A Great Late Vegetable Garden - Start Now

It’s “only” July. It’s too hot. It’s too dry. I’m tired. Oy! The weeds! Blah Blah Blah. It’s so easy to focus on why you don’t want to start a fall garden. Well, get over it. A little mid-summer effort – right now – means that your garden will keep producing. You can be harvesting beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, parsnips, and chard well into late fall and beyond. So, what needs to be done right now? I know it’s July. I know it’s hot. I know you are thinking about the hammock over there in the shade. But . . . . .

Get out those seeds you packed away in the spring. Beets, carrots, kale, parsnips and chard can be direct seeded meaning just plant them right into the soil in your garden. Keep in mind that July soils are warmer and usully drier than spring soils. This means that seeds should be planted a bit deeper and kept watered until they germinate. Also keep in mind that, as fall approaches, days are shorter and cooler so growth will be slower – meaning things will mature more slowly. A bit of FYI:

BEETS: Be aware that a beet seed is not simply a seed. Beet seed is multigermed meaning each seed is actually a ball of seeds. When beet seeds germinate they always have to be thinned because the tiny plants will be too close for healthy growth. Germination can be helped along if you soak beet seeds for about an hour before you plant them. Plant beets in rows about 1/2 inch deep and thin to about 4 inches apart. Beets will not tolerate frost so pick and eat or can them.

CARROTS: Our all-time favorite carrot is Yaya, a blunt Nantes type. Greg bit into a Yaya carrot late last fall, glanced over at me, and said “Don’t ever buy carrots at the grocery store again.” Plant late carrots in rows 1/2 inch deep and keep the seeds watered until germination. Thin to about 3 inches apart. Carrots can even be wintered right in the ground if you mulch them heavily. Straw bales lined up right over the carrot row can be moved during the winter to dig carrots and easily replaced.

KALE: Kale is tough even in cold weather – cold weather actually improves its taste. I have picked kale through the snow. Plant kale in rows 1/2 inch deep, keep the seedbed watered, and thin to about 12 -18 inches, depending on the variety. Kale is fabulous in stir fry and winter soups. If you haven’t tried growing kale think about adding some to this years fall garden – as an experiment – it just might become a new “gotta have it” in your garden.

PARSNIPS: Parsnips are great cooked in combination with carrots and potatoes. They can be roasted and added to soups. Parsnip seed is not long lived so use fresh seed. Plant seed 1/2 inch deep and thin to 2-3 inches apart. Make a point of keeping the seed bed moist. Parsnip seed is notoriously slow to germinate. My trick is to soak a 6 inch wide strip of burlap and cover the seeded row with it. Keep the burlap damp and it will help hold moisture which, in turn, helps the seed germinate. Remove the burlap when you see the first parsnip seedlings poke through the soil. Parsnips will grow right through the first frosts and you can mulch them like carrots and dig them all winter. Parsnips not dug over the winter will often survive and grow again the next spring and set seed. I have had this happen in my garden. Beware: I allowed a few parsnips to set seed but never harvested the seed. Parsnip seed is very light and easily blown about by the wind. Needless to say, we had parsnips coming up ALL over the place.

CHARD: Easy! Easy! Plant the seed 1/2 inch deep in a row and keep the row watered. Thin seedlings 8-10 inches apart. Chard is actually a beet and so is multigermed meaning that when it germinates there are groups of tiny plants that must be thinned. Chard can be picked while young or allowed to mature. If your chard leaves are large, tear or cut the leaf away from the heavy rib and cook the rib a bit before adding the leaf. Chard is great stir fried and added to mashed potatoes. Red Rhubarb Chard or Bright Yellow Chard are both a beautiful addition to your garden.

BROCCOLI/CAULIFLOWER: Both are best started in a separate seed bed, cold frame or individual pots and transplanted into the garden bed in mid-August. You will need 3-4 weeks to grow seedlings to transplant size. Space seedlings 18-24 inches apart. Both grow well as the weather cools down. Don’t stress broccoli or cauliflower seedlings or they will never produce anything but small buttons. Keep them well watered and feed them about once every 10 days until you put them into the garden. I surround my broccoli and cauliflower with fencing to keep the bunnies and wood chucks out. Last year I lost every single broccoli plant to a very hungry creature – in one night! Notice the broccoli stumps in the last picture? Aaauraughh!!

Hey from the busy farm,

Fran, The Country Cousin

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