September is prime time to set out transplants of cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, and cauliflower, a group of crops collectively known as the cole crops. If you have tried these crops in the spring with poor results, be sure try again this fall. Cole crops thrive in the consistently cool temperatures of autumn and are much less likely to bolt (go to flower), as they often do in spring.
Young plants are readily available from local garden centers and nurseries. Make sure to keep newly set out plants moist by watering every few days for the first few weeks. Apply an organic or slow release fertilizer at planting time. In addition, a dose of liquid fertilizer or compost tea at planting time will help new transplants establish quickly.
Fall Vegetable Pests
Your only real challenge for growing these crops in fall is to stay on top of the caterpillars! Several caterpillar species, collectively known as the ‘cabbage worm complex’ feed on cole crop leaves. These can easily be managed with organic insecticides containing B.t., spinosad, pyrethrins, neem, or diatomaceous earth. Find out more about controlling these pests from this Food Gardener article: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/09/controlling-caterpillars-in-vegetable-gardens/
Aphids may also be a pest issue. These tiny insects feed on plant sap rather than leaf tissue. Their feeding does not cause holes in leaves, as caterpillar’s feeding does. Instead, the leaves of plants infested with aphids may be puckered or twisted, and may also turn yellow. Aphids are most often found on the backside of leaves. If you notice distorted leaves in your garden be sure to turn them over to check for aphids and other pests. Learn more about aphids: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2012/10/how-to-control-aphids-on-vegetable-crops/
Other Fall Vegetables
Mid September is also the ideal time to plant many popular salad greens, including lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, arugula (aka rocket), and cool season herbs like parsley, dill, and cilantro. These can be sown directly into the garden or containers, or you can purchase young plants. See this article to learn more about growing a salad bowl garden: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2012/09/plant-a-salad-bowl-garden/
Other crops can still be direct seeded. These include turnips, beets, radish, kohlrabi, and rutabaga. More adventurous gardens may want to try a fall crop of garden peas, sugar snaps, or snow peas. This is also the time to start thinking about planting onions from seed and garlic from cloves. Learn more: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2012/09/time-to-plant-onions-and-garlic-2/
Download a vegetable planting guide for eastern NC: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/71/VegPlantingGuide.pdf
Learn More About Cole Crops
Here are a few tips on growing each of these super easy, super healthy vegetables:
Collards and Kale
These two leafy greens are among the hardiest of winter vegetables. Plants set out now will be ready to harvest by Thanksgiving. Plants will keep producing through the winter if you harvest a few of the lower leaves from each plant each time you pick. Or cut the whole stalk and harvest the entire plant in one picking.
- Growing Collards, Clemson Extension Fact Sheet: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1307.html
- Growing Kale, Food Gardener article: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/07/how-to-grow-kale-from-seed/
There are many types of cabbage that can be grown in fall. The common round headed cabbage is the hardiest and will survive outside through a typical winter. Savoy and red leaf cabbages can also be set out now for fall and winter harvest. The cone shaped spring cabbage, also known as pointy headed cabbage, can also be grown in fall. ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ is a common variety. These varieties mature quickly but are less cold hardy. They will be ready for harvest in just a few months, before the coldest months of winter.
For something different, try Chinese cabbage. It makes an upright head of crisp leaves, perfect for stir fries or slaw, but is less hardy than other cabbages and more susceptible to flea beetle damage. Plan to harvest before frost. Other Chinese vegetables that can be planted now for fall harvest include bok choy, tatsoi, and mizuna.
- Growing Cabbage, Clemson Extension fact sheet: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1303.html
Fall broccoli is extremely delicious and productive! Plants set out now will produce a main head for harvest before Thanksgiving. After you cut the main head, leave the plants in place. They will produce lots of side shoots that can be harvested until cold weather shuts the plants down – this usually happens by January, though in a winter like last year’s, plants may keep producing until spring.
- Growing Broccoli, Clemson Extension fact sheet: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1301.html
Cauliflower is not the easiest crop to grow. Any stress will cause it to ‘button’, or produce very small heads. Cauliflower set out in spring usually fails miserably but fall planted crops have a much better chance of success.
If you are looking for a challenge this fall, try growing cauliflower. If your crop is successful, you should have beautiful snowy heads ready for harvest by Thanksgiving. Once the main head is cut, plants can be removed from the garden – they do not produce side shoots. Also, make sure to harvest before hard frost (28 degrees) since cauliflower is more cold sensitive than most cole crops.
- Growing Cauliflower, Clemson Extension fact sheet: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1326.html
More vegetable crop fact sheets: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/
Visit your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ to find your county Extension center or post your questions to be answered online via Extension’s ‘Ask an Expert’ widget.
Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to get expert advice from an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer:
- If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238
- In New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660
- In Brunswick County, call 910-253-2610
- In Onslow County, call 910-455-5873
- In Duplin County, call 910-296-2143
Visit the Pender Extension website to stay up to date with all the latest gardening news, or sign up to receive weekly gardening updates through our email news services:
- Subscribe to Pender Gardener to receive updates on what to plant and how to care for your lawn and landscape. To subscribe, send an the email to email@example.com. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message put: subscribe pendergardener
- Subscribe to Food Gardener to receive updates on what to plant and how to care for your vegetable and herb garden. To subscribe, send an the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message put: subscribe foodgardener
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