If you are sorry to see the harvest season end, you may want to consider adding some vegetables next year to extend it. Several may be harvested late into the fall or, in some cases, throughout the entire winter. Several root crops such as turnip, rutabaga, parsnip, salsify, and Jerusalem artichoke might be planted. A few leaf crops such as Brussels sprouts or kale may be harvested very late into the fall. If they are already in your garden, many weeks of pleasant eating may still be ahead.
The turnip is by far the most popular winter root crop. The use of turnips for food dates back at least to the time of the ancient Greeks. Turnips are a versatile vegetable. In addition to being used for human food, they have also been used as stock feed. In some areas the tops are an important ‘green’ and roots are seldom used. As a winter crop, the roots are most important.
The rutabaga is similar to the turnip and is a very close relative. However, the leaves are smoother and bluish, while turnip leaves are hairy and green. The roots of rutabaga are larger than turnips and require 4 to 6 weeks longer to mature. Therefore, rutabagas should be seeded in late June, while turnips are normally seeded in late July for a fall crop.
Both turnips and rutabagas grow and germinate best on a fairly rich soil. Since they require a fairly high fertility, the addition of a garden fertilizer as well as organic matter helps get them off to a fast start. Germination may be erratic, especially when hot drying weather accompanies seeding. Flea beetles may cause serious damage to young plants and may need to be controlled if numerous small holes are seen in the leaves.
These root crops can be harvested in the fall and early winter as soon as roots have become large enough to use. They can be left outdoors until the ground begins to freeze. At that time they may be harvested and stored in a cool, damp location. Rutabagas are usually dipped in wax to keep them from drying out too much in storage.
Parsnips and salsify are root crops that are planted in the spring. Parsnips are close relatives of carrots, while salsify is closely related to common chicory. Both these vegetables are more recent additions to human diets, having become popular in Europe between the 13th and 16th centuries. Salsify requires a long growing season and should be seeded outdoors very early or, preferably, grown from plants started indoors. Parsnips should be direct seeded where they are to grow since they do not transplant well.
A perennial root crop that is sometimes used for late fall and winter harvest is the Jerusalem artichoke. This sunflower produces roots that can be used uncooked in salads, pickled, or used similarly to potatoes although they cannot be considered a potato substitute. They do not last well in storage, so they should be left in the soil and harvested as needed in winter whenever the soil is unfrozen. To reduce soil freezing and increase harvest time, a heavy mulch may be placed over them after the tops die back and are cut down. A mulch over other root crops can also extend harvest time into the winter by keeping soil unfrozen longer.
Leafy vegetables are less useful for winter harvest, but Brussels sprouts and kale are very hardy and can grow well into the late fall for harvest up until temperatures drop into the teens. Both can be planted in the spring, but flavor is best when growth is most rapid during the cool temperatures of fall.
Winter vegetables were more important before modern transportation allowed an almost complete selection of vegetables in grocery stores during all seasons. However, these crops are nutritious, rewarding to grow, and a means for keeping the garden productive throughout almost the entire year.