I’ll let you in on a little gardener’s secret: late summer through early autumn is the perfect time for many kinds of garden projects, including incorporating edibles into the landscape. We are so lucky in the Pacific Northwest to be able to grow veggies nearly year-round. There are a wide variety of cool-season veggies for autumn and early spring harvest and now is the best time to plant perennial edibles like berries as well.
Planting starts (baby plants) will allow you to harvest earlier in many cases. For many of the edibles mentioned below, starts are actually preferable. The exceptions are baby carrots, lettuce, parsley, peas, radishes and spinach, which can easily be grown from seed or starts. If sowings fail to germinate in late July or early August because of heat and inconsistent water, try again in late August and September; they may germinate more easily.
Veggies will need regular watering now and by early fall the mix of warmer soil, mild temperatures and rain create the perfect conditions to help your young plants thrive and become well established before winter arrives. I know, I know... It’s too early to be talking about winter, but it isn’t too early to begin planning and planting your autumn veggie garden.
Let’s get started.
What are cool-season vegetables?
Vegetables are often separated into two groups: cool-season and warm-season. The warm-season veggies are at their peak at the height of summer: think tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. Cool-season veggies prefer milder weather and can generally be planted in spring and again in late summer/early autumn.
Some cool-season veggies grow fairly quickly and, if you plant them now, you will be able to harvest this year. Lettuce, most greens, radishes and peas should be harvested before the first frost or covered for protection (see row covers and cloches, below) while root vegetables like parsnips and beets as well as kale and spinach can survive a frost and even become sweeter for it.
Here are a few to plant now and harvest this year (be sure to read seed packets for specific variety info):
Bitter Greens (Arugula, Endive, Radicchio, Mustard)
Peas (look for dwarf & enation-resistant varieties)
There are also several herbs that will continue to grow throughout fall (and some even into winter), as well:
Other cool-season edibles overwinter, meaning they stay mostly dormant until early spring. They need to be planted now in order to grow the strong roots that help them survive winter so they can produce in spring.
Here are some edibles to plant now for harvesting next spring and summer:
Berries, especially blueberries
Don’t forget to amend your soil with a high-quality compost, such as E.B. Stone Planting Compost or Gardner & Bloome Harvest Supreme. Now is the time to mulch your soil with several inches of compost (Gardner & Bloome Soil Building Conditioner is great as mulch) to keep summer's heat in the soil.
When planting for autumn, it's a good idea to practice crop rotation. Plant something different than what you had in the spot for spring and summer. Your summer vegetables have most likely used up essential nutrients in the soil, so adding a natural vegetable fertilizer (try Dr. Earth or Espoma brand) will give your new plants a much-needed boost. For containers, always use potting soil (again, E.B. Stone and Gardner & Bloome offer excellent options) mixed with fertilizer, added according to package directions.
If you decide not to plant your entire space, consider sowing a cover crop such as crimson clover, vetch, winter peas or favas in the early fall. These legumes are nitrogen fixers and will improve your soil. Sow, let them grow through the winter, then till them into the soil in early (can't emphasize that enough) spring and voilà - improved soil!
Row covers and cloches
One way of extending the growing season (this also works for early-spring planting) is to use a row cover or cloche to protect your veggies and keep them warm. Row covers are lightweight fabrics that allow air, sun, and water to penetrate, but raise soil temperatures by approximately 5 degrees. They can be loosely laid over starts or newly-sown seeds, the edges secured with u-stakes, rocks or boards. Be sure to allow room for plants to push the fabric up as they grow. Another option is to cover your individual plants or whole garden bed with a cloche. They come in many forms: glass domes, plastic sheeting laid over PVC tubes and secured, or even DIY liter soda bottles. Google ‘DIY cloches’ and get lost in the myriad results. If you do use a hoop cloche with plastic sheeting, vent the sides during the day to allow for air flow.
Ready to start planning and planting? We want to help make your garden project a success, so we encourage you to take advantage of the many ways we can help: ask our experts in person and on social media with #heyswansons. You can also find helpful information on our NW Gardening Tips page.
Remember to comment with questions or to tell us what you’ll be growing for autumn!
A few more resources for the NW edible gardener
Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon
Territorial Seed Company Catalog (the best 75¢ you will ever spend)
Seattle Urban Farm Company’s website and podcast
Amy Pennington’s Blog
Sunset Magazine's website