After going to seed, the spinach and lettuce plants have been relegated to the compost pile. The spring radishes and baby beets were consumed. The peas produced their bountiful pods in June, but then succumbed to mildew in summer’s heat.
The rabbits ate the beans. And the zucchini plants wilted after vine borers tunneled through the stems.
What’s a gardener to do?
Start planting! Fill those bare areas by sowing seeds in any spot that opens up. Think of it as a second-chance veggie garden.
Granted, it’s too late to start over with hot-weather crops like melons and eggplants. But there are plenty of other vegetables ideal for midsummer sowing. Some good choices: bush bean, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, kale, kohlrabi, Swiss chard and zucchini. Even sweet corn, provided it is an early variety such as Early Xtra Sweet or Northern Xtra Sweet, has time to mature before fall frost. Early August is not too late to plant lettuce, spinach, turnip and radish seeds.
Many times, these late crops escape the insect pests that can ravage first plantings.
As satisfying as second crops can be, they have a handicap: It’s sometimes tricky to get the seeds to sprout in hot weather.
Luckily, there are ways to fool the seeds into thinking it’s spring. Shade cloth is my favorite. Spread over summer sowings, this light-weight fabric cools the soil while allowing rain and sunlight to reach the emerging seedlings. I’ve reused several pieces of shade cloth for any years for just this purpose. A couple of metal ground staples pushed through the fabric into the soil will keep the fabric from blowing away.
If the place where you’re planting is shaded by caged tomatoes or other tall plants, all the better. You get the same benefits as shade cloth without the effort.
Lettuce seeds may require more help keeping cool enough to sprout in summer. To ensure a continuous supply of summer greens, I sometimes resort to starting those seeds indoors, then transplanting them to the garden once they’re up and growing.
And here’s an old trick for summer sowing: Water the soil and cover it with a bale of hay or straw for a week or so. Then remove the bale and sow the seeds in the cooler soil. I’ve used the same idea, only with a scrap board instead of a heavy bale.
By this time of year, the humus in garden soil is often dwindling. Digging more compost into the soil before replanting can be the difference between success and failure: Compost not only helps the plants stay healthy but also holds moisture like a sponge, helping keep the soil from drying out too quickly in the hot summer weather.