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Late-season wonders

Don’t fret if you’ve missed spring planting — there’s plenty you can plant now to harvest in the fall

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fresh vegetables for sale at the farmers market

Atlantic Canadians love hodge podge: fresh snap beans, peas, baby carrots, and new potatoes boiled together and served with butter and cream. While we wait impatiently for this treat to become available, we sometimes forget that there are other delicacies we can plant now before the growing season ends.

There are benefits to planting in the summer: the soil is already warmed from the summer sun and the roots require no extra time to acclimatize. There’s also no need to worry about a late spring frost.

But there are disadvantages too. Once past the summer solstice in June, the daylight hours are shorter, which slows growth. You need to keep seeds and plants moist so they can use every hour of that sunlight. You must harvest some vegetables before a killing frost, so check for full-moon dates and listen to weather forecasts (full-moon dates for summer planting are August 7, September 6, and October 5; check for average frost dates in your province).

You may plant seeds or transplants where you’ve already harvested vegetables such as bush beans and peas. These two crops provide plenty of nitrogen in the soil but you should still replenish it with compost.

Don’t plant the same vegetables in the same place. Rotate root vegetables and above-ground vegetables. If planting seeds, make sure the soil is free of clumps, rocks, and other debris.

Choose vegetables that mature quickly. Look for the number of days from seed to maturity on seed packets, and pick those that list 80 days or less. Semi-hardy vegetables can withstand light frosts, and will taste even better for it. They include beets, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, green onions, potatoes, Bibb and leaf lettuce, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard.

Extend late-summer harvests by covering plants during frost periods. My mom and dad used old bed sheets to cover their vegetables, but you can use almost anything on hand. You can also use row covers. Convenient for both spring and autumn frosts, row covers work well on raised beds, too.

So stop thinking your vegetable garden is done after your last hodge podge—it may only be just beginning. Vegetables harvested in late summer will be crisp and sweet, and for some a light frost only improves the flavour.


What to plant:

  1. Rutabaga/Turnips: Try a white-fleshed summer turnip. They mature much faster but you cannot store them over the winter. Use the tops as greens. Purple Prince matures in 55 days.
  2. Beets: Use the leaves for cooked or raw greens and the enjoy the beets cooked or pickled. Two varieties that mature quickly are First Crop by Veseys at 45 days, and Merlin at 55 days. Plant before mid-July.
  3. Carrots: You can grow baby carrots in 52 days (look for Mokum). Regular-sized carrots that will mature in 55 to 65 days are Napoli and Neptune. You may leave carrots in the ground until it freezes. Use mulch to keep the ground warm longer.
  4. Kohlrabi: If you haven’t tried this space-age looking vegetable, now is the time. Try it raw in coleslaw or in a vegetable tray, or cooked in soups and stews. Have your children help you plant it and they’ll love the outcome. Kossak Kohlrabi matures in 65 days.
  5. Swiss chard: No longer just red or white, Swiss chard now comes in a rainbow of colours. Try Bright Lights or Kaleidoscope, and grow pink, orange, yellow, green, white, and red stalks. For something more traditional, choose Burpee’s Rhubard Chard (matures in 65 days).
  6. Collards: Not well-known here, collards look a bit like cabbage leaves (without the head) and is used in southern cuisine. Flash matures in 55 days.
  7. Broccoli: This vegetable has become popular since the discovery of its beneficial health qualities. Green Magic has tight heads and will mature from transplanting in 50 days. If planting from seed, do so before the end of June.
  8. Cauliflower: This vegetable is a heavy feeder, so fertilize well. It’s best to use transplants that you start yourself. If you plant seeds in the ground, do it before July. Freedom (matures in 65 days) is a traditional variety. Minuteman will mature from six-week-old transplants in 47 days.
  9. Cabbage: Plant your seeds before the end of June or purchase transplants. Tiara (matures in 95 days) is a smaller-headed cabbage.
  10. Radishes: Radishes are always popular for children to plant because they mature quickly. Try Easter Egg radishes (matures in 28 days) that come in pink, red, lavender, scarlet, and white. Or April Cross Chinese Radish (matures in 55 days) that’s long, white, and mild, and is yummy in stir-frys or salads. For a traditional radish, try Rudolf (matures in 25 days).
  11. Leaf Lettuces: New Red Fire (matures in 55 days) has red leaves that are crisp and sweet. Tango (matures in 53 days) has green ruffled leaves with white bases. Black Seeded Simpson lettuce (matures in 45 days) keeps its crisp, light-green leaf qualities longer than others. Keep the soil moist (not wet) and shade the plants on hot days. Harvest in morning. Leaf lettuces continue to grow if you cut the leaves when they are small rather than pull the whole plant from the ground.
  12. Spinach: Prefers cool weather and may be planted in July or August. It’s a heavy feeder, so fertilizer often. Keep its roots moist to prevent bolting. Sardinia (matures in 45 days) is excellent for baby spinach as well as mature leaves. Avon (matures in 44 days) is another quick grower with dark-green leaves and delicious flavour.
  13. Kale: Kale is easy to grow. Try Black Magic (matures in 45 days; can eat baby shoots sooner), with dark purple Savoy-style leaves that become sweeter with a touch of frost. Grow Prizm (matures in 55 days) in the ground or in a container.
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