Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
Gardeners, gather your tools, pick up those gloves and stretch those muscles. Break out the catalogs and comb the stores for seed, grab a few bags of compost and prep the soil. Planting season is around the corner, and savvy gardeners are getting ready for their next – and sweetest – season of vegetables.
Don’t groan. We know you’re bracing for the summer harvest, gathering your courage in advance of zucchini, tomatoes and green beans. Though the thought of stretching this out for another round of growing seems like insanity, once you’ve tried the flavors of fall, you’ll be hooked on third-season gardening.
Sowing cool season crops begins mid to end of July, to ensure you’ll be harvesting sweet rewards when days get crisp. As daytime temperatures drop – and they will – most cool season vegetables begin maturing, and the trend towards chilly means those plants aren’t suffering hot flashes as they reach their peak.
Beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, turnips, and peas can be direct sown through mid-August, but before you put the seeds in the ground, treat yourself to a little shopping. The savvy gardener knows that the time for finding bargains is now, when many retailers have seeds on sale trying to clear out inventory.
When shopping, look for fast-maturing vegetables to bring a harvest in before truly cold weather arrives. Grab packets of peas and try a few beets, or go for the spinach and turnips. If we get that September snow squall, don’t worry. These vegetables will shrug that off, and continue to produce well into October or November when we finally get a killing frost.
Prepare your garden by removing all summer crop residues and weed growth in the area you want to plant, and turn the soil at least six to eight inches deep. Add a bit of compost, and mix it into the soil.
If you don’t have room in the kitchen garden to add these fall plants in, consider ripping out the ornamental beds to make more room. Those flowers are just showing off, and there’s time to build a new bed now and get the irrigation in. Just use your vacation time to start another garden instead of going to a cooler locale.
Best results are achieved by sowing seeds of broccoli raab, bok choi or other cool season vegetables directly into the soil, but beware the hazards of a Colorado summer and keep the surface of the soil from drying and cracking with a light mulch of compost over the seed row.
Lettuce, peas and spinach need a bit of shade to reduce heat in the soil for germination, and if you can, plant them under taller summer crops that will be finished with the first frost. Plant the seeds slightly deeper than in spring to take advantage of cooler, moister soil. Consider popping in a few annual herbs, like basil, for a late season burst of flavor to go with those savory vegetables.
Brassicas, such as broccoli, will turn bitter if water stressed and don’t recover once this has happened, so don’t allow seedlings and young plants to dry out. Because cabbage loopers may be around, have a supply of Bacillius thuringiensis (Bt) nearby to help control them on the young plants.
Once you’ve started bringing in the harvest, plan on freezing some to preserve it for winter meals. You’ll be glad you went to the effort of growing a third season of food for the family, and won’t miss those ornamental beds after all.