July is the time to choose seeds for fall planting. Many fall crops are planted in August in North Carolina. My favorite seed choices for fall include Brussel sprouts, mixed lettuce, mixed kale varieties, colorful root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and cool season herbs. Each one has its own strategy behind which variety to choose. Normally, when I think about which varieties to plant, I have two main criteria. The first is environment. I want to know the variety I pick will thrive in the temperature I expect the crop to be growing in. After that, I look for disease resistant varieties because we don’t spray fungicides, copper or sulfur on our farm. If you look closely at the catalogue description of the seeds you are considering, it will normally tell you if the variety is tolerant of heat or cold, as well as give you a list of the diseases to which it has reasonable genetic resistance. Don’t ignore these details. It can be the difference between a successful crop and a failure. Ability to tolerate the environment and resist diseases is more important that how pretty the picture is. Below are my choices.
Lettuce: Choose a heat tolerant variety such as Tropicana for early planting then shift to a cool season variety such as Winter Density for later plantings that will be harvested in the winter. Plant the warm season varieties in places with afternoon shade and irrigation. Plant the cool season varieties in full sun and in fields further away. Look for disease resistance to downy mildew, viruses, and bottom rot.
Kale: The most heat tolerant varieties I have found are Lacinado and Siberian kale. These go in first. Then I plant Red Russian for later season harvests because it tolerates cold much better. I also specifically look for something colorful and different. I might do Redbor this year, or even a Portuguese kale. There are very few diseases of kale in the winter, so I do not worry about that when choosing seeds.
Broccoli and Cauliflower: As with all winter crops, I buy heat tolerant varieties and cold tolerant varieties for successive plantings. For broccoli and cauliflower I also look for good disease resistance, as well as pretty colors. The seeds for colorful broccoli are extremely expensive, but these crops do demand a slight premium at the market. The key is to not waste any of the seeds. This means I have to germinate them out in a seedbed and then transplant the seeds into the field. If I direct seed them into the field with my seeder, too many get wasted. It has to be done by hand. I used to contract with a local greenhouse grower to grow out my seeds into transplants. That got too expensive and I couldn’t justify it, based on the price I can get for the crop.
Brussel Sprouts: These are a challenge because from the time the plants emerge to the time they can be harvested is very long. They also are not very heat tolerant, so they can’t be planted too early. This means that if they are planted in early September, when it finally cools off a little bit, they may not have time to mature before it gets too cold. There are two strategies. The first is to try to find varieties that have some heat tolerance and the shortest possible days-to-harvest. The shortest I have found is 90 days. Plant them early and be ready to cover them with frost protection if necessary. The second strategy is to find very cold tolerant varieties with a long days-to-harvest and try to overwinter them for an early spring harvest. I’m going to do some of both this year. Last year it didn’t work because it got so cold here that everything froze out. This year might just be a little warmer. Everyone loves Brussel sprouts. It is worth the extra work and a bit of risk.
Root Vegetables: I choose sweet turnips, colorful beets, colorful carrots, and different types of radishes. I don’t hesitate to direct seed these crops with close spacing, because I can remove some of the crop as baby root vegetables and allow the rest of the crop to mature to full size. If is funny, but root vegetables sell well as babies, but it is much harder to sell full sized beets or turnips.
Herbs: Great winter herbs include several types of parsley, dill, cilantro, arugula and chervil. We plant all of these and love them. These also make great beneficial insect habitat, so I love having them all around.
Growing fall and winter veggies is one of the best things about farming in the South. The possibilities are endless. Time to get out the seed catalogues!
Eat Your Veggies,