03 Garden Seasons: Summer, Fall, and Spring Garden
The Spring Garden
The spring garden contains cool‑season crops that are planted and harvested from late winter to late spring. The seed of some of these crops can be planted directly in the garden soil, while others will need to be started in a greenhouse or other suitable growing area and then transplanted to the garden.
Spring garden plants grow best with relatively cool air temperatures (50° to 65°F) and are raised either for their leaves, stems, or flower buds. Peas are grown for their immature fruits. These crops produce their vegetative growth during spring’s short, cool days. If they are planted too late in the spring, summer heat reduces their quality by forcing some to flower and form seeds (bolt), and others to develop off-flavors, bitterness, poor texture, and low yields.
Avoid these problems by planting spring vegetables as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring since light frost will not injure them. Plant either seeds or transplants, allowing the vegetables to reach edible maturity before hot summer days arrive. Plant as soon as the soil is workable and dry enough so it does not form wet clods.
Do not work the soil when it is wet. Doing so can ruin the texture for several years. Wait for the best conditions no matter how much the planting bug is nibbling at your fingers. Do not use organic mulches in early spring. Rather, let as much sunlight as possible reach the soil to warm it.
After May 1, you can use mulches to conserve soil moisture and help prevent weeds Plant spring garden crops together so that you can plant fall vegetables in the same area later. When “double cropping,” do not plant closely related vegetables in the same rows because of possible disease and insect carryover from the spring crop.
The Summer Garden
As the harvest from your spring garden ends, the summer garden’s crops should begin to produce. With careful planning, you should have a continuous harvest of fresh garden vegetables. Your summer garden should have a variety of crops, some har‑vested during the summer months, and others continuing to bear into fall.
Generally, summer crops are planted during the cool days of late spring through the warmer days when the danger of frost is past. Summer garden vegetables consist of:
1. Cool‑season crops seeded or transplanted before the danger of frost is past, but able to endure hot weather at harvest times.
2. Warm‑season crops are seeded or transplanted after the frost‑free date. This later planting prevents both slow germinations from cool conditions and frost injury to emerging plants. Warm‑sea‑son crops require warm soil and air temperatures for vegetative growth and fruiting. Their quality is enhanced by long, warm days and mild nights.
Since crops vary in how much time they need to reach edible maturity, the summer garden should include short‑, mid-and long‑season crops.
The Fall Garden
Gardening doesn’t have to end with your summer‑grown crops since some vegetables are suitable for late summer planting. Plan to follow your spring and summer gardens with a fall garden so that you can have fresh produce well into the winter.
Plant crops according to your planting plan, grouping plants to be sure short ones are not shaded by tall ones. To encourage good germination, fill each seed furrow with water and let it soak in. Keep the soil moist until seeds have germinated. Fall vegetables are harvested after early September. They consist of two types:
1. the last succession plantings of warm‑season crops, such as corn and bush beans,
2. cool‑season crops which grow well during the cool fall days and withstand frost. Note that cool nights slow growth, so crops take longer to mature in the fall (and spring) than in the summer. Keep this slower pace in mind when you check seed catalogs for the average days to maturity.
Some of the best quality vegetables are produced during fall’s warm days and cool nights. These environmental conditions add sugar to sweet corn and cole crops, and crispness to carrots. The vegetables in Table 12 can be successfully seeded or transplanted for fall harvest. Often, you will want several seeding dates to extend the harvest over a longer time. This table gives the latest dates for either seeding or transplanting as indicated.
Extending the Growing Season
Polyethylene row covers have been used for a long time to help vegetables grow and ripen early in the spring. However, USA springs are often too warm to benefit much from early-season row covers. During the fall, on the other hand, these covers might prove useful to gardeners wishing to extend the harvest of frost‑sensitive crops (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers).
The row cover’s objective is to trap heat and protect the crop from cold night temperatures which might deform fruit or kill the plant. Many times in the USA, a period of mild weather will follow the first killing frost. If you protect frost‑sensitive vegetables at critical times in the fall you could extend the harvest season by several weeks. Gardeners have a choice of self‑ventilating (slotted or perforated covers) or floating row covers.
The slitted and perforated types are available in clear and opaque polyethylene and require wire hoops for support. To construct such tunnels after planting, push hoops (made from no. 9 galvanized wire) into the ground, 3 to 5 feet apart. Then when frost is predicted, cover them with clear polyethylene. Bury the edges of the plastic in the ground.