Roots and Shoots: Sowing Seeds for Fall Harvest

Also, be smart about watering

By Pamela Doan

To get the most out of the real estate in your vegetable garden, think about sowing seeds for fall vegetables this month. The garden is typically considered an all-in-one shot. Plant vegetables in the spring and eat them when they ripen. There can be multiple plantings throughout the spring, summer and fall, though. By choosing varieties that have shorter harvest times, you can seriously maximize the space, too.

In early spring, cold-hardy vegetables like root vegetables and leafy greens can be sowed as soon as the soil is warm enough to work, at least 40 degrees. Soil temperature can be assisted by row covers or other heat-absorbing materials that trap the sun’s warmth near the ground to get an extra boost. With the right timing, those vegetables are ready to harvest by the time that warm-weather vegetables are ready to plant after the last frost date has passed.

As cool weather vegetables like lettuce are harvested for the summer, sow seeds for a fall harvest. Photo by P. Doan

As cool weather vegetables like lettuce are harvested for the summer, sow seeds for a fall harvest. Photo by P. Doan

Assuming that the first two plantings were a smashing success and you’re ready for another round of fresh vegetables, July is the right time to sow more cold-hardy vegetables. As the garlic, onions and potatoes come out of the ground, use that space for collards, kale, carrots, beets and turnips. Again, check for the harvest time to make sure it’s on the faster side to be safe. The fall frost date in our area can be as early as mid-October, but is usually later.


I have loved the free time of not having to water the containers every day, but it’s probably coming to an end based on weather patterns in our area. After a fairly rainy month in June, watering doesn’t seem like a necessary subject, but July and August are typically pretty dry with a few heavy downpours.

Here’s the thing, while plants definitely need water to survive, they don’t need a lot of water. Even if it’s very hot, as long as the flowerbeds and vegetable garden get an inch of water every week, that’s sufficient. There are several ways to determine that plants have gotten their inch, and which path you choose might signal an interpretation of your relationship with your garden.

The first method is to guess or estimate. Try to remember the last time it rained and for how long. Stick your finger in the soil and see how much moisture it feels like it has. Turn on the hose and soak everything. Repeat as necessary.

Another method is also on the do-it-yourself side. I learned it during the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener training and have shared it often. Stick an empty tuna can (any can that’s about an inch deep will do) into the ground in your flowerbed or garden, and when it’s full, the plants have received an inch of water. This measures all the water that the plot receives whether it’s from a sprinkler or rainfall.

For anyone who wants a more precise visual, rain gauges are available in most landscape centers and can be stuck in the ground or mounted outside. They collect rainfall and are easy to read and monitor. Rain gauges cost anywhere from $3 to $200 or more. A really fancy rain gauge will wirelessly transmit the information to an indoor monitor that you can read without even stepping foot in the garden.

Of course, there’s an app for that, too. I found about a dozen available for an iPhone. Some are free and others cost a few dollars. Commonly each one uses a GPS feature that measures precipitation. The downside of these is that they don’t measure how much water plants get from sprinklers or irrigation hoses. They’re fun, though, if you appreciate a little technology applied to nature.

Last but not least, a rain barrel will make watering more conservative during times of drought. Save your well water for drinking and harvest rainwater for plants. Attach a container to the downspout of the house gutters and it will be there when you need it. I’ve used one for several years now and would like to add more.

Trees that have been planted this season need continuous watering until they go dormant in the fall. It’s necessary to establish strong roots.

Lawns go dormant when rainfall slacks off. They turn yellow or brown but aren’t dead. The grass will become green again when water is plentiful. Although they don’t need water, many people water to keep them green throughout summer. If a lush lawn is important to you even during a drought, at least make sure to measure and not overwater.

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