fter struggling with weeds-gone-out-of-control this week, I realize that although weeds don’t start three feet tall, if you go on vacation and leave the little ones for two or three unattended weeks, they will get that tall and resist removal. After a mid-summer wrestling match the past couple of weeks knowing we are halfway through the gardening season makes me happy.
The cold lemonade my grandson and I enjoyed halfway through the weeding process was welcome, and we congratulated ourselves for making such good progress.
However, I know the battle isn’t over and the weeds will grow particularly well in areas where I haven’t planted anything else. Weeds tend to fill in the places left by gardeners.
You may have empty spots that you just didn’t get around to planting yet. Many thriving gardens now have places left vacant as early crops have been harvested. That wasted space won’t stay bare for long. It is prime real estate for Mother Nature to plant something. Her choices, unfortunately, seldom match ours. With the definition of a weed as any plant grown out of place it is a near guarantee that Mother Nature’s choices will be weeds.
The best way to avoid weedy patches is to plant something you want there. Those good vegetables you are growing won’t stop weed growth themselves, but you will be motivated to do something about the errant plants.
Planting a second crop after the early harvest is known as double cropping. After radishes are gone, for example, late corn could take its place. Another crop of garden peas could replace an earlier one or you could plant broccoli or cauliflower to fill in a space.
To determine when to plant for fall harvest, practice your backward counting skills. If your first frost is expected to be around the first of October, as it generally is here, then you can still plant warm season crops that mature in 60 days or less because it cools down later in the season and the vegetables don’t mature as fast.
Such crops include snap beans, cucumbers and summer squash. Plant them now and enjoy a harvest until frost. Summer squash produce several good pickings, but quality and production go down with age. Planting snap beans now avoids problems with the Mexican bean beetle.
Some cool season crops will extend further into the fall resisting damage from light frosts. In fact, cool-season crops that mature when temperatures drop in the fall are much tastier and have a better texture than those that mature in the heat of midsummer. You want them to mature in mid- to late September, so plant them soon. If you can find transplants to set out, that is even better.
Cool season crops include leafy vegetables like lettuce, chard and spinach, the root crops, including carrots and beets and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower and cabbage. They are cold tolerant, so they are not damaged by light frosts in early fall.
Parsnips and carrots planted mid-summer can remain in the ground if you mulch them and harvest them through the winter. The flavor of these well-chilled crops is excellent.
Starting plants in mid-summer does have some potential problems, however. Heat is one of them. You must keep the soil moist to get the seeds to germinate and to allow the seedlings to become established.
Sprinkle them once or twice daily in our very hot weather. Cover with a strip of burlap or remay fabric to help hold moisture in. It is also easier to water through those fabrics without washing away the seeds.
Soil dries out quickly and crusts over. You might try making a small hole of furrow, planting the seed and refilling it with potting mix, which doesn’t crust as it dries. The seeds will have an easier time reaching through the soil surface.
Sometimes it works better to germinate the plants indoors using potting soil in a cell pack or paper cups left over from spring. The small transplants can be set out in a couple of weeks.
Snails and slugs can be major problems as can cabbage loopers and other caterpillars. Try encircling tiny tender plants with snail bait and try BT to control the caterpillars.
Try this timetable to start fall crops: Direct-seed as soon as possible, summer squash, early sweet corn and cucumbers. These will provide late September crops.
Direct seed from the middle to the end of July: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, carrots, green onions, lettuce, peas, and turnips. I recommend bush beans at this time of the season as they produce earlier.
Plant your beets, carrots, green onions, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes and turnips until Aug. 15.
If you want crops that can overwinter, plant overwintering onions, garlic and kale in August. Kale can be harvested this fall or next spring. The onions and garlic are for harvest next June. Walla Walla Sweet are nice mild onions and overwinter well.
Your garden will thrive better if you fertilize the plants as you plant them. Place a good, balanced fertilizer near your plants — not in the same holes which will burn the plants. Place the fertilizer about two or three inches away and a couple of inches deep in the case of seeds. As plant roots develop, they will reach the fertilizer as it dissolves into the soil.
If you are placing transplants, water them in with water-soluble fertilizer at planting. It gives them a kick start while they send roots out into the soil where the granular fertilizer is. That practice produces bigger plants with much better yields.