I know that we have been experiencing some hot, wet weather lately but it is not too soon to think about planting some vegetables for harvest in the fall and early winter.
We call these varieties season-stretchers, because they can be planted after July 1. This way you will be picking tasty, fresh, nutritious vegetables right into winter with extras to store.
Snap beans are everyone’s favorite but it’s often feast or famine — too many beans all at once, and none later. It’s easy to spread out the harvest. Plant a row now, and as soon as it’s up and well-leafed out, sow another row. This way you’ll have a continuous supply of beans for table, freezer or canning all season long.
Two important points for success: First, check the number of days to maturity for the varieties you’re planting (check the seed packet) and count back from the average fall frost date in your area. This will tell you how late you can plant to allow time for the beans to develop.
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Of course, you can often “fudge” a little, and many times this pays off. The same method of figuring the latest advisable planting date works well for other types of vegetables also, although it isn’t quite so critical with frost-hardy ones.
Second, keep the ground evenly moist. Weather during this part of the summer is often hot and dry, although not so far this summer, but water as necessary with a fine spray to keep the soil damp until the seedlings are up and growing well. This often makes the difference between success and failure.
Sprouting seeds are thirsty and can’t stand complete drying out, even for a short time.
Another crop that can be a delight in the fall is peas. Pods will develop well in cool autumn weather and plants can take a light frost, but not a heavy freeze. Other crops, such as leaf lettuce, radishes and spinach, delight in cool weather and grow so fast you may want to plant in August or even early September. All can stand some frost in the garden, but if grown protected in a cold frame or even row cover, they can be harvested well into early winter.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower perk up autumn menus. The easiest way is to start transplants now and, when the seedlings have a couple of pairs of leaves, transplant them into the garden. Broccoli can take a moderate frost, and side sprouts develop after the central head is picked, so there’s a fresh supply for table or freezer.
Brussels sprouts and kale really take cold weather, so here are two vegetables to keep right on picking into winter, even under some ice or snow. One suggestion, however: Such sprouts need to be cooked within a few hours after picking or stored in a freezer, or even on a porch below freezing. Being partially frozen in the garden, they tend to be soft and spoil if kept very long above freezing.
Fall and winter cabbage — red, green and savoy types — are easy to grow from seed planted from mid-June through July. Also, don’t overlook beets, carrots, winter radishes, turnips and rutabagas. They provide good eating all fall and well into winter if you sow them in early July, and all except rutabagas again in about a month.
The late planting produces roots just right to store in a cool, dark, frost-free place such as a basement or shed. Or store root crops right in your garden. Don’t take them up, just cover the rows in late fall with a thick layer of straw, cornstalks, marsh hay or evergreen boughs. Whenever the weather permits, push aside the covering and pull as many roots as you want.
Maybe you have to prod yourself a little now to plant season-stretcher vegetables, but what a thrill to harvest crisp carrots or succulent Brussels sprouts in mid-winter. Not only do they taste extra delicious, but they’re money-savers, too.