With all the produce pouring in from your garden, starting more plants or seeds is probably the last thing on your mind. However, July is the perfect month to start thinking about the fall garden. Many of the vegetables you've enjoyed from the garden this spring and early summer can be grown and harvested this fall as well.
In most areas of the country, you can easily grow a second crop of many of your favorite vegetables. The first task is to make a list of the vegetables that still can be grown to maturity before first frost. Some of these include lettuce, beans, broccoli, carrots, beets, summer squash, peas, broccoli, cabbage, and radishes. In tropical areas you can even grow tomatoes and peppers as winter crops. When looking at varieties, select ones that are fast-maturing to insure a harvest before the cold weather hits.
The key to growing vegetables for fall is timing. Vegetables grown in fall need about 14 extra days to mature compared with spring-seeded crops due to fall's shorter days and less intense sunshine. When deciding the date to start your veggies, first determine your average first frost date. Usually the local weather service or Extension service will know that date for your area. Then look at the seed packet for days to maturity. Add 14 days and that will be the date you should start seeds. If you're starting plants such as broccoli and lettuce indoors, add an additional 4 to 6 weeks to account for the indoor growth period.
Once you have the seeds and dates, remember that sowing seeds or transplants in July or August is stressful on young plants. Protect young seedlings with shade cloth or plant them near taller plants, such as corn or tomatoes, that can provide shade from the hot afternoon sun. Add compost to the planting area before planting, moisten the ground, plant your seeds a little deeper than normal, and shade the soil so the temperature doesn't get too high. High soil temperatures will inhibit the germination of many vegetable seeds.
Another option for greens, such as lettuce and Swiss chard, and cabbage-family crops, such has broccoli and Chinese cabbage, is to grow the seeds indoors under lights and then transplant young seedlings into the garden. Initially transplants will need protecting from the heat, sun, and insects, but they are more likely to survive. Use a floating row cover to keep pests away from the plants and keep transplants well watered.
With a little effort in summer, you'll have a splendid harvest of greens, fruits, and roots in fall. Some summer-sown crops, such as bean and summer squash, need to be grown and harvested while temperatures are still warm for best quality. However, cool-loving crops, such as kale, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli, will thrive in fall's cooler weather. In addition, you'll be able to extend the harvest time of these crops by using floating row covers or grow tunnels placed over the plants, especially at night. With any luck you'll be eating from the garden until Christmas.
Q. My cherry tomatoes have black spots on yellow lower leaves, and it seems to be spreading upwards onto other leaves. Is there any way to salvage these plants?
A. It sounds like you have a leaf blight disease, such as early blight. The symptoms of leaf blights and leaf spots on tomatoes are very similar. Typically the lower leaves yellow and have black spots. Eventually the leaves die, and this fungal disease spreads up the entire plant. It's usually more common during warm, wet weather.
To control it, pick off and destroy all diseased foliage, rotate the area where you plant crops each season, mulch tomato seedlings with plastic, hay, or straw after planting, and be careful not to splash the fungal spores from the soil onto the plant when watering. As a last resort, if the conditions are severe, spray a preventive fungicide, such as copper, on the remaining healthy foliage.