Depending on where you live, the idea of planting anything new in July or August is unheard of, a waste of materials and resources. Some may even call it taboo! However, gardening in late fall and summer is totally doable! There are plenty of tasty veggies that actually prefer cool (even cold) temperatures and tend to thrive the cooler it gets.
Here in Southeast Alaska, we rarely get above 80 degrees, and 90 degrees is some record-breaking temps. You could say that I grow in cooler temperatures all summer long! I’ve definitely learned what really likes those nice, cool nights.
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Important Considerations for Late Season Planting
Choose veggies carefully
When selecting what to plant, consider these things:
- Maturity: Generally, you will want foods that grow more quickly to harvest them before the end of the growing season.
- Frost date: Some veggies will do okay through a light frost (and even like it), some not so much. Based on your first frost date and how the veggie handles cold, work backward to see when you should plant.
Heat can kill sprouts
In some climates, late summer is so hot that sprouts would just wither and die off. However, you can overcome that in the same way you protected those little sprouts from the cold: start them inside!
Protect from frost
Frost protection blankets can help your more sensitive cool season crops survive varying frost levels. A cold frame or greenhouse is another option, as is a heavy layer of mulch.
For my personal setup, we have three cold frames (raised beds that are covered) and an enclosed greenhouse also with raised beds. This allows us to extend our gardening season by 2-4 weeks on either side of the traditional growing season. Because they are all raised beds, the soil temperature tends to stay warmer, longer. The plastic sheeting over the tops allows heat to be trapped inside and helps keep the frosts at bay a little longer.
Gardening in Late Summer and Fall
Various types of lettuce, mustard greens, and kale grow very well in cooler temperatures and tend to prefer it. They may need to be started inside first to harden up and be less susceptible to burning up in the hot sun. Once true leaves are evident, you should be able to transplant them without issue.
Kale is an extremely hardy plant that can tolerate temperatures down to around 30 degrees F, and it is actually preferred to harvest kale after it has been touched by frost. Reports say that kale harvested in hot temperatures is very bitter.
Lettuce, in general, cannot handle even a light frost, but the upside is that it grows very fast and thrives in temperatures between 40-60 degrees.
Since time is a factor, I recommend growing some green onions, whether that is specifically green bunching onions or simply planting some sets out and harvesting early. Onions are extremely hardy and can handle light freezes, especially if you put a little blanket of mulch over the top. If you happen to end up with too many onions, they are very easy to dehydrate.
Depending on how late in the season you plant them, carrots offer two different benefits: more greens and baby carrots. Carrots can be left in the ground and harvested later in fall so long as there isn’t a ‘hard freeze’ of about 25 degrees F or lower. At that point, anything left over can be mulched and left to grow the following year, producing seeds for you!
Beets are cold-loving plants. They can handle more than a light frost but don’t do well if temperatures exceed 75 degrees. I lost my beet sprouts twice this year because they got too hot in the cold frame and died off. I started some in a more shaded area and hope they will do better.
The upside is that they grow pretty fast once they get going! During the winter, then, I have a nice harvest of beets that I can pickle. Pickling is easy; this kit, in particular, is good for pickling beets and making various fermented recipes with them.
Last year I tried to squeeze out as much harvest as possible and ended up planting peas pretty darn late. I decided to just see how things went since I had already planted. I was shocked that they survived some light frosts and even one ‘harder’ frost.
While they weren’t growing as fast as when it was warmer, they still produced, and we enjoyed fresh peas off the vine in the middle of October — and this is in Alaska! If I can grow peas into the fall, so can you!
Herbs and Spices
I was rather surprised how many herbs and spices can actually handle some colder temperatures!
Dill, parsley, and chives are just a few that do well in cooler temperatures and still thrive. Cilantro and sage are even hardier than the others mentioned and serve well for short-season growers.
All herbs are incredibly easy to dehydrate, so you save money on purchasing dried herbs and have the more intense flavors of home-grown herbs all year. This set of culinary and medicinal herbs are GMO-free and heirloom varieties, which is exactly what you want, especially if you’re thinking of savings seeds.
Perennial Foods for Late Summer and Fall Planting
Fall plant sales at your local nursery or greenhouse should not be passed up when considering long-term food gardens and self-sufficiency needs. These sales give us a great opportunity to purchase plants at a super discount while also allowing the plants time to develop healthy root systems.
Use this time of year and the sales provided at greenhouses to look beyond the mums and plan a self-sufficient perennial garden – consider it frugal fall planting for an abundant future. Fruit and nut trees and berries are all great options to consider.
Fruit and Nut Trees
Fall is a great time to plant fruit and nut trees. Trees begin moving their energy from producing leaves and fruit to using that energy to build deep, strong root systems. Look for trees at the nursery that are free of disease and are generally healthy looking. Water well and as often as necessary until cold temperatures set in or the snow begins to fly.
In the spring, your trees should bud and produce leaves. Depending on the variety and age of the tree when purchased, it could take several years to produce fruit. It’s a good future investment, as fruit and nut trees can provide much nutrition and calories in a survival situation and are generally good keepers for long-term storage.
Berries, too, can be planted in the fall, and local greenhouses will likely have these marked way down from their spring prices.
Be sure to plant deeply and cover well with mulch to keep tender root systems protected in especially cold climates. And remember to choose the location well. Once they take root, some berries can be a pest, so put them somewhere that won’t disturb the rest of the garden.
There are actually many ‘cold crops’ that prefer spring and fall temperatures. A little research may surprise you and help you see that you can do so much more with your garden than you ever thought, even when it’s chilly outside!
What cool season veggies are you planting in late summer and fall?
Originally published on August 11, 2014; updated by The Survival Mom editors.