Summer’s waning, but keep on planting
You may have harvested garlic, potatoes and onions, and your lettuce is probably gone to seed because of the heat. So why not try a second crop?
If you figure that the first serious frost will likely be around the middle of October, then we have about 70 days to frost. Seventy days is plenty of time to grow a new crop of peas, beans, beets, broccoli raab, chard and other crops that you can enjoy in fall. You may go even longer if you cover your plants on frosty nights.
Because of the heat, you will probably have difficulty starting seeds in August. The ideal seed-germinating temperature is approximately 70 degrees, so a shady cool spot is ideal. I find it easiest to start seeds in a tray in the cool basement and plant out when the seeds have grown to about two inches tall.
By growing in a seed tray, you can easily drop a new plant in wherever a hole appears in your garden. If possible, pick an overcast, slightly rainy, day to plant to give your plantlets the best start. By keeping new seeds going, you can maximize the output of your garden until frost knocks everything flat.
While we’re talking about harvesting, I’ve heard a lot about tomatoes. It seems that every person I talk to is growing and picking them. That’s great news; now, if we can get everyone growing cucumbers and a little basil, we’ll have the fixings of a great salad.
You can also grow peppers, eggplant and a bunch of other vegetables. Most of them grow under similar conditions and as long as you water them during dry spells, there is absolutely no reason not to get a good crop.
While we’re talking about growing stuff, look over your herb plants. During the next month, pick the best ones to pot and keep indoors for winter. There’s nothing quite like some chopped fresh herbs to add a little zest to winter stews or braises. I’ve just potted some rosemary, thyme, oregano and dill, and plan on starting parsley, lemongrass, fennel, chervil and cumin for the greenhouse. Some of these plants are quite tall, so you might want to skip the fennel, dill, chervil and cumin if you are growing them on the kitchen windowsill. Add our own favorites, too.
If you don’t want to pot your herbs, grow them in the garden and freeze them for winter. You’ll find that chives are best before they send up flowers. Simply cut the stalks with scissors, chop it and freeze it. Do the same with parsley, mint and dill.
If you grow basil, you might want to make pesto and freeze the pesto. I make a ton of it and freeze it in individual baggies. For a pesto pasta, simply let the frozen pesto melt, add your favorite pasta, stir and voila! Instant dinner.
You can also make pesto with mint and parsley, or basil and parsley. In fact, you might want to try your own herb combinations. You might find a favorite that will be handed down in your family for generations.
If you have sage, oregano or thyme, cut it and dry it in a sunny windowsill. When it is completely dry, store it in airtight jars. I find that we use about a pound of oregano over the winter in soups, stews and on pizza, and it is relatively easy to harvest this amount off two large bushes. Similarly, I use a lot of sage and thyme, and dry our own supply of both herbs.
Even though it is late in the year, you can keep planting. If you plant extra greens, many are actually improved by being touched with frost. You can keep harvesting even though the days are getting shorter – just don’t fill the freezer with stuff you’ll never use or that your kids hate.
I speak from experience!