Picture this, if you will, a restful winter replete with homegrown meals made with nutritious fall vegetables. Imagine autumn and winter dinners centered around exotic winter squash and warm roasted beets in a rainbow of colors. This may seem like a far-off dream as we toil in the heat of high summer gardening. However, a bit of prior planning and fall seed sowing will ensure a root cellar and pantry full of nutritious meals this winter. (pictured above: Chinese Green Luobo Radish)
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Stuffed, roasted, or made into soups, winter squash serves as the centerpiece of the fall and winter vegetable ensemble. Planting squash late in the season may help to avoid the peak of squash bug season. Winter squash is an easy keeper and can be stored in a root cellar or any cool place for months. The turban squash, such as Turk’s Turban, will grow quickly and is known to store longer than other varieties (up to 6 months). The turban or buttercup squash have a sweet flavor and are ideal for stuffing. Red kuri (pictured above) squash is a Baker Creek favorite for flavor. Now is also a great time to plant summer squash for a late harvest.
Beets are a nutrient packed super veggie, an important off season source of antioxidants. If you do not have access to a root cellar, you can store beets and other root crops in a cardboard box between layers of sawdust, placed in an unheated room or garage. And for those with absolutely no space in the house for storage, try heavily mulching beets and leaving them in ground to be harvested through winter as needed. Beets have a boundless versatility to them. When roasted, they become syrupy sweet, making a perfect balance to spicy arugula in a salad. Conversely, when juiced, raw beets have an intensely earthy flavor in need of a sweet counterpart like fall apples. Try planting beets for a harvest just after fall frost, the cold snap will trigger a conversion from starch to sugars for a most saccharine root crop.
Parsnips and carrots are much like beets in their growing habits and storage capabilities. They also become sweeter after a frost and can be left in the ground with a heavy mulch to harvest throughout the winter. It is recommended to prepare carrot and parsnip beds with a very well dug, light and aerated soil for optimal root development as heavy or rocky soil will result in forked or hairy roots on carrots. Try growing a large crop of baby carrots this fall for snacking all winter long. Our favorite baby carrot variety is little finger.
Fall brassicas like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower also taste sweeter after a fall frost. When brassicas are exposed to frost, they increase the amount of sugars in their cells, like a kind of plant antifreeze. It is recommended to transplant Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. Sow seeds about 8 weeks before the first fall frost. Transplant out into the garden and side dress with compost for an extra boost if your soil that has become depleted over the season. Ferment cabbages into kimchee and sauerkraut for a highly nutritious and probiotic snack.
Fall radishes are a highly underappreciated root crop. Chinese Red Meat radish, also known as a watermelon radish, is a Baker Creek favorite for many reasons. Not only does the Chinese red meat radish boast a complex sweet/spicy flavor but it also will not become pithy or woody as it grows large. In fact, the Chinese red meat will retain a fantastic flavor, and texture even as it grows to the size of a softball! The fall radishes also have unbeatable storability. Having problems with super heavy, clay soil? Plant the large daikon radish to break up heavy soil and improve aeration for next season. When faced with a bumper crop of daikon, have no fear; they store well and make a great pickle!
Summer’s intense heat will cause many varieties of greens to bolt prematurely. Fall is the time for spinach and lettuce to make a comeback. While spinach and lettuce suffer in the heat, both will thrive in the cool fall weather. Try something different this fall and plant Celtuce lettuce, it’s an old variety that has a thick stem and can be cooked or eaten raw. Please don’t forget to take a moment to plan for this fall's harvest; you won’t regret it!