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Planting Fall Crops

By now, parts of your garden may look like a disaster area. Your lettuce and early greens have bolted into a tangled, inedible mass. Some of your early plantings of squash or cucumbers may have succumbed to too much rain or to beetles. Take heart! Even in July, there is still time to plant many vegetables for a fall harvest. Among them are beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, garlic, heat-resistant greens, onions, and shallots. And, if certain tender vegetables have failed, you may still be able to replace them with healthy seedlings from the garden center, including cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes.

When planting new seeds for fall, check the time-to-harvest information on the seed packet and add an additional time for tender plants that grow slower in cooler weather. Then count backward from the first frost date in your area to determine planting time. Tender crops, such as beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, and summer squash will be destroyed by the first light frost. Semihardy vegetables, such as beets, swiss chard, spinach, radishes, carrots, and lettuce, will tolerate temperatures in the upper 20s (Fahrenheit). Hardy vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips, can survive into the low 20s. Minnesota’s Norwegian gentlemen farmers can tell you that some cool-season vegetables handily survive light frost, and cold weather actually “sweetens” them, improving flavor. The supreme example, of course, is parsnips, best if left in the ground and harvested for Christmas or New Year’s dinners or even later.

Hot summer soil can inhibit the germination of seeds, so before sowing for fall harvest, turn the soil over, add some balanced fertilizer to replace that taken by the previous crop, and apply a light mulch to help cool the soil. Water periodically. Some gardeners prefer to start the seeds in a shade house, or sun-protected flat, and then plant the seedlings after they’ve developed true leaves. Others simply presprout the seeds between moist paper towels before planting.

With a little forethought and care, midsummer plantings can keep your garden producing until frost and even after, providing fresh herbs and salad greens long after your neighbor’s garden has given up the ghost.