In the North, while we might find ourselves counting down the days on the calendar and dreading the nearing end of the summer season, our gardens don’t have to. Certain crops can be planted, and even thrive, in the last few weeks of July and August with the proper care. There are 3 big categories crops are classified as in the late summer season – 90, 60, and 30 day maturity cycles. The longer the cycle, the earlier you’re required to seed your garden. As the cycle finishes, your crops should be producing and ready to harvest. We’ll go over all you need to know about each category, including suitable plants, ideal conditions, and various tips to squeeze out extra growing time in case you find cold temperatures encroaching on your schedule.
Crops in the 90 day category should be planted in the middle of July to be ready for fall harvests. Alternatively, if you live in a mild-winter region and want your garden to carry over into the next year for an early spring harvest, crops should be planted later than July. A few 90 day root crops include:
Beets – an ideal winter crop. They excel in full sun or partial shade environments and enjoy loose, organic soil. They can tolerate frost, but like most crops, will shut down if cold temperatures are too drastic.
Carrots – can be planted comfortably in the late summer season. When sowing seeds, try to place them 1cm apart. If a frost threatens your garden, place a protective layer of mulch over your crop.
Parsnip – requires loose, fertile soil. Be sure to stay on top of weeding as well as watering – the soil should never, ever be allowed to run dry. You’ll know it’s time to harvest when it pushes itself out of the soil.
Globe onions – are great because they don’t require much upkeep. Onions take a significant amount of time to germinate as well, so you can plant and simply maintain until it’s time to harvest.
Mid-August is a great time to plant 60 day crops. If done correctly, you can harvest these at roughly the same time as your 90 day crops barring any unforeseen circumstances. Some of the more convenient plants are as follows:
Turnips – very easy crop to grow. Sow your seeds about half an inch deep with moderate spacing in-between. Water them directly after planting to accelerate germination. After harvest, turnips can easily be stored over the winter, ensuring you have access to vegetables during the cold months.
Cauliflower – in order to grow a successful batch of cauliflower, you must be familiar with “blaunching.” This process requires that you wrap the outer leaves around the head after it reaches about the size of a tennis ball. You can take a rubber band or string to hold the leaves in place. It helps prevent sun scalding and discoloration of the head.
Crops in this category are quick to mature and are amongst the best late summer/early fall choices:
Radishes – one of the best crops for gardeners just starting out as well as small children who get impatient and want fast results! Radishes grow ridiculously fast and can be harvested in just three to four weeks after seeding, and they don’t require specific environmental needs; just grow them wherever you have the space.
Leaf Lettuces – need to be maintained and well-weeded. Lettuces have shallow root systems and can be significantly hindered by overgrown weeds. The fall season requires lettuce to be planted more often, as maturing takes slightly longer in colder temperatures. Pam Dawling, an organic gardener who manages a 3 ½ acre food garden in Virginia, claims that “one day of sowing can make a week’s difference in harvesting.” Row covers can go a long way in the colder months, and enable your lettuce to supply you with leaves well into the fall and winter seasons.
Extending Your Growing Season
Taking advantage of the sun is vital in keeping your garden alive and functioning during the fall. Devices like cold frames, raised frames, and greenhouses add anywhere from 10-15 degrees during a time in which freezing temperatures and frosts are abundant. Raised beds are particularly good at controlling soil quality and temperatures – the soil in a raised bed can heat up rather quickly, and when covered with a hoop, can negate the onset of frosts and protect against unfavorable weather conditions. Cutting down on the amount of wind your garden receives will also increase your crops’ ability to produce.
All of these techniques will lengthen your growing season if you find yourself behind schedule, and they’re also an investment you can look forward to using again the next year. Gardening can be a year round activity if you’re willing to rotate your crops appropriately to species that prosper in specific environments and temperatures; it might take more work and dedication, but reaping the benefits of harvesting fresh produce all year makes it well worth the effort.
If you’d like more information on how to transition into late summer gardening or using our PlantCatalyst product, made with natural ingredients, to help plant growth and sustainability, you can check out our previous mid-season gardening blog post.