In the grip of this current spell of hot weather across much of the U.S., just before the summer solstice (this year on June 21st), it might be hard to remember that the start of the fall gardening season is just around the corner. Here at Baker Creek, the gardens are in full swing. The beans and bitter melons are climbing their trellises and the summer flowers are nodding their colorful heads in the tile garden. While cold weather seems a long way off, this is the perfect time to think ahead, because the best fall gardens really do start in midsummer! With some strategy and planning, you can time your fall planting perfectly.  

Depending on how hot your weather has become, you may also have started to pull out your spent spring lettuce and spinach to make way for another succession of more heat-tolerant veggies. As you prepare your soil for a fresh crop, you’ll remove bolted and tired plants, and perhaps lightly work in some fresh compost. 

There are plenty of choices for a second succession planting for harvest later in the summer, and while cold weather feels a long way off, now is also a great time to plan what to plant for a good fall/winter harvest. Timing is crucial!

When dreaming up your fall garden wishlist, you're probably picturing colorful harvests and nutritious meals. In order to make this dreamy fall rainbow garden a reality, you’ll want to plant a range of veggies that are both cold tolerant and wildly colorful. 

 Baker Creek employees working in garden


How Do I Know When To Sow For Fall?

Many newbie gardeners make the mistake of forgetting to sow their fall-harvested garden early enough; the fall garden is in fact, not planted in fall, but in mid summer! This is your early reminder to get thinking about fall and, with some planning and strategy, this year, you can time your fall planting perfectly! 

Timing a fall garden means you will need your calendar and a bit of information on your desired variety. The first step is to figure out and mark the first average frost date on your calendar, which is usually mid October at our farm in southern Missouri. You can easily find average frost date information for your specific area online. Use this date to count back and figure out when to sow your seeds this summer. 

The summer solstice, which took place this year on June 20th, marks the longest day of the year. From here, the days will get very slightly shorter, and the sun's intensity will be a bit less strong each day. This means that your plants will grow just a bit more slowly, and you will need to add 1 to 2 weeks to your projected maturity date for crops grown after the solstice. 

To find out the average days to maturity for your desired crop, check the back of the seed packet or the website description. A variety description may include terms like “early maturing” or “late maturing.” These will help you to calculate; otherwise assume that the variety has an average maturity date for the crop (which can easily be found online).

Take Brussels sprouts as an example. The average maturity date is 90 to 100 days, or 12 to 14 weeks. To determine your ideal planting date, subtract the days to maturity from the average first frost date, adding 1 to 2 weeks to account for slower growing after summer solstice. October 20 is the average first frost date at our Missouri farm, so we would plant Brussels sprouts sometime between July 14 and July 28. 


How Do I Keep Fall Seedlings Cool in Summer?

To make it to your fall dinner plate, your cool weather loving seedlings must survive the heat of high summer, so you’ll need to take extra care to protect them. Here’s how:

  • Water your plants more deeply, for longer periods of time. This helps the plants establish deeper roots in the cooler soil below, making them more resilient. 
  • Provide a shade structure or sow in flats indoors to keep the seedlings cool, and then carefully transplant to the garden.
  • Mulch generously. This will also help to keep the plants from becoming heat and drought stressed by preventing dramatic heat and moisture fluctuations in the soil. 

Black Nebula carrot juice, aspic array

Black Nebula carrot


What are the benefits of eating bright colors?

Purple produce has become increasingly popular in the past few years as we have learned more about the importance of eating antioxidant-rich foods. When a vegetable displays purple color, this is an indication of the presence of anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant that has been linked to a number of impressive health benefits including anti-inflammatory, diabetes prevention and improved motor function. 

Pink- and red-colored vegetables are rich in the antioxidant lycopene. This compound is responsible for promoting good heart health, as well as eye health and a range of other positive health effects. 


What To Plant For a Fall Rainbow Garden

Remember that these fall-harvested crops are cold tolerant, so the perfect choices are ones that will sweeten and even become more vibrantly colored when exposed to cold weather. 

Choose crops like brassicas, which are cabbage family members; they take on deeper flavor and brighter color when exposed to frost. 


Red Rubine Brussels sprouts: This delicious variety will turn a deep shade of plum when the cool weather sets in. Fantastic flavor and abundant harvests make it a fall garden favorite. 


Pusa Gulabi Radish: This vibrant pink radish is best suited to a fall or winter harvest. The roots are an incredibly electric color, adding nutrient density and flavor to dishes. 


Kyoto Red Carrot: A super bright red, Japanese heirloom traditionally enjoyed on the Japanese New Year, it thrives in the cool fall weather, taking on a deep crimson color and phenomenal flavor.  


Black Nebula Carrot: The darkest purple carrot we have ever seen, this variety is bursting with the antioxidant anthocyanin! 


Pink Celery: Bubblegum pink stems that take on a brighter color and even better flavor when grown in the cold! Pink celery is a refreshing and crunchy snackable veggie that is also a versatile cooked ingredient in dishes from soups to stir fries. 


Purple Lady bok choy: Extremely bold plum-colored foliage makes this a perfect choice for the rainbow garden, and with a million myriad uses in the kitchen, you won’t regret growing it. Try raw in salads, sauteed, steamed, in stir fry, spring rolls and soup! 


Japanese Giant Red Mustard: We love the piquant flavor and dazzling red color of this mustard green. The purple-red leaves have a strong, sharp, almost garlic-like, mustard flavor. Tasty stir fried or boiled and it makes a great pickling variety.


We are already thinking of our fall gardens, and we encourage you to do the same!  Consider ordering some new varieties and colors now, and plant the rainbow in your garden this fall.