July 2, 2008  
Prepare Now for the Fall Garden.

I know, I know, you're busy harvesting what the garden of now is offering up, early season and maybe a few mid-season vegetables. So far this might have included asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, lettuce, strawberries, peas, summer squash, beets and beans.  

Within the next few weeks the number of available fresh vegetables will double and include the perennial summer favorites of tomatoes and sweet corn. That's not a little, but, for the rest of July through the growing season, the bounty will include the proverbial cornucopia present at Thanksgiving.  

Our expanding appetite for more and more tastes likely motivated you to add some of the late season crops of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, horseradish, kohlrabi, leeks, muskmelon, onions, parsnips, potatoes, turnips and watermelon.  

While you continue your garden duties in anticipation of a harvest basket full of warm season crops, consider sowing peas again in the next few weeks. As untimely as this seems, the equinox is behind us, it's officially summer and, the days are beginning to shorten, and the light intensity, too, is reduced. As the peas mature toward the end of summer they will take longer to reach harvest stage. Simply keep them well watered, well mulched, and plant them in the shade of taller corn, or in a north-south direction to reduce the amount of sun they receive. All pea types will work, but edible pod sugar snap peas that are mildew resistant would perform admirably.  

Here in Zone 6**, double cropping or 2nd harvesting is becoming more and more popular. A second sowing in mid-summer can provide another harvest in fall of leaf and root crops, and more cold hardy vegetables. What better area to sow these in than spaces where the early season vegetables are fading or finished.  

** The National Arbor Day Foundation did an update in Dec. 2006 of the USDA Hardiness Zone map. Based on 15 years of temperature data from NOAA, many areas of the country have been moved up a full zone. By Zip Code I am in hardiness Zone 6, as are many readers, contrary to what I might have been writing for the past year or more. You can find the new hardiness zone recommendation at

And, for sooner than fall, as garlic will be harvested soon, rake the bed, flatten the soil with a few boards, and broadcast some spinach in its place, and, if room permits, include some arugula, chard and chicory. Mulch these lightly to keep the soil cooler. Once these are up five or more inches, you may begin harvesting with a scissors, leaving an inch above the soil for the regenerating of new leaves. A true cut and come again banquet.  

July is a great month to establish a new garden bed, too. If it receives six hours of sunlight it can be your fall/winter vegetable garden and its use next year might be a continual blooming perennial garden, or an herb garden, or a cut and come again garden for salad greens and edible flowers.  

While we're on the subject, nothing beats a lettuce cutting-garden. Include some mesclun. You don't need to wait for these to mature. You can begin harvesting, as mentioned above, with a scissors in probably twenty days or so. Sow some lettuces every two weeks and you'll be eating like a king.  

Start seeds of early cabbage, ornamental kale, broccoli to transplant to the fall garden in early August. As the mid-season crops begin to fade, fill their space with Chinese cabbage and a host of other oriental vegetables, mustard, kale, collards, as well as beans, snap beans, carrots, beets, radishes, and summer squash, for autumn harvest. These all love the cool temperatures of fall and grow sweeter as the days shorten.  

Expanding the food plot is as green as you can get, what with the increasing cost of food and energy for heating and transportation. Think of the victory gardens of the previous generation. You can put a huge dent in your cost of living by growing more of what you and the family can consume without having to go beyond your own residence.  

What's really great about a fall garden is that there are a lot fewer insect and disease pests. Fewer weeds are germinating, cooler temperatures favor more even growth without heat stress and rainfall is usually more even and plentiful. In general, the garden is less labor intensive.  

By early September a third sowing can be made in other empty spaces that will provide delicious eating way past the first or second frost, even when the snow comes. Include cold tolerant butterhead and romaine lettuces. Don't forget spinach and you'll be surprised at how long it will provide through the colder temps. No bolting or bitterness as when it's hot.  

Don't overlook putting in some garlic cloves, as this is the best time to plant it. You will be thrilled with how easy it is to grow. When the ground freezes, mulch it well and next July you'll harvest some beautiful bulbs, as well as some garlic scapes a little earlier on.  

Our first frost is unpredictable, but historically the average date is Sept. 25th. Lettuce and radish seeds can be planted four to six weeks before the end of September; spinach, five to seven; transplants of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli can be put in six to eight week before Sept. 25th. That still leaves us plenty of time for Chinese vegetables, beets, collards, kale and turnips at eight to ten weeks. Beets, carrots, cucumbers and peas will be the longest at ten to twelve weeks. Just right on the money for an abundant harvest when the time comes.  

Remember, for late season seeding and transplanting, summer heat may require additional watering and protection with mulch or planting in partial shade. As the weather cools, all of these vegetable crops will improve in taste and sweetness. Green is good! Greens are good!  

From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on July 02, 2008

© 2008 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.