After midsummer the vegetable plot tends to be a place to harvest, rather a place to sow or grow. As early greens are picked and potatoes are lifted, space often remains empty. In containers and raised beds gaps are often left as the early season enthusiasm to grow your own wanes.
Personally I never get myself organised with replacement plants and seeds, I'm also often at a loss to know what to plant. With the prospect of a couple of months of zucchini and beans, and far more spuds than the two of us are ever likely to get through, maybe there isn't the inclination. This year I really want to try and keep things going.
However if you don't get organised now, home grown vegetables are likely to come to an end in September and that raised bed and space on the plot may remain empty until next spring. So here are my suggestions of what to sow and grow now. Many of these you could start in cell trays, ready to plant out as space becomes available.
This may be the easier option if the weather is hot and dry. Seeds need moisture for germination; if you can't water daily in the open ground to prevent the soil surface becoming dry it may be easier to keep an eye on things in a cell tray.
On a recent trip to Turkey I was curious discover how, in a hot climate, they manage to produce succulent, spicy rocket. Apparently these are grown in shaded conditions, sown sparsely and irrigated frequently and copiously.
So if the vegetable plot, VegTrug or raised bed is in full sun, try sowing in a container in the shade and grow it there. Try this with other fast maturing salad leaves too.
I have also had good results with the narrower leaved wild rocket during warm summer weather. This is slower to grow, but crops for longer and does not bolt as quickly as broad leaved rocket.
The quick growing annual varieties of spinach nearly always bolt and run to seed when sown in warm summer weather. Perpetual spinach is a much better bet. If sown in midsummer you could be picking through autumn into winter and through spring. (In cold wet conditions it does pay to protect it with a tunnel cloche in winter).
The seeds are large and slightly spiny; they are what is called multilocular, in other words they are a clusters of individual seeds, so produce several seedlings from each one. Sow thinly directly into the open ground or in containers. When the seeds have germinated and the first leaves are fully developed thin them on to at least 3cm (1") apart.
Most books tell you to space further than this, but I never do. You can also transplant a few to fill gaps in the row. Keep well-watered and apply a liquid vegetable fertiliser when the true leaves are 5cm (2") high.
Chard is similar to perpetual spinach, but with a broader more defined leaf stalk. The ordinary one has a white stalk, ruby chard is red, and rainbow chard a mix of yellow and red shades. All are well worth growing and you can start picking as a salad leaf and then let them grow on as an autumn and winter leaf vegetable.
Cultivation is the same as for perpetual spinach, but they do work really well started in cell trays and then transplanted into containers or gaps in the border. A patio pot of ruby or rainbow chard is an attractive decoration, as well as providing vegetables close at hand.
Nero de Toscana kale
I've had great results with the black cabbage or kale known as Nero de Toscana. Normally it's narrow, dark robust leaves are used as winter greens. However it can be grown as a salad leaf or a summer green. A few seeds sown in each cell of a tray with larger cells will grow quickly. If picked young the leaves are delicious tossed in a wok or steamed.
Sown in midsummer it can be harvested as salad leaves from late summer and then grown on to provide greens in autumn and winter. Again it is a great subject for containers and ideal to fill gaps as other crops are harvested. Try sowing a few in succession, leaving a couple of weeks between each sowing.
Today just about all vegetables are sold as cell-grown plants at some point during the season. As I nearly always forget to sow leeks I have resorted to buying cell grown leek plants. These are just about impossible to plant in the traditional way, and are often really too big when you plant them out.
Leeks are best planted deeply using a dibber and this is easiest with young plants that are bare root. This encourages the development of a longer white shaft, which is after all what you are growing them for.
It is still worth sowing leeks in midsummer, either in a seed tray, in pots, or in the open ground. When the grassy seedlings are large enough to handle, lift them and shake away the soil or growing medium.
Then trip off the straggly ends of the roots and the tops of the leaves. Make a hole with a dibber and drop in a plant, leaving the top of the leaves about the soil surface. