Second Chance Gardening

By Sue Odland

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Many gardeners view the approaching fall months as a time for harvesting summer crops and closing up the garden. However, Mother Nature rewards avid gardeners with one last chance to create home-grown garden magic through second crop, or cool season planting. August is the perfect time to plant vegetables that favor cooler growing temperatures; providing a steady stream of produce throughout the fall.  Many vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts and cabbages actually taste sweeter after a touch of light frost.

For those who long to extend the gardening season, or for those who are finally ready to drop the barbeque spatula in favor of a garden trowel, the following steps will help create a successful, second garden.

Calculate the date:

The first step in planting cool season vegetables is to determine the estimated average date of first frost in your area. In the Chicagoland area, the average date is October 15th. Once you choose your vegetables, find the “number of days to harvest” on the packet or label; then deduct that number of days from the first frost date to ascertain what date to plant by. For instance, if a packet of spinach indicates “45 days to harvest,” count back 45 days from October 15th to determine the last viable date to plant the spinach.

Cool Choices:

Many vegetables enjoy cooler temperatures, yet will perish or turn bitter at first frost, while others will improve in flavor after an icy touch. Always check a vegetable’s temperature tolerance before planting. The University of Minnesota Extension is a good resource for a detailed late season vegetable planting chart. Visit their site at:, enter “planting midsummer fall harvest” in the site’s search box.  (Editor’s Note: University of Illinois Extension also has a very good informative site at:

Top performing cool season favorites include:

Cole crops – kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, broccoli

Greens – Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, spinach, endive, escarole

Root vegetables – beets, parsnips, radishes, shallots, turnips, garlic (plant garlic by mid-October for next summer’s harvest)

Spring favorites – peas, leeks

Winter squash – Acorn, banana, butternut, hubbard, pumpkin, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and turban are many types available locally

Note: If a light frost threatens greens or other tender plants like peas, cover greens at night with a lightweight row cover, plastic tablecloth, tarp, or lightweight blanket. Remove the cover when temperatures rise in the daytime. Harvest greens while leaves are small, for better flavor and quicker return. 

Lay the Bounty:

Cool season vegetables follow planting recommendations similar to that of their spring/summer counterparts. Choose a sunny location. Check the label or seed packet detailing planting specifications for depth and width. Mulch and water as needed.

However, do not plant secondary vegetables in the same space where you had previously planted the same type or family of plant, i.e., do not plant squash in the same place twice. This practice of rotational planting reduces the risk of insect infestation and plant diseases.

Whether you are an ardent gardener, or a determined procrastinator, take advantage of Mother Nature’s second chance to plant a delicious fall harvest.

Sue Odland is a free-lance writer, and avid Midwestern gardener.

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