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.
When to Plant Your Veggies
You have all the seed packets ready to go, so when should you start planting your garden? The National Gardening Association has a suggestion: watch what’s coming up in your flower beds.
You may already have started your broccoli, Brussel sprouts, garlic, onion sets, cabbage, kale, spinach, turnips, radishes, potatoes, peas, and shallots, since they can tolerate late frosts.
For the next plantings, keep your eye on the blossoms. When you see tulips, daffodils, and maple trees in flower, it’s time to plant beets and Swiss chard, which can survive light frost.
When the apple trees and lilacs are in bloom, it’s generally safe to plant squash, pumpkin, bush beans, and sweet corn that can all germinate in cool soil, although they eventually need the summer heat.
When the bearded iris are in bloom and the apple blossoms are falling, plant the more tender items: pole and lima beans, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and cantaloupes.
Frost is, of course, the spoiler in the early planting of seeds and seedlings. Many vegetables including tomatoes can survive temperatures as low as 28 degrees F, but they can’t survive frost, which can occur at temperatures as high as 40 degrees F. Frost is crystallized dew that destroys the cell walls of plants as it melts.
If you have already planted and frost threatens, you can often prevent damage by covering plants with sheets or blankets overnight, but be sure to remove them during warm days. Make sure coverings are of light material to avoid damaging the plants. You may use plastic as long as it doesn’t come in contact with the plants, since plastic can convey freezing cold to tender leaves.
To get the jump on your neighbor with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, you can protect them with a homemade Wall-O-Water. Duct tape together seven or so two-quart plastic containers around the middle to form a circle. Fill with water and place around the young plant. The water will soak up warmth during the day and keep plants from freezing at night.
If you believe in The Farmers Almanac moon gardening guide, here is the planting outlook predicted for the coming week: April 24-26 and April 30 will be favorable for planting the above grown crops including beans, corn, cotton, tomatoes, and peppers. Avoid April 27-29. Seeds may rot in the ground. Definitely not good!