Many root vegetables are considered “cool weather” crops—they grow lush and juicy when daytime temperatures are in the seventies, but barely muddle through hot weather. Which is why we plant them as early in spring as possible. But fall is just as suitable a growing season; this is when, in times past, we would be filling our “root cellars,” after all.
The trick is that you have to start the seeds while it’s still summer. Otherwise they might not mature before freezing weather ends the growing season. Exactly when to start them is a function of how long the crop in question takes to grow and where you live. Simply work backwards from the average date of first frost in your area (find it here), subtracting the “days to maturity” listed on the seed packet to arrive at the planting date. It’s wise to subtract an additional two to three weeks in case cold weather comes earlier than usual.
For a fall harvest, fast-maturing crops are best. Avoid varieties that require more than 75 days to maturity (potatoes, parsnips, celeriac and fennel bulb). And stay away from heat-lovers that hail from tropical locales (sweet potatoes, yams and jicama). Most root vegetables in the Brassica family (turnips, beets, radishes) are fair game, as are carrots. Below are a few unique varieties, both heirloom and modern, to consider.
If growth is slow or you get them in late, you may end up with “baby” roots, but these will be sweet and succulent. You can leave them in the garden and harvest as needed throughout fall (and into winter, until the ground freezes), so they’re always fresh. Cover with a layer of straw to prevent damage on frosty nights.
Photo by Kaiskynet Studio/Shutterstock
Shorter and plumper than the usual long white varieties, heirloom purple daikons are an excellent choice for adding to kimchi and pickled vegetables. 40 days to maturity.
Similar to the famed Hakurei turnips, this is a small, sweet variety suitable for eating fresh in salads. 50 days to maturity.
Also known as candy cane or candy-striped beets, this heirloom may be cooked, but is often consumed raw or pickled. 60 days to maturity.
The color alone makes this radish worth growing, but it is also known for being on the sweet side. 60 days to maturity.
Cosmic Purple Carrot
There are many purple carrot varieties out there these days, but this newer one, which has yellow-orange flesh, matures faster than most, making it an ideal choice for fall gardening.