The summer solstice has passed, and so has the fourth of July. In a couple of days, even Lakefair will be over. (And whether you love Lakefair or not, what a welcome sign of semi-normal life it is!)
So what is there to do in the garden in the middle of July? Here’s a list:
Where early crops have been harvested, there’s room for more greens, like swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, and the ever-controversial kale.
If you’re willing to buy started plants, there’s also time for a fall round of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Eastside Farm and Garden has a good selection of started plants, and some sellers at farmers’ markets do too. Nurseries and garden departments of big box stores are hit and miss, and often don’t carry starts for fall plantings until August.
If you’re willing to bet against a heat wave, you could also invest in lettuce starts, best planted this time of year where they get some afternoon shade.
There are also less common vegetables you may want to try, like the oddball kohlrabi. It looks like a turnip that goofed and grew above ground instead of below. It’s often sold at the farmers’ markets, but if you grow your own you can harvest it younger than the farmers usually do. It’s best when the bulbs are closer to the size of a golf ball rather than a tennis ball. Harvested young, kohlrabi is crisp, tender and sweet. Overgrown, it gets thick-skinned and woody. It’s delightful sliced raw, and the slices make perfect platforms for your favorite dip. In a stir fry, it’s a great substitute for water chestnuts if it’s not cooked for more than a minute so that it stays crunchy. Roasting and steaming are also options, and its leaves are salad-worthy and a good addition to a soup or stew.
Depending on your level of ambition, you may also want to plant seeds for more beets, carrots, turnips and cilantro.
For cool weather crops like spinach and radishes, it’s probably prudent to wait another three or four weeks.
If there are empty spaces in your flowerbeds, some fast-growing annuals will give you flowers in September if you plant them now. Godetia is one. It’s regarded as a late spring flower, but that’s because it grows and blooms quickly. If planted now, it will be an early fall flower. Nasturtiums, California poppies and alyssum are also fast to germinate and fast to mature.
Here’s another worthwhile chore: remove faded flowers. Cutting off over-the-hill flowers of many varieties encourages them to keep blooming. This is known as “deadheading.” (In the garden world, “deadhead” is not a reference to fans of a band.)
Every year I discover another variety that benefits from this. At a recent garden tour, a woman described her Shasta daisies as “a gift that keeps on giving.” She deadheads them, and says they keep blooming all summer. That was news to me; I thought they were spent after their single burst of bloom.
Pick peas every day if you have them; they go from sweet and ready to woody and stringy almost overnight. If you have more than you can eat, you can find directions for freezing them by googling “how to freeze peas.”
This is also prime time for canning apricots, (google it!), and freezing raspberries and strawberries for winter treats. They are expensive now, but far less expensive than they will be when it’s cold and dark at 5 p.m. and you really need them to relieve your winter blues.
If you don’t do any of the above, the earth will continue to spin as it circles the sun, and it will still be summer.
Just be sure the garden is watered before you leave. And if you have peas, take some with you to eat along the way.
Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com
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