Planting the second-season veggie garden
August is an ideal time to plant a second-season vegetable garden that will come to harvest in September, October, and November.
The best veggies for your second-season garden are hardy, cool-weather crops including root crops and many leafy greens. Your best bet second-season crops are beets, carrots, parsnips, salad greens including lettuces and spinach, and members of the cabbage family like red and green cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. (Think soups and stews.)
Cool-weather crops like to get their start in warm soil and come to maturity when days and nights are cool. Ninety days from now, when you will be harvesting many of these second-season crops, Thanksgiving will be just around the corner.
You can include tender, warm-season crops like tomatoes and beans in your second-season veggie garden, but if you do, these crops must come to harvest before the first frost. The key to planting tender crops in mid- or late-summer is the number of frost-free days remaining in the season (there’s no way to know exactly, but mid-November has brought frost to the Sonoma Valley in the past).
Whichever crops you choose for your second-season garden, here are a few tips to ensure a good harvest:
• Mark the average date of the first frost on your calendar – historically between Nov. 20 and Dec. 10 in the Sonoma Valley. If you want to plant tender crops, choose your varieties (starts for transplanting or seeds for sowing that will be ready for harvest before then). Count back the number of days on the seed packet from the first average frost date to determine the last day that the seeds can be planted and still produce a crop. Add a week to 10 days just to be safe. If you do plant tender crops this month, plant varieties that will mature and be ready for harvest in 50 days or less.
• Know that cool-weather crops germinate best and thrive as young plants in warm soil and warm temperatures. But also know that cool-weather crops mature best when day and night temperatures average no greater than the low 60s and mid to high 50s. (These are exactly the temperatures that cause warm-weather, tender crops to falter.) If a stretch of unexpected warm days arrive in November, don’t be surprised if your cool-weather crops struggle until temperatures fall.
• Have at the ready crop protectors: (1) floating row covers such as lightweight Remay fabric that can be draped across crops if temperatures turn cool or cold unexpectedly. Anchor floating row covers in place with stones or garden staples; (2) Hoops made from wire or irrigation tubing over which you can drape clear plastic sheeting to create a plastic tunnel or mini-hoophouse; you can also use two-by-four or four-by-four inch mesh wire fencing to create a half tunnel over which you can drape clear plastic sheeting; (3) A thick layer of straw, dried leaves, or other organic mulch can be forked around crops to keep the soil warm. Think ahead to protect your crops.
• Make a plan to get the most out of your garden. If your garden is small, plan to replace warm-weather crops with cool-weather crops as the warm-weather crops finish harvest and become spent. Here is a list of warm-season crops and suitable cool-season crops to follow in succession planting:
Basil: follow with lettuce, spinach, or peas.
Snap Beans: follow with lettuce, chard, or onions.
Corn: follow with beets, cabbage, collard, or lettuce.
Cucumbers: follow with peas, chard, or spinach.
Eggplants: follow with chard, lettuce, spinach, or bunching onions.
Melons: follow with peas, lettuce, kale, or spinach.
Okra: follow with spinach or lettuce.
Onions: follow with peas, lettuce, kale, or spinach.
Peppers: follow with lettuce, spinach, kale, bunching onions, or Chinese cabbage.
Potatoes: follow with peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, or bunching onions.
Summer squash and zucchini: follow with peas, lettuce, spinach, or Chinese cabbage.
Sweet potatoes: follow with peas, lettuce, kale, or spinach.
Tomatoes: follow with peas, lettuce, spinach, bunching onions, or Chinese cabbage.
Steve Albert is the author of The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide available at Amazon.com. He teaches in the landscape design program at the U.C. Berkeley Extension. He lives in Oakmont.