contains fiber, which is vital to your digestive health. Steaming mature broccoli spears for three to four minutes will increase the availability of sulforaphane — a potent anticancer compound — while retaining myrosinase, an enzyme needed to absorb sulforaphane.
Brussels sprouts are one of the hardiest members of the cabbage family and frost will bring out their sweetness. For best results, plant them 80 to 100 days before your first frost date. One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains more than 240 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin K1 and nearly 130 percent of the RDA for vitamin C. They’re also a good source of B vitamins, choline, fiber, manganese and potassium.
As anyone from the South will tell you, there is nothing like a mess o’ greens, especially collard greens. The traditional way to cook greens is to simmer them slowly with a ham hock or piece of salt pork or you can also sauté them with a little coconut oil and add them to stir-fries. Collards are rich in vitamins A, C and K. They also contain high levels of calcium, choline, copper, iron, manganese and vitamins B2, B6 and E, and they taste better with a touch of frost.
Fresh garlic has potent immune-boosting, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects. Historically, garlic has been used for circulatory and lung ailments. Many of its therapeutic effects come from sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin, the source of its characteristic smell. As allicin is digested, it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts with free radicals faster than any other known compound. To receive optimal health benefits, consume fresh garlic in chopped or crushed form.
Kale is rich in antioxidants, calcium, fiber and vitamins A, C and K, as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Kale also provides plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and 18 amino acids. Kale is easy to grow and one of the most pest-resistant vegetables. Studies suggest kale can help reduce your risk of heart disease because it optimizes your cholesterol, including raising your high density lipoprotein (HDL).
Characterized by long taproots and cream-colored skin and flesh, parsnips are similar to a carrot in size and shape. For maximum sweetness, it is best to wait to harvest them until after the first frost. Parsnip roots are particularly rich in potassium and folate (vitamin B9). They also contain a good amount of vitamins C, E and K, as well as calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
Radishes are a cool-weather crop characterized as crisp, colorful and bursting with bold flavor. They mature in just 25 days and are a healthy, low-calorie food known to detoxify your blood, purify your kidneys and regulate your blood pressure. Radishes contain the powerful flavonoids beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as detoxifying indoles and sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown to inhibit certain cancers.
Packed with nutrients but low in calories, spinach is a healthy addition to salads, smoothies and vegetable juice. Similar to other dark-green leafy vegetables, spinach is packed with vitamins A, B, C, E and K, as well as calcium, folate, iron, magnesium and manganese. Studies have shown the nutrients in spinach support your cardiovascular health, eyesight and immune system, as well as numerous other bodily functions.
Turnip roots and their greens, which are somewhat bitter, are both edible and nutritious. Turnip roots are a hearty addition to stews, have a mild flavor and bring forth a potato-like texture when cooked. Be sure not to overcook them since their characteristic crunch is part of what makes turnips so enjoyable. Turnips are rich in antioxidants and beneficial nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K — found in the leafy green tops — as well as calcium, copper, iron, manganese and potassium.
Semihardy Vegetables Like Beets, Cabbage and Lettuce Are Also Great in Fall Gardens
Beyond those featured above, fall gardens often contain vegetables that are considered to be semihardy,2 meaning they are able to tolerate only light frosts in the 29 to 32 degrees F range. If you leave vegetables such as beets, cabbage and lettuce in the ground too long, they may be damaged by a hard frost. When planting these crops, it’s important to find out the anticipated date of your area’s first hard frost. You can search for this information online or contact your local garden extension office.
The humble beet is an easy-to-grow garden vegetable. Whether juiced raw, cooked, pickled or fermented, beets help fight inflammation, lower your blood pressure and help support detoxification. Beets have also been shown to benefit your brain and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. I add about 1 to 2 ounces of raw beets to my daily smoothie and also consume a powdered, fermented beet root supplement. Due to their high sugar content, take care when consuming beets if you have diabetes or are insulin resistant.
In addition to its high concentrations of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, cabbage also contains glucosinolates — phytochemicals that break down into indoles, sulforaphane and other anticancer compounds. Beyond its use in coleslaw, cabbage is a popular base to use when making fermented vegetables. Cooler temperatures cause cabbage plants to break down their energy stores into sugar, thereby creating a sweeter flavor.
Carrots are associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease and they contain falcarinol, a natural compound that may stimulate your body’s cancer-fighting mechanisms. As a valuable source of antioxidants, eating carrots prevents free radical damage, thereby slowing down cellular aging. While the rich stores of vitamin A will support your eyesight, the calcium, magnesium and phosphorus in carrots will help build strong bones and a healthy nervous system.
