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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Time to think about planting second crops

An old electric toothbrush can be used to vibrate the pollen out of tomato flowers to improve pollination in hot weather. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
An old electric toothbrush can be used to vibrate the pollen out of tomato flowers to improve pollination in hot weather. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

We are roaring right through the summer, and it looks like it might be a pretty good tomato year. It’s also time to think about what you can plant when the peas, carrots, spinach, beets and lettuce finish their first go around.

Since the Fourth of July, we have had more nights above 60 degrees than under it which is a good thing for tomatoes. Tomatoes need nights above 55 degrees to properly set fruit. The downside of this 90-plus degree heat is that it keeps the bees from foraging. So, if your plants are blooming you might take your old electric toothbrush out and vibrate it against the flowers to release pollen and help them out. If you don’t have a toothbrush, any small brush will work; just move between flowers brushing each gently. Help the bees out though, make sure there is water available to them.

The heat will finish off any remaining peas, spinach and lettuce. The peas will get smaller and tough, and the spinach and lettuce will get bitter and bolt at which point they are better added to the compost pile. If you planted carrots early, they should be large enough to harvest. The same for beets. They are better harvested when they are about two inches across.

So, with what do you fill those empty spots in the garden? There is still plenty of time to plant a crop of basil. Basil loves the warm soil and temperatures we’ve been having and should be up in a week. That means it will be ready for harvest by the middle of August just in time for the main glut of tomatoes. Yum!

Over the last 15 years, the Inland Northwest has gained a lot of fall growing time, and that makes it possible to plant crops for a late September into October harvest. The warm temperatures of August will get everything growing and the cooler temperatures of September will allow vegetables to mature slowly. Another benefit for fall-planted leaf crops is that flea beetles and squash bugs have finished their life cycles for the year and aren’t a problem anymore.

You can plant a second crop of lettuce, spinach, beets and kale. Clear out your bed and apply a layer of mulch over the space to block weeds. Clear enough space in the mulch to plant your rows of vegetables. Add a little fertilizer and plant. The mulch will cut your weeding time down to nothing and hold the moisture in the soil during the heat of August. All these vegetables will take a light frost if we get one in September.

Carrots are another great late-summer-into-fall crop. The seeds will come up quickly and should be ready to harvest by early October. Carrots also can take a frost and can even be mulched with a heavy layer of straw and left in the garden over the winter. Carrots actually get sweeter after they have been frosted a few times.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 35 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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