Once is not enough when it comes to sowing vegetables.
While spring is the primary planting season, many veteran gardeners know they can sow and resow some vegetables through the summer, up to a month before the first frost. And they can continue harvesting hardy crops even after that.
It all depends on the variety.
We're not talking about tender vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants or peppers that need long growing seasons and shudder at the forecast of frost. Nor heat-loving crops such as sweet corn or melons that depend on summer sun and warmth for their flavor. We're talking about vegetables that grow quickly, such as bush beans, which can be sown again after the first crop is finished. Or plants that like cool weather, such as cabbage or broccoli, which can be started in summer for a fall harvest.
The idea is to keep all parts of your garden growing and producing all season long. When the peas die out around the Fourth of July, for example, cucumbers can be sown in their place. "We keep pulling stuff up and putting stuff down," said Ed Langlieb of West Hempstead, N.Y., a past president of Organic Gardeners of Long Island.
Dan Koshansky, an organic grower who has a small garden in Uniondale, N.Y., finds it's also a way to get more from less. He started his cabbage and cauliflower in containers in mid-June because he doesn't have the space to start them in the ground. When the seedlings get 2 inches tall, he will pick them out and plant them in cell-packs. Then he will wait for his garlic to ripen.
"By the time I harvest my spring crops, then I have more room," he explained. "The garlic comes in at the end of July. Then my (cole) plants will be ready to go in. I figure about a month or so they will be in my cellpacks." Cole crops are members of the genus Brassica and include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, among others.
From the end of July through mid- August is also a good time for planting broccoli transplants.
Langlieb practices succession sowing with his leaf lettuce, which will turn bitter and bolt in hot weather. In early spring, he plants one section of his garden with the three varieties of Romaine seeds he has mixed together and stored in his refrigerator. Just before the lettuce is big enough to harvest, he sows another section. When the first sowing is through, he puts down a third section, and then possibly a fourth.
"You have to think ahead and keep planting another section," Langlieb said. "You can plant until the middle of September, as long as it's out where it can get some nominal warmth. Cool weather doesn't hurt it."
For second sowings, you can plant lettuce, carrots, bush beans (pole beans take too long), zucchini, dill, basil and chervil. Fall crops to plant this month include turnips, rutabagas, beets, broccoli rabe, peas, Chinese vegetables such as bok choy, kohlrabi, spinach and more.
"A number of them you can do later on. It's a question of energy, one's own energy and how well you can take the heat," said Langlieb, who is 81.
The way to determine whether you can plant another crop is to look at the back of the seed packet and see how many days it takes for that vegetable to reach maturity. Then count back from the first frost date.
But remember, the first frost dates are averages and the frost can come earlier or later in any given year.
Some plants can survive light frost. These include cauliflower, lettuce, beets and carrots. Others can make it through a hard frost, including cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsnips, turnips, leeks and spinach. Some say they even taste better then.
But planting these fall crops in summer is a challenge. Because of the hot weather and intense sun, the earth dries out much faster, killing the germinating seeds.
Experts recommend using row covers or mulching with grass clippings to maintain a moist soil. You might want to have a small planting area where you can better control the growing conditions and then transplant the seedlings into the larger garden. Or start the seeds in pots.
Koshansky protects his cabbage transplants from the July heat by putting flower pots over them during the day when he first puts them in the ground and removing the pots at night. He does this for several days until the roots have become acclimated to their new conditions.
There are advantages to planting later. Certain pests and diseases are less troublesome. And cool weather crops actually grow better.
So if you have the energy, just keep planting.
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