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Vegetable Garden Care: Mid- to Late Season

Broccoli; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ reader of the pack
Broccoli; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ reader of the pack

Once the summer season winds down, it is time to reap the benefits of your harvest. Vegetables are always best when picked early in the morning. They are more hydrated and crisp than later in the afternoon. This is particularly important for lettuces and other leafy crops. To retain optimal flavor, store your vegetables in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use.

Remember to stagger harvesting. Vegetables, in particular peas and corn, lose their sweetness if not used immediately. If you have taken the time and trouble to grow them, make sure they are fresh when eaten.

Many vegetables can be eaten at different stages of development. Summer squash can be harvested from infant stages (with blossoms intact) to large specimens. If they get too large, they will be tough. A good rule of thumb is: the more you pick, the more growth you encourage, the more you will harvest.

Succession Planting / Late-Season Harvests

It is always possible to get a late-season crop in the vegetable garden. Timing is important. Read the seed packet for the days to maturity and count backwards from the first frost date in your area. Remember that the fall is cooler so everything grows more slowly. Your vegetables will be a little smaller, but small means tender. In some cases of cool weather, add a week to 10 days to your count.

Lettuces and other leafy crops can be planted several weeks apart in the spring. When the heat of the summer kicks in, these vegetables generally slow down or start to bolt. Planting them in slightly shady areas is one way of keeping them cool. An alternative is to wait until the middle or end of August to sow a late-season harvest.

"Cole crops" (cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and broccoli) can withstand a light frost. They grow well in the fall and can be planted as a second crop either from seed or transplanted in July to late August. By the time these vegetables are maturing, it is nice and cool.

Turnips and beets make superb late-season crops. They are tender when young. Young beet greens are delicious in a salad or steamed. In mid- to late July, a second crop of zucchini, summer squash and early maturing cucumbers can be started from seed.

Bush beans are best when harvested young. They will continue to produce more beans but will eventually exhaust themselves. Pull them out in late July and you will have enough time for a second sowing. They take about a month and a half to mature.

Brassica oleracea (Capitata_Group) 'Megaton' cabbage growing at NYBG; these cole crops can withstand a light frost
Brassica oleracea (Capitata_Group) 'Megaton' cabbage growing at NYBG

Unwelcome Guests

One of the questions that all vegetable gardeners are faced with at this time of year is  "Who's eating my vegetables?" The best way to keep animals out is to build a fence. Deer are excellent jumpers, so the fence needs to be at least 8' tall. Alternatively, wire fences that are slanted at a 45-degree angle are effective in keeping deer out. They need to be 4 to 5' tall with the same depth. The double fence method - two 4' tall fences at a 4' distance - also works.

Raccoons often require electric fences to keep them away from corn. Alternatively, try surrounding your garden with squashes- animals don't like the prickly leaves. For rabbits and woodchucks, a 3 foot-high fence is sufficient. Make sure that the mesh of the wire is small (e.g., chicken wire) so that young ones can't squeeze in. Your fence will need to go underground for maximum protection. For rabbits, bury the fences three to four inches deep. For woodchucks, bury the fence 12 inches. If you leave the top of the fence unattached, it will make it difficult for a woodchuck to climb over.

Another alternative is to try some of the home remedy, hot pepper treatments. Sprinkling hot pepper, Tabasco sauce, or garlic flakes around susceptible areas weekly or bi-weekly will often do the trick. Store-bought, pepper products are available in garden centers.

Vegetable Tips

  • Keep broccoli from bolting in the summer heat by under-planting it with leafy greens, which will keep its roots and stem cool. At NYBG, we generally grow broccoli as an early and late season crop. Harvest broccoli when the buds are still tight and have not separated.
  • Continually harvest outer leaves of chard and kale to extend their growing season and produce strong plants. These vegetables can be sown successively like beets and harvested young for tender vegetables or left to grow all season with a top dressing of compost to keep them tasty.
  • Do not pick outer leaves of cabbage. These plants need a shaded ground area to maintain a cool, moist growing environment. Be aware of little green cabbage worms that will munch holes in your plant. Inspect your plants regularly and handpick the insects.
  • Once heads form on cauliflower, fold over the large outer leaves to protect the developing cauliflower head from the sun. Purple and green cauliflower varieties don't require blanching and are easy to grow.
  • For better Brussels sprouts, strip the lower foliage and any yellowing foliage off in August when the buds begin to form.
  • Melons do well with black, plastic mulch that warms the soil, keeps weeds down and retains moisture. Alternatively, use organic mulch such as straw and place a small board under the developing fruit to prevent rot. Fertilize with fish emulsion when they begin to set fruit. Melons are great candidates for trellises.
  • An easy way to blanch celery and leeks is to grow them in trenches that are approximately 6 to 12 inches deep. Fill the trench with soil as they grow. Alternatively, stab your trowel in the ground like a dagger and drop a leek transplant in so that it is planted deeply. Mulch with straw. Celery is often not blanched but simply grown 'green' (the flavor is stronger). Self-blanching varieties are available.
  • Hilling soil around potatoes and corn, once in late May/early June and again in early July, is a good way of increasing productivity for potatoes and improving support for corn. Potatoes can also be planted in trenches or top dressed with compost and then mulched with 6 to 8 inches of straw.
  • Keep tomatoes well watered throughout the season to prevent blossom end rot (dark, soft discoloration on bottom of fruit). Consistency, not quantity, is the key.
  • Keep your garden clean of over-ripe vegetables; you will attract fewer pests and disease problems.
  • Water your garden with one inch of water once a week; this will soak the ground to a depth of four to five inches.       
Photo of a rabbit, a menace in the vegetable garden
Rabbits are a menace in the vegetable garden

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