Midsummer is the time to plan for an autumn feast
There’s still time to plant a crop of cool-weather-loving vegetables that you can enjoy throughout the fall. Follow these steps for a bountiful harvest.
Find your hardiness zone. The lowest average temperature in your location determines your zone and the ideal times for planting. Find out what zone you live in here.
Know when to plant. Look up your zone’s planting schedule for specific vegetables. Generally, planting times in zones 5 and 6―most of the upper-middle states―are from mid-July through early September. For zones 7 through 9―middle states, coastal areas and into the South―plant in August and September (and into October). The hottest and coldest regions of the country will be on different schedules.
Discover your zone’s schedule for specific plants here.
Choose a cool-weather crop. These vegetables love cooler conditions and can be planted either in early spring or late summer. They thrive with mild temperatures and shorter days, and some will even last through the first frost.
- Swiss chard
- Brussel sprouts
- Mustard greens
- Peas (use bush peas instead of climbers; they mature more quickly)
For a great source on the optimal conditions for most of the above vegetables go here.
Prep the soil. As soon as your current crops wither and bolt (become bitter), pull them out. Replenish and turn the soil with nutrient-rich fertilizer or compost, and rake it smooth to prepare for new plants.
Choose seeds or seedlings. If you’re growing from seeds, choose disease-resistant varieties, which mature quickly. Dig the holes twice as deep as recommended on the packet to protect seeds from the sun (the heat could slow growth). Or consider starting them inside, near a window or under lights, and transplanting them into the garden once they're sturdy seedlings. If you’re growing veggies that have a long maturation period, like broccoli, cabbage or kale, buy seedlings rather than starting from seed.
Plan your plant date. Summer-planted crops usually take longer to mature than those planted in spring (hot sun and fewer daylight hours slow growth). Choose your summer planting date by adding an extra 14 days to the number on the back of your seed packet that estimates the total days-to-maturity (or harvest).
Keep the soil moist. This is the one rule you cannot break! The midsummer sun can dry out the soil easily and kill delicate seedlings. Water them regularly (morning and night, and more if necessary) to keep the soil consistently moist.
Create shade. You might want to keep transplanted seedlings covered with an inexpensive all-purpose light garden fabric (or netting) for a couple of weeks until they’re well established, particularly if your summer is hot and dry. The fabrics are sun- and rain-permeable and will allow heat to escape as well. You can cut the fabric into wide strips (also called row covers) to lay directly over your vegetable rows, or create a structure with wire hoops. Hold the fabric down with soil on the ends or stake it. You can also create a cool location for seeds in the shade of a trellis or a tall tomato plant or other warm-weather crop that’s still producing. The fabric also will help keep plants warm if the weather gets nippy before the plants mature.
Remember your harvest dates, and reap your bounty! If you’ve planted many vegetables, keep track of your estimated maturation dates, since they vary by vegetable and fluctuate depending on local conditions. Don’t miss out on the sweet fruits of your labor!