Mid-Season Plantings and the Joys of the (Edible) Fall Garden
by Bill Shores
Midsummer, a time when many a vegetable garden begins a slow decline. Gardeners are out of town, busy with other projects. Lettuces have bolted, radishes have all been pulled, insects are busy feeding on heat-stressed crops and things are generally looking a bit rough.
Not a pretty scene, but thankfully, avoidable.
Here are three simple solutions to midsummer garden blues:
EDITING—pulling out plants that are beyond their prime—is an essential task in the high yield garden. Don’t be afraid to follow the maxim “Out with the old and in with the new” in your garden. The space that is opened up will set the stage for a beautiful and productive late summer-fall garden.
AMENDING the cleared soil areas is vital to successful mid-season plantings. A generous application of high-quality compost along with a nitrogen source such as alfalfa meal will help restore the organic matter and nutrients that were used up by the previous plantings.
PLANTING new crops will add new life and vigor to the overall garden and set the stage for many harvests to come. No giving up on the garden here!
Although mid-season bed cleanup, prep and replanting may, in some ways, resemble a spring garden cleanup and planting, there are some major differences:
In summer, day length is steadily shortening and areas that were in full sun may now begin to experience shade due to the lower angle of the sun. Shorter days also mean plant growth will begin to slow a bit. As summer winds down, nighttime temperatures will begin to cool. This is of great benefit to cool-season crops such as peas, radishes, turnips and salad greens, not so much for heat-loving fruiting crops such as squash.
A major advantage of mid-season plantings is that soils are fully warmed, promoting rapid seed germination and vigorous plant growth.
Mid-Season Planting: Three Ways
Here are three approaches to mid-season planting, each adaptable to your particular needs:
Late succession plantings of quick-maturing, warm season fruiting crops such as bush beans or summer squash. Succession planting means to do repeated plantings of the same crop. For this late succession planting, the ideal timeframe would be between mid July and early August. Look for varieties of these crops that have maturity dates of 50–55 days or less. This will ensure that you can harvest your crops before cold weather sets in.
Long-maturity cold-tolerant fall crops such as carrots, beets, winter radishes, broccoli, peas, cabbage, kale and collards. Due to the longer time to harvest for these crops (60–90 days), it is essential to get planting done in late July/mid August to ensure that crops are at harvestable stage prior to mid-late fall when cold weather sets in and growth slows to a minimum. While growth may slow, harvesting can continue into the very late fall or even winter as many of these crops are quite tolerant of heavy frosts and even freezes.
Short-maturity cool season succession crops including virtually all types of Asian cooking greens such as pak choi, tatsoi, Napa cabbage and many others, lettuces and salad greens of all types, root crops such as salad radishes, Japanese white turnips and annual herbs such cilantro, dill and chervil. The timeframe for planting these crops varies widely, anywhere from mid July to October or even later as the fall weather and crop maturity date allows.
Tools and Techniques
Tools and techniques for success for mid-season planting include proper bed preparation, irrigation and season extension.
For bed prep, simply remove all crop residues from previous plantings, apply a generous amount of high-quality compost and a nitrogen source such as alfalfa meal to the soil surface, work into the top two inches of soil, smooth the bed and moisten thoroughly. Plant seeds at the proper depth and cover with soil. For good germination it is essential to keep the soil surface moist. Do this by gently moistening the soil surface several times daily as needed. A soaker hose or drip irrigation system can simplify the watering process. A good technique I discovered many years ago was to cover the seedlings with a fabric garden row cover (available in many local garden centers). Place the row cover directly on the moist soil and secure it on all corners. The cover greatly reduces evaporation from the soil, keeping your seedlings moist. Once the seedlings are up, remove the row cover.
Keep those row covers handy as you will need them when cool weather sets in. Growth of your fall crops will be greatly enhanced and sped up by applying the row covers over nine-gauge wire hoops to create a mini-greenhouse effect. The row covers are breathable, meaning you never need to worry about crops overheating in warm daytime temperatures.
So go out, clean up that garden, get planting and get ready for a bountiful and beautiful late summer-fall harvest of high-quality edibles!
Bill Shores lives, breaths and writes about edible gardening all year long. He is celebrating his 10th year in partnership with award-winning Chef Rick Bayless, designing, planting, maintaining and managing all of the urban production gardens for Bayless’s restaurants.