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Fall Gardening: Overwintering Vegetables for Spring

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Overwintering Vegetables for Spring

There are two groups of vegetables that can be successfully overwintered into the spring: root vegetables and very cold hardy leafy greens.

Root vegetables should be planted early enough that they are a mature size for harvest by mid-November. As the ground begins to freeze, the root vegetables can be heavily mulched with straw to keep the soil from freezing. This method can provide an outdoor cold storage for the root vegetables. They can then be dug and used throughout the winter, as long as the soil is not frozen. Row covers can also assist with this goal.

Spinach, kale, some varieties of lettuce, and some specialty greens such as mache and claytonia are very cold tolerant and can be successfully overwintered with a couple layers of row cover. Depending on the winter and the amount of protection given, these vegetables may be harvestable for much of the winter or they may not have harvestable leaves until it is warmer with longer days in early March.

Fall Gardening: Less Common Vegetables for Kansas

See Part 1 here.

Some vegetables are not commonly grown in Kansas gardens because our climate is a challenge for them. These vegetables will often thrive in a fall-planted garden, although the results may be variable.


Chicories, related to lettuces, include endive, escarole, Italian dandelion, and radicchio. These are vegetables that do the best in cool conditions and are quite cold hardy. Radicchio in particular has best color development and flavor as the weather gets colder. While we cannot always grow vegetables of the size you might see in the grocery store, you can grow a crop that is good to use in your kitchen. Chicories are best started indoors from seed in mid- to late July and then transplanted outdoors in late August or early September.

Bulbing Fennel

While the leafy types of fennel grow well in the spring and early summer, if you want to try growing the bulb-forming types of fennel, the fall is the best time to grow them. The longer, more consistently cool weather will allow for the production of a better quality bulb. Bulbing fennel planted in the spring may bolt (flower) before producing a good bulb. Bulbing fennel can be started indoors and transplanted or direct seeded.

Fall or Winter Radishes

The small, spicy spring radishes are well known to Kansas gardeners, but the larger fall radishes are much less common. Many of these radishes are Chinese or Oriental radishes, such as the daikon. Other varieties include Watermelon radishes (aka Red Meat or Mantanghong varieties), Black Spanish Round radishes, and a variety of other Chinese specialty radishes. These radishes are usually large – the size of a baseball for the round types or larger than most carrots for the daikons.

Fall radishes are typically sweeter and less spicy that the spring radishes, and are often used in cooked dishes rather than just salads. Fall radishes will also store longer under similar storage conditions to turnips, carrots, and potatoes in a root cellar.

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is an Asian green that is becoming common in grocery stores. It has crunchy, stems similar to celery and dark green leaves. This vegetable is frequently found in Asian stir fries and can be used much like celery in many dishes. Bok choy grown in the spring will often become strong flavored, even bitter quickly. It will also flower before a good quality rosette of leaves has developed. While fall grown bok choy may also bolt in a warm spell, the quality of the vegetable is much better than in the spring, in most years.


Like onions, leeks can be planted again in the fall. Leeks should be started indoors and then transplanted in the fall to provide a longer growing season. Fall planted leeks may not be as large as leeks planted in the early spring, but they are very cold hardy and can be harvested well into the winter. Some types of leeks will also overwinter successfully in southern Kansas, allowing for continued growth in the spring.

Planning to Plant Garlic

Last Friday I got 2 phone calls/emails about planting garlic and then read 2 more articles on planting garlic in a couple of magazines. I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a good place to plant a bunch of fun garlic. Then I realized that maybe the Demo Gardeners would be interested in planting some garlic this fall! After a quick email poll and talking with our committee chair, I put in an order for garlic, shallots, elephant garlic, and multiplier onions.

In Kansas, we typically plant garlic and other related vegetables in October – preferably after the weather is quite cool. I would say the ideal window is after we have our first frost, but before we have a truly hard freeze. If you plant too early, the plants will start growing the tops too much and can be injured by the winter weather.

The reason I jumped right on ordering garlic is that there are tons of interesting varieties available, but they are limited in quantity, and everyone orders early. If I had waited much longer to harvest, we might not have gotten many varieties. In fact, a number of varieties were already sold out.

I ordered 11 varieties of garlic, 4 varieties of shallots, yellow multiplier onions, and elephant garlic. (Fun fact: elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks than to garlic!)

There are two main categories of garlic: softneck and hardneck. Then each of those two categories has several subcategories.

