This time of the year, most of us are eagerly waiting for the sun to warm the earth and the soil to be ready for planting. It’s the perfect time to think about your fall vegetables!

I know it’s unseemly to talk about fall right now, but when October rolls around and you are flush with fresh fall vegetables, it’s a little easier to say goodbye to summer.

Many of these plants take a bit longer to be ready for harvest, so starting them from seed soon will give them the start they need. Some of them can even be stored right in the ground where they grow, making it easy to keep them fresh into the winter. 

Soup crops

One of our favorites for fall is celeriac, a relative of celery. Sometimes called celery root because it shares that familiar celery flavor, celeriac is much easier to grow. While it does need a good amount of water, it requires less than the fussy celery. It also tends to have better resistance to pests and disease.

Sow celeriac seeds indoors now, and keep them moist. If you don’t see the seeds sprout after two weeks, don’t be discouraged as it can take up to three weeks to see a good amount of germination.

Transplant outside after the danger of frost has passed. Keep the soil moist, and when October rolls around, you’ll have fist-sized, celery-flavored roots ready for the soup pot.

Cabbage is another fall vegetable that will plump up in the garden through the summer, using all that sun to build up stores of food for you to eat in the darker months. As a bonus, cabbages will actually sweeten up when temperatures drop if left in the ground.

Start these indoors in late March or April, and transplant them outside when temperatures consistently get up to the 50s. Time it right and they will be ready to harvest throughout the fall.

It sounds like we’re halfway to a hearty, warming soup. All we need are some leeks. Leeks are another pest- and disease-resistant crop, making them a low-maintenance addition to your garden. They can be started from seed indoors, and transplanted out after the last frost.

Before you plant, dig or rake an inch or so of compost into your garden bed to provide them with the nitrogen they will need to grow. When transplanting, dig a trench 6 to 12 inches deep, and plant them at the bottom of this trench. Gradually fill in the trench around the leek stem to blanch them as they grow. This will help increase the amount of the tasty, white stems so prized in leeks. 

Transitioning into spring

When starting your seeds indoors, it is good practice to use a sterile seed-starting mix. This drastically reduces the chance of your seedlings becoming diseased and helps them develop strong roots, which will help make your garden lower-maintenance and keep it pesticide-free.

When it is almost time to transplant your starts, you will want to “harden off” your plants. This means gradually exposing your plants to the harsher conditions outside so they can thrive beyond transplantation. Put your starts outside for a few hours one day, and then gradually increase the length of time they are outside over the course of a week.

Getting a start on your fall crops now may seem strange, but it is a great way to ensure you will have fresh vegetables like celeriac, cabbage and leeks ready for the soup pot when little else is growing.

For more about good plant choices for fall gardening, visit the Garden Hotline at www.gardenhotline.org.

JUSTIN MALTRY works on Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline (seattletilth.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.