Toss out the notion of one-time planting. There are a number of vegetable crops that can still be planted this month. It all depends on the weather and selecting vegetables with a short growing season and tolerance to frost.
July planting is not necessarily procrastination. There can be many reasons gardens don’t get planted at the regular time. Some gardens have empty spots because crops have been harvested. Others have bare places where someone got heavy-handed with the hose. There’s no need to let unplanted garden space fill up with weeds when you can still plant leaf lettuce, arugula, mizuna, mustard, cilantro and tatsoi. I’ve had great results seeding kale directly in the garden the third week in July.
If you’ve never planted mid-season, go out to your garden and think about how the harvest is progressing. Is there space to do more planting now? Radishes that have been harvested can be replanted. Arugula, mustard and mizuna are likely to have started to flowering. Unless you want to keep them in your garden to attract pollinators, make one last harvest and replant. There’s plenty of time, maybe even for two more crops this season.
Are there plants you’ve inadvertently left growing that would be better pulled and placed on the compost pile? If your leaf lettuce has turned bitter, don’t keep it in the garden especially when there’s time to plant more. Heat, drought and other stresses also cause biennial vegetables to flower prematurely and flower their first year instead of in year two. This premature flowering is called bolting and results in a loss of productivity and quality. Forget about collecting seeds from these plants. They’re stressed and should be removed from the garden.
I especially hate it when beets bolt because with proper variety selection and care, bolting can be avoided. Don’t allow bolting beets to remain in the garden. The small roots are unlikely to grow any larger. Make note of the variety and try a different one the next time you purchase seeds. In my experience, Early Wonder has a greater tendency to bolt than other varieties although in recent trials at the Georgeson Botanical Garden, Detroit Dark Red, Falcon, Lutz Green Leaf and Early Blood Turnip-Rooted beets also bolted.
Swiss chard is another crop that shouldn’t bolt but often does. If you have plants that are sending up flower stalks, try sowing seeds directly in the garden next time rather than starting with transplants. Bolting plants can be left in the garden and harvested throughout the season if you wish. Fortunately, Swiss chard doesn’t become bitter like lettuce but the leaves will be smaller.
Spinach is notorious for bolting. Our long days are responsible for plants starting to flower so soon after planting that they’re not able to produce a nice bunch of leaves. To make spinach worth harvesting at all, you have to watch it like a hawk by looking straight down into the center of the plants to see the flower stalks before they start to expand. As soon as you have an inkling your spinach might bolt, harvest plants immediately. Pinching off the flower stems will not keep plants from flowering. This holds true for bok choy and Chinese cabbage, too. Plants look like they are going to make a nice, tight head but instead, all of a sudden stems start to expand and flower.
Planting mid-season is not just an issue of making use of available space. A second planting can result in better crop quality. If radishes planted in May or June were too hot, a second crop may have a milder flavor if you thin early and make sure plants receive sufficient water. Large kale, collards or orach leaves may become too tough for fresh eating. A mid-season planting provides a new crop of tender, young leaves that don’t need to be cooked to be enjoyed.
Make full use of your garden space this season. Remove any vegetables that are bolting or past their prime and plant empty spaces to make your garden its most productive. A last word of caution, fertilize before planting just as you would in spring.
Julie Riley is horticulture agent for UAF Cooperative Extension Service. She works with home gardens, community gardeners and Alaska’s horticulture industry in the Tanana District. She can be reached at 907-474-2423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.