Now that summer has officially arrived after the summer solstice, it is time to once again look forward to your garden’s future and plan for a bountiful late summer and fall.
A few weeks ago I shared with readers that it was time to plant pumpkins in preparation for autumn. Now it is time to look at replanting some early season plants to extend the harvest into fall and even winter.
One of the things I’ve tried to combat during my career of teaching people about gardening is the rut that gardeners seem to have developed in West Virginia where they think the only time to plant the vegetable garden is during the first few weeks of May.
After a productive month or so, these plants limp on through the season, looking pitiful, until disease or frost ends them. But to get the most productivity for your garden, you should really be planting crops throughout the summer.
If you have fresh, healthy tomato plants late in the season, you can remove the old ones you planted in May that have become disease-ridden and less productive.
So this week, get out and plant some new stuff in the vegetable garden to see you through to the very end. And for some of the cool season crops, it is time to get them started so you can plant them later for a fall crop that you can even carry into winter by using a protective row cover.
First, it is time to think about planting late tomatoes and peppers. You can plant these two crops for the next few weeks to get a good harvest before fall. It is especially good to plant new tomatoes if you prefer to plant determinate or bush varieties that have limited production.
You can extend your tomato harvest season. It is also a good way to have fresh tomato plants if you’ve noticed lots of blight or leaf spots which reduce the productivity of plants and aren’t really treatable (you can slow it down, but not eliminate it).
Just remember that you’ll want to only select plants that haven’t began blooming yet to improve establishment. A few weeks ago I wrote that planting things while they are blooming reduces initial root growth and establishment.
Because many of the plants from the garden center have been hanging around, it is likely that a lot of them may have blooms. Either avoid those or remove the blooms.
You can also seed a late crop of beans or corn in the garden. Just check the days to maturity on the seed packet to make sure they will mature before the average date of first frost (and add a few weeks to the time to make sure you get a harvest period). A late crop of beans or corn can extend your fresh eating window and provide for canning/freezing for the winter months.
And the third set of plants you can still plant over the next few weeks are the Cole crops — broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc. These crops can provide tasty produce through the fall, and, with modest protection after freezing begins (not frost, they can withstand frost) in the form of a fabric or plastic row cover or low tunnel, you can harvest them through most of the winter.
In fact, these crops grow much better in the fall than the spring in West Virginia. Because the weather gets cooler instead of warmer, their lifespans are extended, they have fewer active pests and they are less likely to bold or flower and become bitter.
During early July you’ll want to sow seeds for new plants. You can do this in one of two ways:
Most people are used to starting seeds in containers indoors and transplanting these crops into the garden. You can still start them in containers, but you can do so outdoors since it is hot enough to get them started. You’ll transplant these into the garden in late July — they’ll grow quick in the heat.
However, you can remove that step and directly sow them into the garden instead. So for the next few weeks you can sow broccoli, cauliflower and their relatives into the garden directly just like you would corn or beans. Just remember to give them the right spacing — they’re bigger plants that will require about a foot of space to grow.
So let’s end this cycle of only planting in May and make the best use of our garden space. Heck, two of my six raised bed gardens are still waiting to be planted with late crops. So find some space in your garden to add some fresh plants for the next few months.