It seems like summer just got started, but the solstice is here and thus the chaos begins, as veggie gardeners in warm summer climates everywhere must keep their squash picked and tomatoes trellised while planting more seeds to keep the garden productive until the tail end of fall.
In addition to the busy-ness of it all, it feels weird to start broccoli seeds on a sweltering summer day. But many of the big fall crops including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi need a long blast of summer heat if they are to make good crops in the short days of fall. From getting summer-sown veggies up and growing to keeping them safe from insects and critters, here are five simple ways to keep your garden going with summer-sown seedlings.
1. Plant something from seed every week.
I know it sounds simple, but with berries bearing and a hundred other things going on in the garden, it’s easy to forget to get a last round of bush beans planted, or to make use of your last planting window for pumpkins and winter squash. Where I live, in USA Zone 6, this is the end of the June.
Beans are best sown directly in the garden, but with many other veggies I like to start the seeds indoors, where temperatures are constant, and shift the containers outside the day the seeds sprout. As extra protection from drying sun, I also give summer seedlings a scant mini-mulch of vermiculite. Bathed in abundant light, summer-sown seedlings grow faster than the same veggies started in spring, and tend to be sturdier, too.
2. Protect seedlings from excessive sun and violent weather.
There are many ways to do this, but my favorite method is to dedicate a patio table with a high cloth umbrella to growing my summer seedlings. Beneath a light-colored umbrella, the seedlings get midday shade and some direct sun, in either morning or afternoon. Should the weather become stormy, it takes two minutes to fold the umbrella and stash the little plants under the table, safe from pounding rains.
3. Pre-sprout parsnips and other slow-sprouting seeds.
The pre-sprouting method I learned from Ben Vanheems in Perfect Parsnips Every Time has changed my fall parsnips from iffy crops to sure things. I have also used the method successfully with carrots sown in warm summer soil, a real breakthrough. There is nothing to it - you keep seeds in containers on damp paper towels until they start sprouting, evidenced by little white tails (the first roots) emerging from the seeds. I plant all of the seeds when a third of them show this sign, and the seedlings are up four to five days later.
4. Wait for good planting weather and use shade covers.
When you have an opportunity to avoid stressing a seedling or interrupting the progress of a germinating seed, seize it. One day shriveling in too much sun with too little water can set plants back as they expend energy in recovery. Sow or transplant just before a period of rainy weather when you can, and always plan to use shade covers. These can be upturned flower pots or laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, or lightweight fabric held aloft with hoops.
5. Provide pest barriers
Insect activity is fast and furious now, and there are grasshoppers ready to gobble your cabbage seedlings - if the plants make it past the cabbageworms, cabbage loopers and cabbage harlequin bugs. Why take a chance? Install pest barriers from the first day plants take their place in the garden. I like using wedding net (tulle), because it looks nice and can be fastened in place with clothespins.