Softneck Garlics: Silverskins, Artichokes

Weak Hardnecks/Sometimes Softnecks: Creole, Asiatic, Turban

Hardneck Garlics: Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe

(The 3 purple stripe categories get really fuzzy at times….I sometimes see varieties listed in different categories of purple stripe.)

If you want to delve deeper into the different categories of garlic and understanding the history of them, I love this website for the overview: Gourmet Garlic Gardens.

Here’s what we have ordered:

Artichoke – Inchelium Red

Asiatic – Sonoran

Creole – Ajo Rojo

Marbled Purple Stripe – Ferganskij, Siberian

Porcelain – Music

Purple Stripe – Chesnok Red, Persian Star

Rocambole – Killarney Red

Silverskin – S & H Silver

Turban – Maiskij

We also ordered 4 types of shallots: French Gray, French Red, Sante Red, and Dutch Yellow.

Even though I’m planning to be out of the office for most of the month of October, I will try to make sure we’ve got some good pictures so I can show what they all look like during planting.

Getting Ready for Fall

With rain yesterday and not a SINGLE triple-digit temperature forecast in sight, it’s time to talk about fall gardening. It probably hasn’t been reflected in most of the pictures on this blog, but if you come to the garden you will see that most of our vine crops are looking old and tired. They will be doing well to make it for another 3-4 weeks in most cases. We are also starting to see what I suspect may be some powdery mildew. Ugh.

Since we have so many vine crops this year, there will be lots of space for fall vegetables. We are almost exclusively starting things indoors this year, rather than trying to direct seed. The reasons for this:

  • It’s still a bit hot to successfully start most of the fall vegetables from seed, especially in combination with…
  • Our very sandy, extremely well-drained soil in the raised beds will make it hard to keep the seeds moist enough to germinate well. Vegetables with tiny seeds like lettuce and carrots are a challenge anyway!
  • Even if we were to plant seeds right along the drip lines, the emitters are still 12″ apart, and I just don’t think we’d get good germination. We may have a challenge getting some of the shallow-rooted fall vegetable transplants established as it is.

So, what are we planting?

We planted 2 varieties of radicchio – a red and a green. We also planted some red bunching onions, one variety of leeks, cilantro, cutting celery, and 5 varieties of lettuce. The lettuce, cilantro, and cutting celery should easily be ready to transplant in about 4 weeks. The onions, leeks, and radicchio…well…we probably should have planted them indoors 2-3 weeks ago. We’re not perfect either! All three vegetables grow very slowly from seed and take several weeks to be large enough to transplant. The radicchio I am expecting to be the fastest of the three…they may be the right size in about 4 weeks. However, radicchio tends to have a very low germination percentage. The packet of brand new seed tested at a 65% germination rate. That’s another great reason to start them inside! We actually double planted the seed, to make sure we got plenty of plants.

I’m looking forward to having some non-heat stressed plants growing for a change!

Friday PhotoEssay

Another week flew by, with lots of changes in the garden. I apologize for fairly light blogging, but the summer continues at a crazy pace. Yesterday, we had a bunch of kids from McConnell AFB here for a Garden Day camp, so we had a lot of fun, but obviously no blogging got done.

The ‘Marmande’ tomatoes are the first heirlooms to set fruit, and by almost unanimous consent, the kids yesterday said they looked like green pumpkins. They do, rather.

We harvested the leeks on Tuesday to make room for our summer, heat-set tomatoes. Some of the leeks were developing almost garlic-like bulbs, which is an interesting phenomenon. (Technically, elephant garlic is a type of leek, so I guess it isn’t too surprising.)

The squash, cucumbers, and melons are doing a great job vining themselves up the trellises. I expected them to take a little more training than they have so far. Even so, I’ve got some clips ordered to help with the trellising, because I expect we’ll need them later.

This “bug” is hanging out in our purple kale. It actually is of the Order Hemiptera, which are commonly called “true bugs,” so this is one insect that is correctly called a bug! This a Harlequin Bug, which is a pest of cabbage, horseradish, and other members of the cabbage family, which makes sense why it is on the kale. The “Insects in Kansas” book helpfully states, “some people might consider it a beneficial species when it feeds on Brussels sprouts and broccoli.” Gee, thanks! I’m not too worried about the presence of just one harlequin bug, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

Here’s the Family of 4 Garden before we harvested the onions and potatoes with the kids yesterday. We had a lot of fun digging in the dirt to find potatoes. We could have gotten bigger potatoes by waiting another couple weeks, but it was too much fun to pass up!

Have a great weekend!