Here it is mid June and if you are growing crops such as lettuce and radishes you may notice that they are starting to grow a long central stem. This is called bolting. Most cool season crops start to bolt in response to warmer weather and longer days. It can often mean the lettuce will start to taste bitter. Bolting is just the plant’s way of going to flower and setting seed. If you are trying to grow lettuce in the summer its best to plant it in the shade provided by trellised vegetables such as peas or beans.
So once you have pulled out your lettuce and radishes, you will all of a sudden have an empty space. What will you be planting there? Have you grown any seedlings to replace those crops? It’s all about planning when growing vegetables. For example, I have three feet of garlic in my garden which gets harvested in mid July. That’s lots of room that could be used by another vegetable.
Don’t just plant any vegetable. Think about planting something your family likes to eat. There are so many choices for the fall and winter garden. Be sure to grab a copy of the new West Coast Seeds Planting guide for fall and winter harvest. This guide gives you detailed information on which types of crops to grow and when to plant them. Here in the lower mainland of Greater Vancouver we can grow almost all winter long. When it’s really cold we can extend our growing season by using some winter protection.
I like to plan my fall crops early in the year. Many of them, like squash and pumpkins need lots of room to grow as they often spread out by about ten feet. I only grow pumpkins that are good for eating. They can be carved for Halloween as well but they make the best cookies, soups, and pumpkin loaves. Why not cook some up to store away for winter use? Imagine making your own pumpkin pie from pumpkins that you grew yourself. Pumpkins like the heat and are best direct sown. By direct sown I mean that you plant the seed directly in the space where it will grow. You can buy pumpkin transplants but they don’t really like being moved. They will grow but often sit and sulk for a week or more before jumping into rampant crazy growth that may surprise you.
You can also plant squash now for a fall harvest. Plant the type you like. I grow one called Red Kuri which has an amazing flavour. Red Kuri is a Hubbard squash but looks like a small pumpkin when harvested. It’s the perfect size for a family of four. There are many types of squash so choose the one you like to eat. If direct sowing I would get your seeds in right away so you can enjoy the squash from fall to winter. Remember many of the crops we are discussing today can be brought inside a cool garage and stored.
Carrots, everyone loves carrots but they are not the easiest to grow. They need a very loose friable soil. Carrots can be planted here on July 1 so that you can enjoy this fresh delight all winter long. Now carrots do not like warm soil so they struggle to germinate at this time of year. Sow extra seeds and don’t let the soil dry out. The idea is to keep the soil cool enough for them to germinate. You could place a sheet of newspaper or burlap or even an upside down seedling tray just to shade the soil until the seeds are up.
Try growing some rutabagas and beets as well. I like to use a floating row cover over these crops. Not only does it add protection from the cold nights ahead but it prevents insect pests from damaging our crops.
Now how many of you would like to grow salad greens all winter? I know I sure would. The key is to have the garden close to your kitchen. I built a small eight by four-foot garden just outside my back door and it makes it easy to go harvest as I need it. Lets take a look at a few vegetables you can grow. Corn salad is one of the lesser known salad greens but it loves the cold. You want to sow several times beginning in August and finishing your last sowing in late September. Corn salad grows slowly but can be grown in containers, raised beds or in the ground. Flavour is best from February to March. It’s ready to harvest in 50 days so if you plant in the beginning of August you should be harvesting by the end of September. Corn salad has a higher vitamin content than lettuce and is mild in flavour. If you want to grow lettuce try growing Winter Density or Rouge d’Hiver as they are good ones to try. You want to wait until late August or early September to plant your fall and winter lettuce. If it’s too warm out the seeds will not germinate.You can always start your seeds indoors in a cool room and transplant seedlings. Mesclun is a nice mix of salad greens. You can grow this every three weeks from March to September for a continuous harvest. You would need to add winter protection by mid October to extend the harvest.
One of my favourite plants to grow is Kale. Its leaves can be harvested all year round except during a hard frost. The good thing about Kale is it tastes better even after a frost. Let your plants thaw for a few days and start picking again. Kale leaves are harvested from the bottom up. Kale is a member of the Brassica family so I usually plant it with my turnip, rutabaga, broccoli and cauliflower. They are all related plants and are affected by the same insect pests. It’s nice to have the same plant family in one bed so you can cover that bed up all together. I like to use a Reemay floating row cover to prevent insect damage. You can start to harvest Kale once it is about 6” high but always leave some leaves on the plant for photosynthesis. Kale can be grown as a cut and come again crop or left to grow to 3’ and harvested as you need. In the second year Kale will send out flowers which are edible and then it produces its seeds. You can then save the seeds to start new plants. I just removed the second year Kale from one of my garden beds and we will replant new Kale in its place.
So have fun and try some fall and winter gardening. It just takes a bit of planning but it’s so worth it.