Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer has started - is it too late to plant a garden?

I have many coworkers that look at the pictures of my garden, sigh, and then say it is too late to start a garden this year, maybe next spring.


Gardening is not like a race you start each year and if you leave it too late, you have to wait until the next year to start again.  

Gardening is a year-round commitment to growing your own food, providing habitat for native species, reducing the amount of food we import; whatever your reason for gardening, it is never too late to start.
Succession plantings like this throughout the growing season keep a steady supply of salad ingredients on hand.

I plant carrots, radishes, lettuce mix (mesclun) and spinach about every two weeks starting early in spring, through the fall.  So at any point where you can provide a space for the plants to grow, that is the point where you will “start” your garden.   
Onions, like this Red Marble Cippolini, can be sown again in late summer for an early spring crop next year
Using a raised bed means that you can put row cover over the plants in the fall to protect them from early frosts, and gain another month (hopefully) of growing time.

The exception to this is anything really tall, like beans or peas. So you could choose a bush type of pea or bean that is easy to cover.  I usually look at the days to maturity for the seed I have chosen, add about 20-30 days, and then count backwards from the last year’s first frost date – that tells me about the time I need to plant the seeds in the garden.  (Remember for something that blossoms, you need pollinators, so make sure you time the blooming portion of planting to when there will still be bees around)

Now is a good time to prepare your garlic bed for fall.  You will need to plant your garlic after the first major frost in the fall – usually between Mid-Oct and November, depending on where you live.  You want fertile, well-drained soil with a ph between 6.5 and 7.0.  So if you are starting from scratch, now is a good time to build that raised bed, fill it with soil and compost, test the soil and put in any amendments you might need.  Once the garlic is planted, you will need to provide a covering of mulch – 3-5 inches of leaves or straw – especially in areas that do not get any snow or has light snow cover.  You will be harvesting that garlic next summer.  The great thing about garlic is that if you save some of your crop to plant next fall, you will gradually be developing garlic that does great in your climate and soil.

Another crop that you can grow in the late summer and early fall is barley.  We love barley – I use it in all my soups, make a great barley and mushroom pilaf; it is nutritious and a great addition to any diet. From the time you plant it to the time you harvest it is only about 40 – 55 days.  So make sure you have the soil ready by September - you will get your first harvest about mid-October.  You can plant again, or do succession plantings.  When you harvest, you cut the plants leaving the roots in the ground, and they add valuable nutrients to the soil.  This year I plan to plant barley in the beds that will be empty by September, like the broccoli and potatoes.  

If you are building your raised beds this year for next year, don’t let weeds take over those empty beds.  Plant barley, clover, or any type of bean or pea for a cover crop.  You don’t even have to harvest them.  You can pile on some leaves or other mulch, and then uncover them in late winter to start setting out transplants.  Plants in the legume family add valuable nitrogen to the soil.  You just cut the plants and add to your compost, use a garden fork to lightly mix the soil (remember not to disturb the worms too much) and then plant.  

You can also plan out which raised bed to make into your mini greenhouse for next year, with sturdy supports for row covering. This can be used to extend your garden for lettuces and radishes, and then as a cold frame in late winter.

If you are in the Pacific NW, here is what you can direct seed in the ground in mid-July:

Salad mixes, Arugula, chard, collards, kale, lettuce, mache, spinach, Radishes, peas, beans, carrots, broccoli, turnips and beets.

If you live elsewhere, get thee to a computer and do a search on what to plant in the garden in July (or August, September, etc.).  If you live in another country, there are probably scads of websites that tell you what you can plant when.  Take advantage of all the trials and errors of other gardeners in your area.

Since there is always so much to do in the garden, no matter what time of year, there is no right moment to start gardening.  Now is the time to start.

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