The Hort Report: Plenty of vegetables can be planted in fall gardens, and when to dig potatoes and beets

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When starting to dig potatoes, start out about one foot from the base of the potato plant. Dig straight down and turn up into the bottom of the plant, then make sure to get under all the potatoes. | Photo courtesy of Pat Greenwell

It looks like we will be having nice weather in the coming days, so enjoy it. Working in your garden, flowerbed and yard during this time of year can be really rewarding. There are many things to be doing with the weather the way it is now. 

The other day I did a podcast with David Adam for Muddy River News, and I really enjoyed it. I appreciated the chance to do this. Hopefully everyone who watched the podcast enjoyed it too. Hope I can do this again sometime. 

During the podcast, David asked how I get ideas on what to write about. I get most of my ideas from people asking questions about horticulture problems and concerns. That is why I want people to call or ask questions when they see me. I enjoy visiting with people when they ask questions in person. It gives me a chance to ask follow-up questions in person. Interacting with readers is very enjoyable.   

The weather the past few days has been great to do about any type of garden and yard work you need to do. Hopefully it will last for several weeks. The only thing is we need is rain. If you need to, continue watering your vegetables and flowers to allow them to keep producing until a killing frost. 

Let’s talk this week about when to dig potatoes and beets, as well as what vegetables you should be planting in a fall garden to get more produce. 

During the past several weeks, people have asked about when their potatoes would be ready to dig. I remember as a kid digging potatoes with my Grandad Pete, but I didn’t really notice what the potato plants looked like when we were digging them. 

The best way to tell when potatoes are ready to harvest is when the leaves on the plants start to turn brown and die. They will stop flowering too. As all the foliage above ground turns brown and dies, the potatoes should be ready to dig. 

When starting to dig potatoes, start out about one foot from the base of the potato plant. Dig straight down and turn up into the bottom of the plant, then make sure to get under all the potatoes. Try not to spear the potato as you dig down into the hill of potatoes. If you do happen to spear a potato, make sure to use it the same day if possible. 

Here is another thing that as a young boy I did several times. Pete would tell me to pick up the potatoes and put them in the bucket. When digging potatoes, dig from the outside into the middle. This way you have a better chance not spearing a potato. 

Something else to remember: Check the first few potatoes you dig by doing this. If the potatoes are ready to harvest, you should not be able to rub the potato skin off with your fingers.

Beets can be ready to harvest any time after 55 days of being planted. The earlier we harvest beets, the smaller they will be. Most beet varieties can be harvested beginning at 55 to 70 days of planting. 

Once you start to harvest beets, you don’t need to harvest them all at once. The longer you leave them in the ground, the larger they will get — if you continue water them and allow them not to dry out and die. 

You can leave them in the ground up to the first hard freeze. If you wanted to have fresh beets to eat all winter, you would need to. Mulch them very heavy before the first hard freeze. In this part of the Midwest, you need at least 5-6 inches of mulch. 

To make sure the mulch works best, water the garden soil around the beets before you mulch them. This will help seal the soil around the beet root itself. If the cold temperatures get in around the beet roots, it will cause them to freeze and die. Water and mulch your beets to have beets after the first hard frost.

Now I want to discuss the types of vegetables to plant in a fall garden. A fall garden can give you many more weeks of fresh vegetables all the way to the first killing frost of the fall. 

Many types of vegetables we eat only produce one crop per year. Some can produce a crop in less than 70 days. Also there are vegetables called cool season vegetables. 

Make sure that you have a spot in your garden ready to be planted with some type of vegetable. Sometimes this is where you had a cool season vegetable planted in the spring or had planted sweetcorn this year. 

As you are planting, you need to work the garden soil just like you would in the spring of the year. Most of the vegetables you plant don’t need to be planted too deep. Once you get the seeds planted and covered, make sure to water them if you don’t get any rain in a day or two. You want the seeds to germinate and start growing as fast as possible. 

Vegetables that can grow in a fall garden include radishes, lettuce, beets, mustard, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, turnips and snap beans. Hopefully many of you can have a great fall garden this year. 

I really want everyone to know how much I appreciate your questions in the past and look forward to them in the future. I need to do research on some questions to provide an answer, so you are helping me grow in knowledge. Please keep them coming. 

Call me at 573-588-2040, email me at or, better yet, come visit me at Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. Enjoy the great weather we are having.

Pat Greenwell is the owner of Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. He was a high school agriculture teacher for 11 years. He has taught adult vocational agriculture since 1987. He also is a research assistant at the Truman State University Ag Department Farm. 

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