WHEN TO PLANT SERIES » Cool Weather Vegetables

It’s not too late for your own yard-to-table crop

Second chances are underrated. Like the second chance to grow your own vegetables this year. The idea of growing your own can be romantic and empowering. And then spring can come and go before you can mobilize to get your garden going. Or maybe you planted your spring crop and you loved the influx of fresh, healthy veggies so much you’re ready for more.

A fall harvest is great for a lot of reasons. The weather in central Indiana is beginning to cool, there is more moisture and fall crops grown in colder weather (even through several frosts) can be even sweeter and more delicious.

So let’s get to some details.

How to Choose

We always talk about the right plant for the right place and how important it is to the success of any plant. When it comes to growing vegetables, we also want to think about the right veggie for the right season.

Vegetables need either cool or warm weather to thrive. So we sort them into two groups: cool season veggies are planted in spring and fall because they are hardy or semi-hardy and will stand up to varying degrees of frost (repeated hard to light frosts). Warm season veggies are planted in the summer because they are tender, prefer the warmth of summer and won’t last through even a light frost.

We’re focusing on the cool season group, so here’s a list of some of our favorites for fall harvest: 

Semi-hardy vegetables (tolerate light frost)

Leaf lettuce
Swiss chard

Hardy vegetables (tolerate hard frost)

Brussels sprouts


By late August – early September, you’ll want to start with established fast-maturing cultivars rather than seed. Transplants will give your veggies enough time to mature for harvest.

According to the Purdue Cooperative Extension Department of Horticulture, here are the Average Days to Harvest (i.e. how long from planting to harvest):

Semi-hardy vegetables (tolerate light frost)

Beets (50 days)
Cabbage (50)
Cauliflower (50)
Leaf lettuce (40)
Swiss chard (50)

Hardy vegetables (tolerate hard frost)

Broccoli (50)
Brussels sprouts (55)
Cabbage (50)
Kale (60)
Spinach (40)

The Average First Frost Date for Central Indiana is Oct 6 – 15 with a 50 percent chance of frost during this time. Remember, semi-hardy and hardy vegetables will stand up to light to hard frosts, so you can still harvest well into early November and beyond in many cases.


Preparing your soil is a more-than-worthwhile investment in your fall vegetable crop. If you have remnants of your spring garden, completely remove everything, including weeds. You’ll want to rototill, dig or spade down about 6-8 inches to break up and aerate your soil.

If you planted a spring garden and were generous with the fertilizer, you won’t need to repeat. If not, we recommend using a general organic fertilizer and mixing well with the soil. Dressing your soil with high quality organic mulch, compost or clean straw will help to conserve moisture and control weeds.

Here’s a list of recommended spacing between your plants in inches: 

Semi-hardy vegetables (tolerate light frost)

Beets (3 inches)
Cabbage (18)
Cauliflower (18)
Leaf lettuce (4)
Swiss chard (3)

Hardy vegetables (tolerate hard frost)

Broccoli (18)
Brussels sprouts (18)
Cabbage (18)
Kale (8)
Spinach (2)


A general rule of thumb is that your plants will need 1 inch of water per week, preferably in one deep watering to encourage strong, deep roots. You can use a rain gauge or simply set out a shallow tin can to collect and measure rainwater.

Young transplants are particularly vulnerable to drying out and may require a bit of extra moisture during the first 1-2 weeks after planting.


Check above for the Average Days until Harvest as a guide to how long your fall vegetables will need to mature. Here are additional signs you know you’re getting close…and ready for some fresh salads, sides, soups,  and sharing. You can also harvest to can and freeze.

Beets » If you like tender green beet tops, harvest when the roots are no more than 1 inch in diameter. Wait until roots are 2-3 inches in diameter before you harvest the roots.

Broccoli » Look for tight, green-blue flower buds (don’t wait until they open). After the main head is cut away, the side shoots will grow into smaller heads that can be harvested.

Brussels sprouts » Small heads will begin forming at the bottom of the stem and up into the leaves. Cut them as they develop and don’t worry about a little frost. Brussels take on an even sweeter taste after frost.

Cabbage » Watch for solid, firm heads. If they crack, cut them right away.

Cauliflower » Watch daily as cauliflower nears its maturity. The head should be small and compact. You can allow it to continue growing, but cut immediately if the head begins to open or get looser.

Kale » Use your hand as a guide, as kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand. Small tender leaves are flavorful and can be removed in bunches as long as the terminal bud (top, center of the plant) remains to keep the plant productive.

Leaf lettuce and Spinach » You can wait until the entire plant is full-sized to harvest or you can harvest only the outermost leaves as they mature to prolong your harvest and supply of fresh leafy greens.

Swiss chard » Like most leafy greens, the young, tender leaves hold the most flavor and are beautiful in salads. Remove the midrib in larger leaves before cooking or chopping.

For more information on vegetables available for fall planting, planting, care and harvesting, please ask your garden center expert. Or come in to see what’s available and ready to come home with you this season.