I just pulled the last of the spring-sown lettuce in Marjorie’s garden, four heads too bitter to eat. Two went to the compost pile, two to the worm bins. Where the lettuce once grew, there is empty space.
In another week or so, the peas will also be gone and another entire garden bed open. What can be planted in these midsummer garden spots?
There are more answers to this question than many first-year gardeners might think. One of my choices, often left out of lists of midsummer plantings for fall harvest, will be summer squash, both green zucchini and yellow types. We have at least 60 days of frost-free weather ahead and many summer squash varieties started from seed this weekend have the potential to produce an abundance of fruits before first frost.
Leaf lettuce matures in 40 to 60 days, depending on variety, and individual leaves can be harvested even earlier. The harvest of tender, sweet-tasting leaves will continue through the early light frosts.
Lettuce quickly bolts, turning bitter-tasting in full-sun areas of the garden. To avoid this problem, sow lettuce seeds in the shade of other plants, such as tomatoes, and pick the most heat-tolerant varieties. Also, floating row covers can be used to shade the soil, providing the cool soil temperatures that lettuce seeds need to germinate.
Other leafy vegetables suitable for midsummer planting include Swiss chard, kale and spinach. All will tolerate light frosts and kale, the hardiest, can survive temperatures down to 20 degrees.
The cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kholrabi, all are able to survive light frosts. Varieties do vary in days to maturity and it is important to choose the early-maturing types for midsummer planting. Your local garden center may have transplants available for many cole crops.
Bush beans mature quickly, 45 to 65 days after sowing, but should be planted now as they are killed by even the lightest of frosts. Radishes, which mature between 30 and 60 days after sowing, can be harvested until the ground freezes.
There is still time for second sowings of two fast-growing herbs — basil (30 to 60 days to maturity) and cilantro (60 days). While basil is very frost sensitive, cilantro will survive a light frost. Both are ready for harvest about a month after sowing.
A fall harvest of peas, which can withstand temperatures in the high 20s, is possible but hampered by hot soil temperatures during germination and early growth. Peas cannot handle hot soils. One novel way of providing some cooling shade to emerging peas is to sow the seeds around tomato cages. The tomatoes shade the young seedlings and the cages will support the climbing vines.
Before sowing these midsummer plantings, remove the entire previous crop, including the roots (these can cause problems in seed germination), and dig in a generous amount of compost or aged manure to replace nutrients consumed by the previous crop. After sowing, keep the soil moist with frequent watering. A light mulch of lose straw can help.
Those of us tending schoolyard gardens and food pantry gardens can join home gardeners in maximizing the harvest through September and beyond with midsummer plantings of the crops mentioned above. Many garden centers are now offering 2010 seeds at reduced prices, making it even easier to keep our gardens fully productive.