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Mid to late summer is a great time to plant seeds for a "second season" crop. After harvesting early maturing crops like salad greens, radishes, peas, and spinach, plant a second wave of your favorite cool-season vegetables for a bountiful fall harvest. Even in the coldest zones, there is still plenty of time for varieties to grow and reach maturity before the first frost.
The key to growing second season vegetables for a fall harvest is timing. As the growing season marches on, the days will get shorter, the soil cooler, and the sun's rays less intense. The first step is to determine your average first frost date. Then look at the seed packet for days to maturity and add another 14 days to that number to account for the shortening days.
Don't forget about the flowers! Lots of annual and perennial flowers thrive in cool weather and can be sown mid-summer for fall blooms. Try annuals like alyssum, candytuft, calendula, stock, and sweet peas; or perennials like bee balm, toad lily, red-hot poker, or evening primrose.
Mid-summer heat can be stressful to seedlings and transplants normally grown during the cooler, wet weather of spring. Keep the soil moist as your seeds are germinating and protect young seedlings from the hot afternoon sun. Salad crops, which prefer cooler soil, can be started indoors and transplanted outdoors as soon as soil temperatures start to cool down a bit. When the weather turns cold, extend your plants' season by growing crops under row covers and cold frames.
Late summer and early fall is the perfect time to squeeze a second season of vegetables out of your garden. For crops like corn, the warm days and cool nights of fall concentrate their sugars, which acts to enhance their flavor. For crops like spinach and lettuce, the cool weather prevents them from bolting prematurely and turning bitter. Depending on how long it takes your crop to mature and which growing zone you live in, there is still plenty of time to put in a second crop.
Although temperatures are starting to cool, this time of the year soil temperatures are higher and the moisture level in the soil is lower. In warmer zones, daytime heat can turn topsoil into a hard crust and high temperatures can prevent seeds from germinating. Seeds will need to be planted as much as two times deeper than normal to compensate for these "summer-like" conditions. If necessary, use row covers to help keep the soil cool and moist or sow your seeds in the shade of taller plants.
Even if you live in a lower zone, there is still time to plant certain crops. Obviously, corn doesn't grow particularly well in the frost and snow. Still, don't automatically rule out a crop just because your first frost date is rapidly approaching. Spinach, for example, can be easily over wintered provided that it has reached a good size before the first hard frost and is given some protection. Some root crops, like turnips, carrots and rutabagas, can be covered with a deep layer of protective mulch as temperature drop and harvested from under several inches of snow in mid winter (providing you can get to them, of course). Try to select "early" variety cultivars and remember that row covers and cold frames offer gardeners the ability to extend the growing season well into fall.
Here are some examples of good second season crops:
|Vegetable||Approx. Days to Maturity|
|Beets||55 to 60|
|Broccoli||70 to 80|
|Brussels Sprouts||90 to 100|
|Cabbage (including Chinese)||70 to 80|
|Carrots||85 to 95|
|Cauliflower||55 to 65|
|Collards||60 to 100|
|Kale||40 to 50|
|Kohlrabi||50 to 60|
|Lettuce||40 to 50|
|Mustard||30 to 40|
|Onions (sets)||60 to 80|
|Peas||55 to 70|
|Radishes||25 to 30|
|Rutabaga||70 to 80|
|Spinach||50 to 60|
|Turnips||55 to 60|
No matter the season, vegetables require at least 1 inch of water per week and should never be allowed to dry out. Be aware that it's easier to over water crops in the fall, because as temperatures drop, the soil is able to hold moisture for longer periods of time.