“How’s your garden this year?”
This is the question on everyone’s lips this summer, and in my case the answer is “Not good.”
I began with the usual good intentions, and even more energy and enthusiasm as I decided to start my own vegetable seedlings and enlarge the garden. My plan was to grow more of my own vegetables than ever, and thus save lots of money on grocery bills.
However, we all know about the best laid plans. The long cold wet spring was good for the roses and other plants in the flower garden. Not good for the vegetables, whether I started them myself, or bought starts at the garden center.
The garden hasn’t been a total bust. We’ve enjoyed many meals and snacks of sugar snap peas, big salads of lettuces, spinach and radishes. The cabbage and onions look great. The herb garden is a delicious wonder; Renee’s Garden Gigante parsley is giant indeed.
The successes pretty much end there. The chard never germinated at all. The tomato plants are big and healthy, but few fruits have been set. The pole beans have climbed their poles, finally, and are just beginning to flower. All the squash and cucumber plants are sulking, even those planted in my best soil. Heat is what is needed.
So, with the hope that hot summer days are still in the offing I’m hoping for a second chance. I harvested and froze my piddling broccoli crop, cleaned out one lettuce bed and re-dug both beds. It was time to take succession planting seriously.
Succession planting can increase the productivity of any garden space. This year it has given me hope that I can still enjoy more home grown veggies.
I dug up the beds, removed broccoli stems and weeds and broke up clods of soil. At least that job is easier in mid-summer than spring when the weeds have such phenomenal strength. Both of these beds are in the original vegetable garden and the soil is pretty good, but it is my practice to fertilize whenever I plant.
I sprinkled in a little greensand (for potassium) and rock phosphate. I’m down to the dregs, of my compost pile so I just spread a little on the planting rows, and then covered my seeds with a layer of compost before a layer of fine soil.
I only used the seeds I had left over which meant carrots, beets, lettuce, more sugar snaps, and radishes. One radish is the beautiful Misato Rose sometimes called the ‘watermelon’radish. All of these should mature in 60 days or less. That brings us to September 20.
Because my garden is on a south slope and has a dependable breeze to sweep early frosts down to my neighbor, I usually can count on a long frost free period in the fall. I am certainly counting on that kind of long season this year.
Last September was wet and cool. There were light frosts here on September 19, but no damage to the garden. Then no frost til October 7 and the squash gasped their last. The killing frost didn’t arrive til October 24 and while I think that is unusual I am hoping for a long warm fall this year. If not I’ve lost nothing but a couple of hours of digging and a few left over seeds.
Many crops that can be planted in the early spring are also suitable for planting in mid-summer. These are crops that don’t mind cool weather. Think of lettuces, spinach, and the many other greens, some of which can mature in less than 30 days. Kale matures in less than 60 days and is better for a little frost. Carrots and beets can also be planted for a second crop.
Ideally, some crops like broccoli and cauliflower can be started indoors by the beginning of July, and then moved into the garden (after hardening off just as you do in the spring) when a lettuce or spinach bed is done.
I do know that keeping the new planting beds moist is essential for success. Newly planted seeds and seedlings need moisture. This need is even more apparent in summer when the sun can dry out the soil rapidly. And we are hoping for some sun!
Fortunately, many farmers are bringing in a good harvest and bringing that harvest to the Farmer’s Markets. We don’t have to do without fresh local veggies. Or fruit. We have already enjoyed local corn on the cob, and fresh local cherries.
I am also fortunate that perennial crops like blueberries and raspberries don’t depend so much on hot summer weather. I have begun picking raspberries, and the first blueberry has ripened. Time to get the nets up. I continue to be amazed that raspberries don’t need netting. A bird’s palate is a mysterious thing.
A final word for those who are enjoying a good summer harvest. Please remember all those who find it difficult to afford fresh produce. The Franklin County Hunger Task Force is participating in the national Plant a Row program and has put up a website, www.plantarowwmass.com, that gives the names of all the local food pantries and meal sites accepting donations of fresh produce. Most of us are aware of the growing needs in our own neighborhoods and communities. This need is spread across the county. No amount of produce is too small, but the benefit is great. ###
July 25, 2009