With summer officially underway according to the calendar, gardeners in our area should have most of their vegetable and flower seeds and plants in the ground. But, it is possible to prepare for late summer and fall crops now.
Several items may or should actually be planted at this time, such as turnips, escarole, lettuce, carrots, beets, fennel and kale.
Also, second or third crops of string beans and summer squash may be planted from now until about July 20. Planting these items past mid-July may not be productive because the length of sunlight per day declines and will not support vigorous plant development and vegetable production. Be aware of the time it takes for these plants to mature, about 50 days for squash and nearly 60 days for beans. The amount of sunlight on the first day of fall in September is the same as that on the first day of spring in March. Also, powdery mildew will compromise if not kill squash plants beginning in late August when the plants do not have enough sunshine to create the vigor needed to overcome this malady.
Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to be harvested in the fall should be transplanted by mid-July to assure a successful fall harvest. Such plants may need to be watered occasionally after transplant, because it is typically a time of high daytime temperatures and dry conditions. These plants are very strong and can take abuse, but they may also need a little water now and then to survive. Gardeners or farmers who do not have access to water have trouble growing second crops of these plants.
Fall turnips, known as “rutabagas,” are usually planted from June 15 to July 4. If they are planted earlier, they tend to send up flower shoots, bolt to seed, and not produce roots. The same is true with fennel. Though many people produce fennel from transplants, it can also be successfully grown from seed, about June 15 to the first day of summer, in fertile soil.
Escarole, endive and other cultivated dandelion greens are best grown as fall crops from seed put in the ground in mid to late June. If the seeds are planted in May, they may produce a crop in summer, which when subjected to heat will go to seed. But, if they are planted during the third week of June, they will produce crops that can be harvested for a couple months well into October. These greens for salads or soups are also best when subjected to cold night temperatures in fall.
Though kale and collards may be planted in the spring, they can also be planted in early summer for a fall crop. Gardeners may use transplants which produce huge leaves, collards the size of an elephant ear or kale that covers a dinner plate. But, farmers are more inclined to grow kale and collards from seed to produce leaves for sale in bunches. There are several kinds of both plants. In kale, you may choose between red Russian with purple and green leaves, Siberian with rippled light green leaves, Scottish with tightly curled dark green leaves, Italian Toscano with rumpled, dark green spear-like leaves or Portuguese that has a stalk with large green, floppy leaves sort of like collards. Collards vary between Vates types with large smooth paddle-shaped leaves and Georgia with a large open leaf cabbage kind of plant and huge, heavy leaves.
Seeds for green or purple kohlrabi, a plant in that produces a round gall on a stalk topped by a bouquet of leaves, can also be sown now. The leaves can be braised or used in soup. The round vegetable part may be eaten raw sliced or diced in a salad or boiled in strips and served cream-style. It is a popular vegetable in Central and Eastern Europe.
Carrots and beets may be planted in the spring, but germination tends to be poor at that time, and gardeners may wait a long time for a crop. The truth is their seeds germinate much better in mid-June when the soil is warm. They tend to make roots in August for September harvest. The roots on both carrots and beets are sweeter when the days get shorter and the nights colder. They tend to have a bitter, less sweet taste when harvested in summer. Unlike years past when only orange carrots were grown, gardeners may now choose from many kinds in several colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, purple and white. Heirloom seed companies, including Baker Creek, sell seeds for them. The yellow carrots, gaining in popularity, are delectable. There are round carrots, not just long ones. Anyone can grow red beets, but there are also orange ones and white ones. The orange ones are especially delicious and much sought after in the culinary trade. While most beets are round, some varieties make long, cylindrical roots.
Fall radishes can also be planted now, such as black Spanish radishes and the watermelon radish. The Spanish radish has a hard black exterior and a white, spicy flesh. The watermelon type, which has a green and white rind and a shocking reddish pink interior, adds zest and color to salads. Daikon, the long white radish the Japanese use for sushi or pickles, should also be planted now. It will grow quite big by mid-September, up to18-inches long and 3-inches in diameter. All these large radishes tend not to succumb to the root maggots that plague small spring radishes in home gardens.
Swiss chard may be grown from transplant in the spring or from seed in May. But, a good crop of the plant can be developed from seeding in mid-June. As the days get shorter, this plant in its various types thrives and the flavor of its stems and leaves mellows and sweetens. The rainbow, or bright lights, variety with several stem colors was introduced a number of years ago. But, the large leaf white stem types remain popular. There is also an Italian type with thin stems that tastes somewhat like spinach. The red stem variety, sometimes referred to as “rhubarb” chard, is also fun to grow. Its leaves turn from green to burgundy in the fall.
Several types of lettuce can also be sown in the summer, but it is best to pick a garden spot with partial shade to prevent them from bolting to seed. Once the seed stalk begins to emerge, the leaves get too bitter to eat. By consulting seeds catalogs or descriptions on-line, it is possible to choose some lettuce types which resist heat. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for example, can be helpful in this regard. It is known for its extensive lettuce selection. Bib or Boston lettuce is typically planted in late July for early fall harvest, but some varieties of this type resist heat and can be planted in early summer.
The overall view is to keep planting with regard to how long it takes for vegetables to mature, knowing many of them actually do best in the fall rather than in the summer heat needed to produce tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and other tropical vegetables.
Veteran journalist Joel Thompson is also a professional farmer who has worked a farm in Newtown, Conn., for decades.