The cooler weather and shorter days of fall don't have to mean the end of the harvest from your garden. If you plant some of these classic root crops now, you can still enjoy fresh homegrown produce well into late autumn.
If you're a salad-loving gardener, planting a fall garden full of leafy greens is a sure way to extend the harvest season, and if you sow a bed full of short season root vegetables, you can add some variety, and a lot more crunch, to your plate. Before you go out and buy seed, check the average first frost date for your area, and plant accordingly.
Here are four classic root crops that are well suited to fall gardens:
Carrots: Carrots are fairly easy to grow from seed, but as with all seeds that require shallow planting, the surface of the soil must stay evenly moist for germination. Covering the beds with a row cover (or a low tunnel) will help hold the moisture in, or lay the row cover right on the surface of the soil and remove it when most of the seeds begin to sprout. Select seeds of carrot varieties with a shorter time to harvest, and when thinning the rows, harvest some of the baby carrots for a sweet and crunchy treat. For some variety in taste and color, plant several different types of carrots, such as purple or white ones.
Beets: If you were traumatized by having to eat canned beets as a kid, you might want to give these root vegetables another try by growing some of your own and eating them fresh from the garden, either raw (thinly sliced beets make great chips for a veggie platter) or cooked. Beet seeds are a bit deceiving, as they aren't single seeds, but rather a cluster of several seeds, so thinning the rows of beets is a must (and as with carrots, the baby beets that get thinned out can go right into a salad). There are differently colored and sized beets, so planting a mix of varieties will yield a diversity of color and flavor in both the beet roots and the leaves (which are also edible).
Radishes: Radishes are one of the quickest vegetables to mature, depending on the specific variety, with some reaching harvest size in just 30 days. It's possible to do several successive plantings of radishes in the fall, spaced about a week apart, for a steady supply. If you've steered clear of radishes because they tend to be too 'spicy' for you, look for some of the sweeter varieties, and sow several different types to learn which ones your family enjoys the most. Radishes can also be grown in the same row as leafy greens, as they will mature and be harvested first, which will then help to thin out the rows of lettuce or other greens.
Turnips: Turnips don't tend to be high on the list of favorite vegetables for many people, but these root vegetables are easy to grow in the fall and tend to be somewhat sweeter than those grown in the spring and summer. Some turnip varieties can mature in as little as five weeks, and can be harvested early for roots that are tender and sweet. Even if you don't care for turnips, they can be grown just for their greens, either by harvesting single leaves from each plant, or by cutting all the leaves at a point several inches above the root (the leaves will grow back for additional harvests). While rows of turnips need thinning to be able to produce sizable roots, it's not necessary to thin turnips grown for their greens.
What are your favorite fall garden root crops?