Margaret Lauterbach

Gardening: It’s summertime and 90-plus degrees, but think about fall harvest now

It’s time to start planting your broccoli, and you can set it out in place of plants that have done their fruiting.
It’s time to start planting your broccoli, and you can set it out in place of plants that have done their fruiting. McClatchy

It’s July already, and it’s time to think about fall harvest. I struggled with germination of my usually reliable Slenderette snap beans, so I still don’t have a reliable row growing. Fortunately, they’re very short-season beans. Now I’m presprouting before I plant them out.

This month, though, you’ll have to start seeds for broccoli and cabbage by July 10, so that they’ll be harvestable by our first average frost date, Oct. 10. Start seeds indoors, for I’m sure our outdoor soil is too hot for those brassica seeds to germinate. Carrots and beets should be sown where they are to grow by July 25, but those seeds will germinate in hot soil, and they don’t transplant well.

You’ll be able to set out your broccoli, kale and cabbage in place of plants that have done their fruiting and have died. This is called succession planting, and some advise starting new crops just before the old one has succumbed so that the old crop can protect the forthcoming crop underneath until it’s established. One thing most of us forget is that estimates for harvest are for gradually lengthening days, not shortening days, so the days for fall crop may be more numerous than for a spring or summer crop.

You could try growing a fall crop of peas. They year I did that the vines were beautiful, but no pods set at all. We could have eaten some of the pea vines but didn’t.

We might need to protect some crops that will mature in fall from early frosts, so be prepared. Some varieties will perform better than others. Make notes so you can refine your techniques in future years. If you plan to grow green cabbage, for instance, try growing several varieties at close intervals so you can compare their quality and how they adapt to our growing conditions. Transplanting cabbages beneath or among exhausted greens or beans would be beneficial to the cabbages and give more productivity per square foot for your garden.

This spring I grew a variety called Charmant that produces nice-sized heads but can be planted closer together than other varieties. I’ve been very pleased with that production, and have started seedlings for fall harvest, but will have to control the gray cabbage aphids. Wasps have lost their appetite for aphids by this time of summer.

No-tilling argument

I read more of Lee Reich’s “The Ever Curious Gardener,” in which he makes a case for no-till gardens that I’d not heard before. I knew that tilling tears up fungi and mycorrhizae in the soil, but his point was that tilling adds more air to the soil, energizing microbial activity that results in microbes’ heavier consumption of the organic matter in the soil. He claims he hasn’t tilled his garden soil for 30 years.

Some may call it lazy gardening, but that light hand is beneficial for the soil, the balance of micro-organisms, and the root zone of most plants. Also “lazily,” the best way to incorporate more organic matter into soil is through organic mulch. As it decays, earthworms, millipedes, sowbugs and other soil creatures pull it into the rhizosphere (root zone), where it can nourish future plants, help hold moisture and keep the soil temperature moderate for roots. The easy way is often best in gardening.

Vining plants

How are your vining plants doing? I planted a lot of butternut squash seeds, I thought, but the winter squashes I see forming are not butternuts. They’re the shape of spaghetti squash, making me suspect that the company I bought them from mixed up the seeds. I have been told that vines will produce more female flowers if you prune off the leading edge of vines. I’ve been doing that, and production has been very good, but I can’t attest to that action’s sparking more female blossoms. Reich says that caressing cucumber and melon vines results in more female flowers (and hence more fruit, since you don’t get fruit from male flowers alone).

He also claims that shaking a plant for long periods each day increases plant growth, a technique that’s being used in Japanese greenhouses. I know that beekeepers and hydroponic tomato growers maintain that flowers set fruit only after sonication, from bees buzzing or the action of electric toothbrushes.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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