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Friday, July 31, 2020

Plant Your Fall Gardens in the Heat of the Summer: Start Cool-Weather Crops in Late July/Early August

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Plant Your Fall Gardens in the Heat of the Summer: 
Start Cool-Weather Crops in Late July/Early August

It is time to think about your fall gardens and cool-weather crops. Although it is hot, too hot for cool-weather crops to produce, it is time to get them in the ground.  Since we are not growing into the heat, but the coming cool temperatures, we can start transplants or direct sow and begin growing peas, lettuces, spinach, carrots, beets, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, radishes and more. The goal is to use the summer heat to get them going, and come time for harvesting, they will be thriving in the cooler weather of fall.  But timing is everything. You have to beat the prolonged freezing temperatures that may come to your areas.

The reason you start them early is to get that first round of fall crops to your table early and to beat the hard frost/ prolong freezing temperatures that comes to most of our gardens. A light frost is when temperatures drop below freezing for a brief period at night. While most cool-weather crops can take that light frost, like the cold, and thrive in cool night temperatures, you want them to be ready for harvest before the big freeze comes.  

Peas for instance take about 70 days to mature and produce. The pea plant and leaves can take a frost but the flowers and pods can't.  Find your first average frost date and count backwards by 70 or 80 days. That is when you want to get your peas into the ground. That is often late July or early August.  The same holds true for broccoli and cauliflower. You dont want the flower heads to be subjected to prolong freezing temperatures. Get some transplants started now, to plant, when your garden gives you some space as the cucumbers, zucchini and squash die out. 

It is important to use a journal and take notes on when you start your cool-weather transplants, direct sow, and generally plant your fall garden. You may find you started some plants too late or too early, notes will help you adjust. I also recommend starting earlier than you might think and direct sow some seeds. Sow them again in 1-2 weeks. And again in another 1-2 weeks. This succession planting does two things. First it stops you from planting 200 radishes at the same time. They will all mature at the same time and it might be hard to enjoy 200 radishes at once. If you plant 50 or so, every couple of weeks, you get a prolonged harvest over many weeks. It also covers all your bases when figuring out the date to direct sow your cool-weather crops during the summer.  By covering a 3-6 weeks span of time, one of them will be successful for sure, if not 2 out of 3, which a great song said, "ain't bad."

The maturity dates for your cool-weather crops might range from 25 days to 90 days based on the plant variety. These dates are general average guidelines. When you are planting in the summer, maturity can be much earlier because the soil is warm and germination is quicker, the days are warm and initial growth is quicker, and therefore you have to figure out timing for direct sowing. Guidelines are guidelines, and you have to actively plant and take notes to understand how plants grow and develop in your specific garden. 

Generally speaking, loose leaf lettuces (that mature in under 45 days), arugula and bok-choy bolt pretty quickly when started in the warm soil. You may want to start them closer to the cooling temperatures. Plants that take more than 45 days to mature, should get started earlier as they are at less risk to bolt. Radishes are exempt. They mature in 25-40 days and are worth starting earlier than you think. The radishes might fail and not bulb or be to 'spicy', as heat can do that if started too soon in the summer. But radishes may also, sometimes, do just fine in the heat and you get surprised with a nice harvest.

You have soil temperatures and the ambient or surrounding temperatures that impact plants. It is often soil temperatures that direct the growth habits of plants. Your cool-weather crops like cooler soil. You can use shade cloth to keep the sun off the soil of your germinating seeds. I use burlap as it is cheaper and effective. I discuss how to use burlap and how to direct sow some cool-weather crops now, as the first wave of crops for your fall gardens, in the videos below. I will be doing a second wave in the 2nd week of August for my fall gardens.


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