Dig into Planting Fall Crops

Labor Day symbolizes the unofficial end of summer. Though the first day of autumn isn’t until Sept. 23, Chicago area gardeners can begin planting fall crops.

Jeanne Nolan, founder of The Organic Gardener, tells us what we can start planting now.

Chicago area gardeners can begin planting fall crops, like kale.Fall Planting Begins

It may not feel like fall outside, but now’s the time to begin planting fall crops.

“Right now we’re planting spinach, lettuce, radishes, and kale and chard for baby kale and baby chard, [and] arugula,” Nolan said, adding gardeners can plant fall crops over the next two to three weeks. 

“Fall planting is never a sure thing. There are a lot of variables,” she said. “Spinach won’t germinate, if the soil temperature is too hot. If we wait too long to plant, then there might not be enough sunlight hours to grow spinach… The idea is to plant spinach now, then in 7- 10 days if it’s not up, plant seed again.”

Fall crops will be planted from seed, which means gardeners need to be vigilant about watering.

“Once you plant that seed, you really have to keep the soil moist to get the seed to germinate,” Nolan said, stressing it’s important to water frequently amid the scorching temperatures.

Water your garden in the morning and then again in the afternoon or evening. If watering in the afternoon, be careful not to splash adjacent plants’ leaves. 

 “To get seed to germinate, the top of the soil needs to be kept moist,” she said. “Once the plant is established, we don’t care as much about the top of the soil.”

Even though fall planting isn’t as consistent as spring planting, Nolan says “it can be rewarding and delicious and fruitful, but that depends on the weather.”

Continue Harvesting Summer Crops

The tomato season won't last forever: harvest frequently.As fall crops begin to take root, continue harvesting your summer crops.

“Now’s the time to harvest and eat,” Nolan said. “The more you harvest, the more crops will produce. You want to get fruit off the vine, typically while they’re on the young side.”

Another reason to harvest frequently: the uncertainty as to when the season will end.

“That completely has to do with the weather, and there have been years when on Halloween we’ve been harvesting tomatoes and everything,” she said. “It’s just been great. And then there are years you get a killing frost (temperatures below 20 degrees) on Oct. 10. It’s really hard to say. We really have our fingers crossed for a warm fall because, unlike the WTTW garden, a lot of gardens’ tomatoes are really starting to ripen now.”