It’s the height of summer. If blazing-hot temperatures and critters from the microbial to the mammalian have left your midsummer vegetable plants in tatters, replace them now with second sowings.
Our growing season in the Triangle area is long enough that a midsummer planting of all but the longest-season vegetables can bear fruit before frost. With a bit of careful planning, you can hand out garden-fresh squash, beans, or tomatoes to the trick-or-treaters knocking at your door—though I can’t guarantee that strategy might not come back to haunt you.
Timing your planting is the most critical factor in ensuring a successful late-summer harvest.
Our last average frost date in the Triangle is roughly October 20. To determine the planting date for your late summer crops, look on your seed packet for the days to maturity and count back that number of days from October 20. Add an extra three weeks to account for the decrease in day length after the summer solstice.
For example, I’m growing an indeterminate tomato called ‘Rutgers’ which matures in 75 days. Walking back from October 20, 75 days brings me to August 6. I don’t want my beautiful crop falling prey to frost the day it matures, so I add another 3 weeks to accommodate a harvest and shortening day length. That brings me to July 16. I need to sow my seeds no later than July 16 to ensure a harvest before frost. If setting out transplants, you can take the days-to-maturity number and add 10-14 days instead of 3 weeks for shortening day length (in our example, my planting date would be between July 23-27).
A few more tips to promote a healthy harvest.
Pull up the tattered remains of the current crop and compost it, unless the crop suffered disease. Lightly cultivate the soil where the crops grew to bring to the surface any larvae from pests that may have laid eggs in the soil earlier in the year.
Rotate your plantings. If you grew an early crop of squash, for example, choose a crop from a different plant family, like beans, tomatoes, or corn, to grow in that spot. If you have questions about plant families or crop rotation, contact your local Master Gardener office for advice.
Add compost. Growing vegetables takes a lot out of the soil. Build it back up with slow-release fertilizer and plenty of compost or rotted manure.
Sow seeds up to twice as deep as you would early in the season, unless the seeds need light to germinate. The soil is warm several inches deep, and sowing deeply will prevent the seed from drying out.
Keep seedlings well watered. Use mulch and shelter young plants from the intense heat of the sun with shade cloth, lightweight row cover, or even a patio umbrella. A bit of shade makes a big difference in helping your vegetables through the hottest part of the day.
Pick your produce on the young side if you can; it will be more tender at this stage and continued harvest will encourage the plant to keep producing.
Featured image by the National Garden Bureau.
Amy Hill is a garden writer and blogs about gardening at MissingHenryMitchell.com.