I don’t often reveal my personal preferences, because I’d rather stick to the gardening facts in our weekly discussions, but I’ll tell you a little secret: Even though I’ve rarely met a plant I didn’t like, other than noxious weeds, I’ve had a special passion for vegetable gardening since I was a small boy.
Each year, my wife, Mary, and I tend a garden that measures about 40 feet by 150 feet. We value the fresh food and it’s a great hobby and good exercise, but it also gives me firsthand observations of how the gardening season is doing. It helps me stay in tune with current challenges and successes. Mostly, though, I just love to work in a garden.
What’s better than planting a spring crop of fresh, wholesome, tasty garden vegetables? Planting a second crop, of course.
By July, harvest of some vegetable types is nearly completed, but rather than letting the space remain unproductive, we can plant again.
Some vegetable types fill the entire growing season from spring planting until fall frost. Tomato, cucumber, pepper, squash, pumpkin, potato, melons and sweet corn continue growing through the entire season. These can be called long-season vegetables.
Other vegetables, termed short-season, require fewer days to produce a crop, and once that crop is harvested, there can be a gap in the garden for the rest of the season. That includes radish, beet, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Also included are types that don’t like the heat of midsummer, and begin to “bolt” by sending up seed stalks, which makes the crop bitter, as with lettuce and spinach. Peas, likewise, don’t appreciate heat, and often go downhill by midsummer.
When short-season vegetables are harvested by midsummer, there’s no need to leave the space blank. A second crop can be planted during July for another harvest in early fall, before the growing season ends. This allows a double crop, especially valuable for small-space gardens. Many short-season vegetables mature best in cool temperatures that arrive in late summer and early fall, so the yield and flavor are often great.
Guidelines for planting midsummer vegetables
- After harvesting the first crop of short-season vegetables, prepare the soil where the new crop will be planted by digging or tilling.
- By midsummer, garden soil is often hard-baked from heat and moisture. Incorporating organic material into the top few inches of soil creates a more favorable, moisture-retaining seedbed. Add peat moss, compost or bagged manure. Raised gardens or small-space gardens often contain blended soil mixes that are still in good tilth without additions.
- If the soil is dry, lightly sprinkle it a day or two before planting. Then cultivate the surface with a rake, hoe or cultivating tool, making a mellow seedbed. Organic material like peat moss can be very dry, and this step helps it pre-absorb moisture, instead of floating around during the first watering after seeding.
- Choose varieties that mature in about 40 to 60 days from seeding, as indicated on seed packets.
- Some crops are best seeded first in trays and transplanted the customary way for spring planting, such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
- Most of the crops planted in midsummer withstand fall frosts beautifully and aren’t injured by temperatures well down into the 20s. Included are lettuce, carrot, radish, turnip, spinach, pea, kohlrabi, kale, beet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Swiss chard. One exception is string beans, which produces a nice late-summer crop, but is killed by frost.
- After seeding, water gently to speed germination.
- Midsummer weather can be intense for newly sprouting seeds. To buffer the effect of hot sun, apply a thin surface mulch after seeding to help shade the soil. Moistened peat moss or compost works well. Lawn clippings that have never had weed killer applied are also options for a light mulch.
- The seedbed can also be shaded with temporary structures, removed after seedlings are growing well.
- The single most important factor for successful germination in midsummer is keeping the soil surface moist with frequent, light sprinklings. Seedlings that start to germinate can easily fry in hot, dry sun and exposed soil. The watering interval can increase as seedlings grow.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707.