Midsummer is harvest time for many gardeners, but what we harvest mostly are weeds. Peas and lettuce are picked and gone, we’ve waited two months for the carrots to grow, tomatoes are all a-sprawl with fruit that hasn’t the sense to ripen yet, so what’s a gardener to do but weed?
Plant, that’s what. Midsummer is nothing but spring gone drier. Gardens aren’t meant to be planted just once, and pulled weeds are simply compost in the making — so what you should do in midsummer is plant. It’s good for the soul, and can provide you with a crop of fresh vegetables well into winter.
Start with root vegetables. Plant them all: carrots, turnips, radishes, the whole shebang. (Sure you don’t like radishes, but if you grow them fast in moist soil, the hot taste sweetens up with a nice little tang.) Anything that ripens best in cool weather also makes a nice candidate for summer planting. This includes broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, along with nearly any sort of salad greens, or short-season vine vegetables such as cucumbers and zucchini. Peas are also worth a shot.
The key to successful summer planting lies in keeping your soil moist enough to ensure good germination. The best way to do this is to clear weeds or debris from a patch of garden, plant, then water gently until the ground is damp several inches deep.
Then mulch your soil with lawn clippings to keep it damp. Garden soil at seed-sowing level can dry out in a matter of hours on a hot day, and once a seed absorbs enough moisture to break dormancy, it must remain moist until it can send out roots or it will die. As grass breaks down into compost, it provides a nice shot of natural nitrogen fertilizer for your new seedlings. Once your vegetables are up, add enough clippings to choke out weeds. (Remember to use only cut grass that hasn’t been treated with herbicides.)
Leaf lettuce is great to plant in summer because it grows quickly, tastes better when harvested in cool weather, and (depending on the variety) can stand many light frosts. Grow several types to give salad a mix of taste, texture, and color, throwing in herbs such as dill, basil, and chervil as well.
Broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts taste far better after a frost, so these are nice candidates for midsummer sowing. Once the main broccoli head is harvested, tasty side shoots will form and ripen well into winter. With cabbage, harvest the main head but leave behind the surrounding lower leaves, and you’ll find baby cabbages forming in this empty bowl.
Carrots are sweeter and tastier when exposed to cold fall or winter weather. These and other root vegetables can be harvested through winter if you mulch the bed heavily against ground frost (use hay, straw, dry leaves, or peat moss). Just pull it aside in January, reach down, and pull out a carrot.