Mid- to late-summer is an ideal time to plant a second-season vegetable garden that will come to harvest in fall.
Hardy, cool-weather crops are well suited for the second-season garden. Cool-weather crops like to get their start in warm soil and come to maturity when days and nights are cool.
Cool weather vegetables include leafy crops and root crops: beets, carrots, and parsnips; salad greens, including lettuces; and members of the cabbage family like red and green cabbage, kale, collards, and broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. These crops are considered hardy because they can tolerate a light frost and can even survive when temperatures dip down to the mid-20s. (The flavor of many cool-weather crops is enhanced when the plants are touched by frost.)
A second-season vegetable garden also can include tender, warm-season crops, but these crops must come to harvest before the first frost. Tender crops are those that develop from flowers and produce fruits: tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, squashes, melons, pumpkins, peppers, eggplants, and beans.
The key to planting tender crops in mid- or late-summer is that you allow enough time for them to reach maturity. The best course is to choose quick-maturing varieties of tender crops for a second-season harvest and not be disappointed if frost comes early and wipes them out.
How to Grow a Second-Season Vegetable Garden
• Know the average date of the first frost in autumn. (You can get this information from a local garden center or cooperative extension.) Check the days to maturity on seed packets and count back that number 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 ten days just to be safe.
• Choose cool-weather crops for the second-season garden. Cool-weather crops germinate best and thrive as young plants in warm soil and warm temperatures. 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 you do plant tender crops in late summer, plant varieties that will mature and be ready for harvest in 50 days or less.
• 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 mini-hoophouse or greenhouse; 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.