When Do I Plant Fennel, Lettuce And Spinach?

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fennel plants

This is as close as I got to fennel bulbs this year. Maybe next year!

Growing vegetables from seed seems like a really easy process.

Step one: Buy seeds.

Step two: Plant them.

Step three: Eat vegetables.

But watching my seeds progress/not progress to mature plants this summer and now getting ready for a fall vegetable garden has got me twisted up in knots. When I bought a bundle of vegetable seeds this spring, I was wide-eyed, eager and ready to get started. I was prepared like a girl scout to do what I was told and diligently follow the instructions.

I sat down with my seed tray and started reading how deep to plant the seeds. Then there was all this information about frost date, transplant date and harvest date. I was a little confused, to say the least.

Almost all packets tell you how many days until harvest and how many weeks before your last frost you should start seeds indoors, but I still had a hard time figuring out which plants would thrive in slightly cool spring temperatures and which were more suited to the hottest summer heat.

Remember: I’ve never done this before. If they needed to be planted and harvested in early spring before the real heat came, when should they be transplanted outside? It was a mess.

Yeah, I know tomatoes are for summer, but what about lettuce? People eat it in the summer. It must grow in the summer. And fennel? I’ve never even eaten fennel. What time of the year do you eat fennel?

I decided to start almost all the seeds at the same time and plant them outside in raised beds at the same time — after our very late last frost date of May 15. (At least that’s when I thought it was. This article says different.) I was so worried about freezing these vegetables in a frost that I wasn’t even thinking of burning them up in the sun.

Three of the crops were toast just after they got going, it seemed. Spinach, lettuce and fennel did not do well in even a little bit of heat. They all bolted in June.

The Seed Packet Information Is Not Enough

There is just not enough room on a 3×4 inch seed packet to give me all the information I need. I need a personal garden coach. Of course, I know the seed packet can’t include the information for all regions, but I still need some way to find out how to grow this romanesco.

At the time, I was Googling the names of the individual varieties and really didn’t find much more than what’s on the seed packet. Here’s a helpful chart that I needed when I was planning and planting this spring. It shows two planting/harvesting sessions in spring and fall for crops like lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, beets and carrots. And it also shows the crops straight down the middle of the summer that can really handle the heat: tomato, eggplant, pepper, zucchini, potato, melons, corn and beans.

When to plant and harvest vegetable crops in Zone 6

Screen cap from VeggieHarvest.com. Shows the spring/fall crops vs. the strictly summer crops for my Zone 6. Click to go to the site.

The frost free zone seems really short and sad in this chart (shaded in light green above), but knowing how to handle it helps a lot in growing vegetables successfully.

So What Are Fall Vegetables Anyway?

So now I’ve started five vegetables for a fall harvest. I’m not sure how this will end up. It’s all a big experiment:

Basil. I can’t seem to grow this inside, so let’s see how this does in the fall. Last year, it was warm enough that we were still gardening on Christmas day, so I hope we have a little more time before a hard frost.

Romanesco. A cauliflower/broccoli. I can’t even figure out which one this is! I’m pretty sure this would be considered a traditional fall crop, so let’s do this.

Lettuce. Yes, this should work for sure.

Spinach. Another spring/fall crop. Thumbs up.

Fennel. Now that I’ve seen the chart in the link above, I think this is probably not the right time for fennel. But again, if it’s a long time till a hard frost, it might work.

So the experiment continues. Do you have any advice on how to do this better? Leave a comment below or subscribe to see how these fall vegetables turn out.

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