Summer is in full effect! Your home garden is likely full of beautiful blossoms and veggies that are ripening rapidly. My tomatoes are just starting to blush and my corn is about to flower! So is this the beginning of the end for your veggie garden? Not if you plan out some fall crops! There are many hearty vegetable plants that actually prefer or require the cold to come to fruition.
The first thing you need to find out is when the first expected frost date is for where you live. Here in Toronto it’s usually expected around November 1-15. Based on that date you can count backwards and cross reference with the maturity dates on the crops you want to plant. Toronto is Zone 7 and we are lucky to have fairly warm Octobers, which extends our growing season.
Here are some tips for what your veggie garden needs right now:
If you can get them planted in the next week, carrots mature within 80-90 days. Ideally these are planted between July 1-15, but I’ve never been one to follow the rules! There is still time…and maybe cross your fingers a bit for a warm fall.
I just planted some Purple Haze carrots yesterday and I put them in a planter so I can move them indoors overnight if it does get chilly. I love their deep purple hue! Make sure you thin your carrots after they’ve sprouted. Give them 1-2” at least so they have room to grow.
Beets can be planted now. They require warm soil to sprout and will mature in 45-60 days. When seedlings are about 2” high, thin out any double seedlings. Sometimes one seed will produce more than one! Pinch them off rather than pulling up so as not to disturb roots.
Avoid letting the greens grow more than 6” tall before harvesting. They are a great crop to add minerals to your soil and the greens are great for eating or your compost.
Lettuce and spinach
Lettuces and spinach love the cooler temps so from August 1-15 is a great time to plant some salad greens. Cover seeds with a thin layer of soil and water very gently so they don’t all spread around. Thin to an inch apart once seeds have sprouted. You’ll be able to start harvesting fresh salad leaves after about 4-6 weeks.
Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the bigger leaves first, you can go back for more as the baby leaves mature. Spinach can be planted in succession well into the fall so that you’ve always got new leaves coming up. It really loves the cold. Both lettuce and spinach will bolt (produce flowers) in hot weather and become bitter tasting so hold off till the end of summer for these. Swiss Chard and Kale are other tasty salad greens that will tolerate the cold, too!
One crop that you can make room for in fall is garlic. Garlic and onions are both sensitive to the length of daylight they get and will mature best in the long days of the following summer. Use good quality seed garlic to plant. A good place to find some is your local farmer’s market.
I spoke at length with a garlic farmer and her one piece of advice is to plant your garlic on the coldest most miserable day in the first week of November. She said “If it looks like a terrible day to be in the garden, that’s when you must plant!”
Keep an eye on the weather report and a few days before you think you’ll be planting, separate the bulbs, but don’t peel them! Plant them 2” deep and 6” apart. Leave the peels intact and put bulbs in pointy end up. You’ll want to mulch with straw, a good 6” layer to help keep the weeds away.
In spring, they will start to sprout and by this time next year you’ll have crazy looking curly stems called garlic scapes. These should be cut off to encourage all the plant’s energy down to the bulb, but don’t cut the leaves. Scapes are delicious! They can be pan fried or they make an incredible pesto. Leave a scape or two though so you know when to harvest.
If you have garlic growing right now, stop watering so they don’t go mouldy. When the lower two thirds of the leaves are brown, around late July to early September, your garlic will be ready to harvest. Take care when harvesting. Don’t just pull the garlic up from the ground. Loosen the dirt around the garlic and coax it out with two hands. Avoid piercing the bulbs. You’ll need a dry and shady place to let your garlic cure for a week or so. You want to make sure they dry out completely. Their greens will be totally brown when they are dry.
If you’ve planted hard-neck garlic, trim the stem to 2”. If you notice the stem is still moist inside, give the garlic more drying time. Once they are totally dry, very gently brush off the dirt and store in a cool, dry place. Don’t forget to save the best looking and biggest bulbs for planting in the fall!
If you follow these tips, you’ll have fresh produce through the fall!