Cauliflower contains an impressive array of nutrients, including fiber, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. Cauliflower is also packed with natural antioxidants such as beta-carotene, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, vitamin C and others, which defend against free radicals. Cauliflower tends to require a little more care and attention than some other vegetables, especially with respect to the soil. It requires high-nutrient soil and must be well watered throughout the growing season.
Endive, a type of chicory salad green found within the daisy family, is known for its narrow, curly-edged leaves and slightly bitter taste. Similar to its close cousin escarole, endive is an excellent source of vitamins A, B, C and K, as well as calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium and zinc. As a good source of fiber, endive also contains kaempferol, a flavonoid shown to reduce your risk of certain cancers. The characteristic blanching that turns endive’s inner leaves a creamy yellow color also reduces some of its natural bitterness.
Like onions and garlic, leeks have sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin that fight free radicals. Leeks also contain kaempferol, a flavonol that may help fight cancer and lower your risk of heart disease. Leeks are rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and K, and they also contain healthy amounts of B vitamins and magnesium. With a milder flavor and larger size than onions, leeks are a tasty addition to salads and soups, where they add beneficial fiber and bulk.
For a fall crop of lettuce, start planting your seeds eight weeks before your first frost date. Direct sow seed batches every one to two weeks for a continuous fall crop. Once you’re a month out from your first frost date, sow only cold-tolerant varieties. Make sure your soil is rich in humus and retains moisture. Never let the soil dry out. Lettuce also needs plenty of nitrogen. You can grow lettuce in containers or you can add it to your flower beds as edible greenery.
Onions are an excellent source of heart-healthy, cancer-fighting quercetin and disease-fighting polyphenols. The sulfur compounds in onions are thought to have anticlotting properties and they help lower your triglycerides. Flavonoid-rich foods like onions may also inhibit the growth of H. pylori, a type of bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. Onions contain iron, potassium and B vitamins. Raw or lightly cooked, organic red onions have the best cancer-fighting potential, while yellow onions are also a healthy choice.
Rutabagas, although similar to turnips, are larger, part white and part purple, have creamy orange flesh and ribs near the stem. Perpetuating the confusion, other names for the rutabaga include Swedish turnip and Russian turnip. Outside the U.S., rutabagas are called “swedes.”3 Their flavor is improved by frost and they take about 90 days to reach full size. Nutty and sweet with a mild turnip-like flavor, rutabagas can be baked, boiled, fried, mashed, roasted or sautéed and added to soups and stews.
Swiss chard is packed with phytonutrients — easily recognized in its array of vibrant colors — that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This leafy green is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. For a fall crop, start seeds approximately 10 weeks before the first anticipated frost and transplant your seedlings about four weeks later. Maintain a fertilized soil that is well-drained. You may enjoy Swiss chard in salads, vegetable juice or steamed.
Action Steps for Creating a Surprisingly Low-Maintenance Fall Garden
Fortunately, when you near the end of your summer vegetable harvest, you can look ahead with anticipation to the fall crops yet to come. With some advance planning and a long list of cool weather vegetables from which to choose, you’ll be able to enjoy garden-fresh produce throughout fall and into winter. Mother Earth News shares the following tips to ensure the success of your fall garden.4Here’s hoping you have a bountiful fall harvest of delicious and nutritious vegetables!
•Start your seeds: For best germination results with respect to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, you’ll want to count back 12 to 14 weeks from the date of your first frost and start these seeds indoors. About three weeks later, transplant the seedlings into your garden on a cloudy day. You can direct sow other fall vegetables into your garden bed based on their maturity dates.
•Invest in your soil: By enriching your soil with aged manure or compost, you can replenish micronutrients and give your fall plants a healthier start. By planting leafy greens such as collard greens, kale and Swiss chard, you will shade out weeds and cycle nutrients back into the soil through frost-killed plant residues when the season ends.
•Water your plants regularly: Water is of vital importance to your fall garden. Even short periods of drought-like stress can wreak havoc on fall crops. If you are likely to overlook timely watering, consider installing a timed soaker hose before you direct sow or set out your transplants.
•Mulch, mulch, mulch: Given the importance of regular watering to your fall vegetables, adding mulch will aid moisture retention. You can use almost-rotted leaves, grass clippings, spoiled hay or another type of mulch you have on hand. If you use a soaker hose, cover it with mulch too.
•Take preventative action against pests: Fall vegetables, especially those in the cabbage family, attract cabbageworms, cabbage loopers and flea beetles. You can prevent damage from these and other pests by using row covers and adjusting them as the plants grow. This is a great “no-spray way” to protect your crops. Fortunately, as the weather cools, insects will become less of a concern.
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