The heat of summer has finally arrived, and our vegetable gardens have taken off. With the onset of hot weather though, most cool season crops like peas, spinach, lettuce and arugula are fading fast. No more sugar pod peas to snack on as you walk through the garden.
Not so! Now is the perfect time to plant a fall garden that might provide cold-tolerant greens and root crops until Thanksgiving with a little luck. The soil is warm now which will help get seeds up and growing quickly unlike the spring when germination seems to take forever. Pest pressures decrease as the temperatures get cooler. Lastly many fall-grown hardy crops are much sweeter after they have been through a frost or two.
We are probably about 10 weeks out from our first frost in the lower elevations around Spokane. Areas like Cheney and Deer Park may only be out six to eight weeks which will limit what can be planted a bit more. Good crops for warmer areas include beets, leeks, scallions, lettuce, radishes, arugula, Chinese cabbage, turnips, spinach, carrots, mustard, bok choy, tatsoi and other Asian greens. For colder areas consider lettuce, radishes, corn salad and arugula. If you can find some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower seedlings at the local nurseries consider planting them in the next two weeks for harvest after a good frost. Nurseries don’t stock them this late because not enough people ask for them this time of year.
One of the tricks to getting a fall garden up and going is to remember that the weather is still hot, and the seeds and newly emerged plants will need extra water and protection from the sun for a few weeks. Work up the new seed bed to destroy any weeds that have sprouted and add some compost to improve the water holding capacity of the soil. If you aren’t already using a drip or soaker hose to water your other crops, consider it for these crops. Putting water right to the roots of new plants will go a long way to keeping they hydrated in the heat. Plan on watering much more frequently because the seeds aren’t planted very deep and will dry out easily.
You will probably have to provide some shade for the new plants to keep them from scorching in the sun. Floating row cover can be gently laid over stakes or hoops to provide the needed shade. Double it if you have the lightweight material. Boards set on bricks or blocks above the germination zone will also provide protection.
Once the seeds are up, mulch the plants with two to three inches of clean grass clippings or shredded leaves or pine needles. This will slow down evaporation and keep the soil evening moist and cooler.
At the onset of frost, keep some tarps or sheets handy to cover the lettuces and arugula. Most of the rest of the list will take a hard frost and become sweeter as a result.
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