Grow Your Own Food: What A Strange Summer It's Been

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jul 11, 2013 3:00PM

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The weather has been great for leafy greens. Photo by Sara Gasbarra.

This season has been very, very strange for gardeners. The early frost knocked things down, the rain has been wonderful for some crops and has rotted the heck out of others. We've gotten back together with our favorite garden expert, Sara Gasbarra of Verdura to talk about some of the things you might be facing in your garden right this minute. What can you plant now, what should you plant to replace crops that shot out of the ground and what are the best ways to harvest some of that early tastiness?

1) You know who you are - those people whose garden plots are still sitting empty. Whether you've been discouraged by the rain or you're just plain lazy, it's not too late! What can you still plant in July?

In all seriousness, this isn't just a problem for lazy gardeners. We've been planting since April, but that means that some of our plants are just done! We've pulled out kale and arugula, plus some of our garden didn't make it. What's left to plant? Gasbarra gives us some tips:

"Think short term stuff like greens (arugula, kale, mustard, lettuce) and root crops like radishes and beets. If you grow greens from seed for harvesting young, you are looking at about 25-30 day until maturity, which means you can still get a few rounds in. Greens like garnet mustard and arugula are cold tolerant and quick and will do increasingly well as we move into fall. Radishes are typically 20-25 days until maturity and are a nice instant gratification crop. You can also still seed for beets and carrots, but plan to do that no later than the end of July. And, herb starts are always easy to find - Smits Farm at Green City Market has beautiful herb starts all season long.

2) If your seeds haven't sprouted, stop waiting.

We're always impatient, and so to make up for it we err on the side of waiting forever for things to sprout. Especially if you don't keep a garden diary, it can be easy to forget whether you planted that seed a week ago, a month ago or... way back in May.

Gasbarra tells us to get real. "If you don’t see sprouts in 7-10 days, its often time to re-seed or move to something else. Radishes come up in as few as 3 days (instant gratification!) - carrot and beet germination can often times be spotty but you generally have to thin the seedlings out anyway. When its time to thin them, I transplant the thinnings to the bare spots in the soil where the germination was poor."

3) Don't stop fertilizing!

Whether your plants are getting huge or you're starting a new crop, you can't stop fertilizing! This is especially important if you're trying to get several rounds of a crop out of a small container.

"Keep maintaining as you have been - I feed with fish emulsion twice monthly. But before you re-seed, recondition your soil. I’ll add a cup full of organic granulated fertilizer like Plant Tone to my restaurant garden earthboxes before I create furrows and pop in more seed. Then I will water it in with a healthy dose of fish emulsion."

4) Be careful how you harvest your early crops.

Harvesting seems like it should be so easy (just start munching!) but it's actually fairly complicated. It's important to treat each plant right, especially for these early season crops. If you do it right, they'll keep producing into the fall. If you do it wrong, you might only get one harvest. Here are tips for some of the more common early crops.

Green beans: "With green beans, you can gently snap them off with your fingers - but a pair of kitchen scissors works well. You don’t want to pull hard on the plant."

Leafy Greens: "I give my baby greens like kale and arugula a “haircut” and trim straight across with scissors leaving about an inch to an inch and a half of stem in the soil. This will promote a second growth. After the second growth, I typically pull roots and re-seed. The third growth is never as nice as the first. Also, if your greens are getting tall and “stemmy” and you don’t want the stems, just cut them higher."

Herbs: "Herbs with smaller leaves (tarragon, rosemary, oregano, marjoram) can be cut as stems - but herbs like basil should be more carefully harvested. Even though its more painstaking, I tend to harvest basil leaf by leaf OR harvest the top clusters. You never want to cut back the “armpits” of the basil stems, as that is where the new growth/leaves form. Pinch the top leaves off and leave the stems and new growth. Never hack away at your herbs, in general."

Our next topic? Bugs and diseases. Maybe not uplifting, but something we're all concerned about. See you next week!

Previous entries:

5 Tips for Early Spring
5 Tips for Perfect Soil