By Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, author of The Timber Press Gide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast
We are well into the hot dry “Dog Days of Summer.” I hope all of your gardens are well mulched, regularly watered, and producing abundantly. If things are going well, you should be enjoying plenty of vine ripened tomatoes. Now is the time to start focusing on “summer planting for fall and winter harvest”.
Here in Central Virginia late July or early August is the last chance to start broccoli, cabbage, and Chinese cabbage in flats for your second season garden or you can sow your fall brassicas directly in a rich raised bed under spun polyester row cover or the new more durable and temperature neutral “ProtekNet” to keep insects off. Plant it thickly and 4-6 weeks later on a wet day in August or early September when the plants are bigger, you can space the seedlings out (12-18 inches) into well amended beds with plenty of compost or other organic matter that have been watered the day before. Transplant Brassicas younger than in spring at 4 leaves (4-5 weeks-old) and other greens earlier. Keep them under row cover until they are large and sturdy. Harvest the spring potatoes 2 weeks after the tops have died back. Cut back all your celery plants (great for dried celery) to encourage a second more tender fall harvest.
Direct sow a quick maturing late succession planting of bush beans, squash, and cucumber now for a bonus second fall harvest. Bush cucumbers like Spacemaster bear fruit earlier than vining types, and they are easy to care for, harvest and protect from early frosts in the fall season and are perfect for containers. Learn more from our article on Summer Succession Plantings. Continue harvesting vegetables every other day and planting more seeds every week.
Sow Swiss chard, leaf beet, collards, kale, winter radishes, carrots, and other Oriental greens in late July and early August. Use Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Fall and Winter Planting Guide to help with what to sow when.
For garden fresh salad all summer and fall plant salad greens every week. Soil temp must be below 80°F. If very hot sow in the early evening and cover seed rows with ice, or sow in plastic flat in fridge. Choose a fast-growing summer crisp lettuce like Sierra, increasingly popular seasonal mixes, and appetizing mesclun. Then switch to cold-tolerant varieties as summer ends and fall begins.
Keep things weeded, mulched, and watered. Enjoy the summer harvest of beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, corn, cow peas, cucumbers, eggplant, hot peppers, lettuce, okra, onions, peppers, raspberries, scallions, squash, tomatoes, and zucchini.
Remember, although we are in the warmest parts of summer, fall is right around the corner and to get the most production from your garden harvest early and often. Then just keep planting for fall and winter!