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Planting a vegetable garden doesn't have to be limited to the spring. Many vegetables can be sown or transplanted in late summer or early autumn for a fresh harvest in September and October. This is particularly relevant in the UK, where the climate is well-suited to cool-weather crops that thrive as temperatures drop.

Why Grow Autumn Vegetables?

Cooler weather often benefits certain vegetables, improving their flavour and texture. Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and radishes can become tough, bitter, or bolt (produce flowers and seeds prematurely) if grown in hot weather. Autumn planting avoids these issues, resulting in tastier and more tender produce.

Planning Your Autumn Garden

To extend your harvest season and maximise your garden's productivity, consider planting a second round of crops in late summer. Use the following tips to ensure a successful autumn harvest:

  • Timing is Key: Determine the average first frost date for your area. In many parts of the UK, this can be in late October to early November. Count backwards from this date to determine your planting schedule, considering the days to maturity for each crop.

  • Growing Inside a Polytunnel: Using a polytunnel can significantly extend your growing season by protecting your crops from frost and colder temperatures. Polytunnels create a microclimate that retains heat and protects plants from harsh weather conditions.

Benefits of Using a Polytunnel for Autumn Crops

  • Frost Protection: Polytunnels provide a barrier against frost, enabling you to grow vegetables well into late autumn and early winter.
  • Extended Growing Season: With the additional warmth, you can start planting earlier in the spring and continue harvesting later into the autumn.
  • Improved Crop Quality: The controlled environment helps maintain consistent moisture and temperature levels, leading to healthier plants and higher yields.

Recommended Vegetables and Tips

Collards and Kale: These greens can handle both hot and cool weather, making them ideal for spring and autumn planting. Their flavour improves after a light frost.

Mustard Greens and Swiss Chard: These cooking greens should be cooked before eating. Swiss chard varieties with coloured stems are preferable as they show fewer blemishes than white-stemmed varieties.

Spinach: Versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked. It matures quickly, making it ideal for autumn planting.

Daikon Radish: This large radish variety has a mild taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. It requires about 60 days to mature.

Root Vegetables: Carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, parsnips, and rutabagas can be harvested even after a hard frost. Mulch these crops with straw to protect them from freezing.

Green Bush Beans and Tomatoes: Though typically warm-season crops, bush beans can be planted in mid-July for an autumn harvest. Tomatoes can be harvested green before frost and used in various recipes, although they may not ripen indoors.

Days to Harvest Vegetables in the Autumn

Vegetable Days to Harvest +/- Days for Lower Light Levels Days to Harvest in Polytunnel
Beets 60 +10 60
Broccoli 60 +10 60
Brussels Sprouts 100 +15 100
Cabbage (head) 80 +10 80
Cabbage (Chinese) 80 +10 80
Carrots 60 +10 60
Cauliflower 65 +10 65
Collards 100 +15 100
Kale 60 +10 60
Kohlrabi 60 +10 60
Leaf Lettuce 50 +5 50
Mustard Greens 60 +10 60
Peas (sugar) 60 +10 60
Radish 30 +5 30
Rutabaga 80 +10 80
Spinach 60 +10 60
Swiss Chard 60 +10 60
Turnips 60 +10 60

Final Autumn Growing Tips

  • Mulching: Apply mulch to protect the roots of your vegetables from the cold.
  • Watering: Water consistently but be mindful of the autumn rains to prevent overwatering.
  • Weeding: Keep your garden weed-free to reduce competition for nutrients and water.

Polytunnel Maintenance

  • Ventilation: Ensure your polytunnel is well-ventilated to prevent overheating and maintain air circulation.
  • Temperature Monitoring: Use a thermometer to monitor temperatures inside the polytunnel. Consider using a heating system or additional insulation if temperatures drop too low.
  • Pest Control: Keep an eye out for pests that may thrive in the warmer environment of the polytunnel. Use organic pest control methods to manage infestations.

By planning and planting your autumn vegetable garden in a polytunnel, you can enjoy fresh, home-grown produce well into the cooler months. This not only extends your growing season but also allows you to make the most of your garden space.