What’s Growing On: Second sowings and other ways to extend your harvest

(Elaine Casap photo/Unsplash) A bowl of tomatoes.

Most beginning gardeners think that what you plant April to June is it and whatever you get from those plantings will be your harvest for the season.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things you can do to extend the garden year and have harvests of some of your favourite things over a longer time period.

Salad fixings

Items for your daily salad like lettuce, radishes and salad turnips will be finished in the heat of summer. They will “go to seed” and produce flowers as the lettuce leaves become bitter and radishes become woody. But you can make new plantings of both salad staples. You will, after all, have some space now that the peas are finished and the garlic has been harvested, plus the space is available from your first lettuce and radish plantings.

These seeds will not germinate as well in warm soil, so seed more thickly and shade the area until the seeds have germinated. If the summer heat continues, continue to shade the young plants so they will not “bolt” (go to seed) before you get a real harvest.

Salad turnips, if you planted them thickly in the beginning or if they have grown slowly, will continue to grow slowly and you can continue to harvest them as you need them. The quality of the turnips does not seem to deteriorate through the summer. Sometimes they will all mature quickly and you can plant a second sowing in August. You will have enough time to get a second harvest.

Most other crops do not lend themselves to a second sowing as there is not enough time for them to mature when the days shorten, but your snap peas and carrots are worth a try; young small carrots still have a great taste.

More time to harvest

In the autumn, as the nights become colder and frost threatens, tomatoes, a warm weather crop, require protection. If you haven’t done this yourself in the past, you’ve probably seen others cover their tomatoes before a predicted frost. Old thin-weight blankets, couch covers, even sheets will provide several degrees of frost protection to ripen those last tomatoes. You can take the covers off after the sun rises and the temperature has risen above zero. Repeat the process each evening when a frost is expected (until those tomatoes have ripened or you get tired of doing it). Green tomatoes can be harvested, if necessary, wrapped individually in newspaper and put in a box in a cool place. They will ripen slowly, so check on them periodically. Alternatively, green tomatoes make excellent mincemeat.

Swiss chard and kale can withstand several degrees of frost without protection, so keep on harvesting them. Chard will die when the temperature goes really low, but kale can freeze overnight, thaw with the sun and be picked the next day, right into winter. As a matter of fact, this past spring I picked some kale from plants that had been covered with snow and survived the “polar vortex” day of -25C in February.

Brassicas (late cabbage and broccoli) that have not matured yet, or from which you want a few more broccoli side shoots before winter, can be covered with a polyester row cover fabric such as Reemay. The row cover provides a few degrees of frost protection.

Parsnips should not be dug until after the first couple of frosts as they sweeten after each successive frost. You can, alternatively, pull them as you need them right into winter. If you cover them with straw mulch, the ground around them will not freeze (at least not into rock consistency) and they can be harvested more easily for that winter stew.

Of course, it goes without saying that those of you with a greenhouse can plant many reasonably hardy vegetables from August through September with a good chance of success. Most things planted in greenhouses will mature before the days get too short; some greens will stop growing through winter (but will not die) and will start growing again in the spring.

Our next column will deal with harvesting the herbs in your garden.

By-the-Sea Gardeners is a community group that provides a forum for gardeners in the Saint Andrews area to share their interest and enthusiasm in gardening. To learn more about us, follow By the Sea Gardeners Club – St. Andrews on Facebook. Contact: Richard Tarn, 506-529-3110, or Mike Hutton, 506-529-3629.

The Saint Croix Courier