Northern Edition (Zones 4-6)
Even if you live in the northern part of the country where summers are relatively short, you can maximize the growing season yield by planting staggered vegetable crops if you understand how to do it. We provide some helpful tips below.
For the rest of you who live in warmer regions (zones 7-10), you can plan your crops so you can have fresh produce most of the year! We have some tips for you too, in the Southern Edition
of this post.
Growing Cool Weather Crops in Spring
For starters, if you are partial to oh-so-nutritious leafy greens, they are among the easiest crops to grow and can be started from seed indoors in late winter and transplanted outdoors in early spring, even when there’s still a possibility of a light frost. You can also direct sow them outdoors when your soil reaches the optimal temperature of 65-75° F. These greens include lettuce, endive, kale, spinach, chard, cabbage, mustard greens, and arugula. Plant a few seeds of each at a time in batches about 10 days apart, on a staggered basis, ensuring you will have delicious supply on hand starting in late spring/early summer. Other good cool weather crops you can start in early spring include peas and broccoli.
As easy as these vegetables are to grow in the cool weather, things can get a little tricky when the full heat of summer arrives in earnest. Come, say, late June/early July, it’s time to plant some new vegetables to replace some of these cool weather plants, particularly the leafy greens, like lettuce and arugula, that are prone to bolting.
Bolting in Plants — Explained
Bolting is when cool weather leafy crops become stressed by mid-summer heat and devote all their energy to setting seed. This is the stage when these plants go from being leaf-based to flowering. During this time, heretofore sweet, leafy, refreshing greens become tough, bitter and unappetizing—at least to humans. While you could leave the bolted leafy greens as is to benefit pollinators, those of you with limited space will want to pull them up to make room for another crop. Besides, you probably have plenty of flowers on hand for pollinators, right?
Vegetable Crop Rotation in Mid-Summer for a Fall Harvest
What to Plant in June or July
Northerners will want to choose heat-loving vegetables that grow relatively quickly to ensure they have enough time to mature before the first fall frost. Good choices include the following:
- Evergreen Bunching Onions (aka scallions)
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
June is also a good time to plant herb seeds, such as basil, as well, if you haven’t done so already.
What to Plant in Late Summer
Late summer (end of July until late August, depending on your region) is the time to plant a new crop of cool weather vegetables to enjoy through the fall and beyond. If it remains really hot where you live at that time, for best results, you should try to cool down the soil to facilitate germination. You can do this by shading the planting area and keeping it moist for a few days before planting. Or, you can start the seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors when it starts to cool down a bit. Here are some good choices for late summer planting:
- Lettuce and Spinach
As fall progresses, be prepared to protect these late-season planted crops from frost with row covers. As mentioned above, most leafy greens can tolerate light frosts, and some of the other vegetables listed above can even tolerate air temperatures well below freezing, but you’re better safe than sorry.
Gardeners are passionate about maximizing their homegrown vegetable crops so they can stave off the necessity of buying supermarket vegetables as long as possible. Staggered or succession planting is not hard to do with a bit of planning and is the best way to prolong your growing season, in the absence of, say, a greenhouse (more on that).