Mid-summer Garden Report

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, July 17, 1998

The more we eat from our gardens, the more we appreciate the real pleasures of the seasonal connection to food. The first greens in April, sugar snap peas in June, delicious early potatoes in July and the bounty of tomatoes, peppers and corn in August, are all part of the rhythm of the harvest in this region.

It's been an excellent growing year so far, with plenty of rain and good weather. Cool-temperature crops like peas and spinach have gone by. The greens- mustards, kale and chard-are producing lots of healthful leaves now. Newly-picked garlic has been hung in the breezeway to cure, and we've started pulling up onions and digging the early Red Norland potatoes. Greens, onions, garlic and potatoes cooked together provide some of our favorite meals. The first crops of beans, broccoli, and cabbages are ready to harvest now and summer staples like corn, peppers and tomatoes will be ripe soon.

As we enjoy the fruits of our early plantings, it's also time to sow seeds and set out transplants for fall harvest. We are not yet a third of the way between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox. Nine weeks of summer remain, with two-to-three months left before the first frost, depending on specific locations. There's still time to grow many varieties of vegetables.

In fact, the next few weeks are the best time to plant winter storage crops like carrots, cabbages, turnips, beets and other easy-keepers. (These are vegetables which can be kept successfully for most of the winter in cool, humid conditions, such as those in a root cellar.)

Some members of the Brassica family (those healthful relatives of broccoli) thrive when planted now. Red Russian and other kales, storage turnips, rutabagas and Chinese cabbages can be planted at this time or very soon for harvest in the fall.

Although the cool weather crops don't do very well in this mid-summer heat, they flourish in autumn. So we'll plant peas, lettuce, and spinach over the next few weeks. These crops may need some special care at first to get them going in the hot sun, but they usually thrive as the days shorten and temperatures drop. This care may involve soaking the seeds overnight before planting, or pregerminating seeds by placing them between damp paper towels in the refrigerator until they sprout. Whether soaked, sprouted, or planted as dry seeds, frequent watering until the seedlings are well-established is recommended. When they are young, a bit of shade from nearby crops helps get them going. For example, some people plant radishes in the row with carrot or spinach seeds, which are very slow to germinate. Radishes sprout quickly to mark the row, and shade the tiny carrots or spinach. In about 25 days, the radishes are ready to harvest, and the crop it has shaded will be ready to take off.

There are two reasons why the outdoor gardening season for vegetables comes to an end. A frost, often on a still, clear night near the time of the full moon, kills tender plants like beans, tomatoes, basil and squash. Although peppers are also tender, they can usually survive a few frosts and will continue to ripen fruit. Cool temperatures and fewer hours of daylight also slow down plant growth.

Tender crops that can be planted this month include bush beans, cucumbers, yellow summer squash and zucchini. The bush varieties of green beans take between 50 and 60 days from seed to the beginning of harvest, and some varieties of cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash produce in fewer than 50 days.

Remember, it's always a good idea to plant greens like turnips, Swiss chard, mustard and arugula. These vegetables are loaded with important vitamins, minerals and flavor and should be available for the picking well into November.

Market gardener and author Eliot Coleman, whose book Four Season Harvest details his year-round methods of growing food in Maine, has just published The Winter Harvest Manual: Farming the Back Side of The Calendar. Here, he provides clear explanations of how to produce fresh vegetables all winter long in cold frames and greenhouses without supplementary heat.

It's not too late to plant now for a bountiful fall harvest.

For more information on gardening and late season planting, send a stamped, self addressed, envelope to "Fall Planting," WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.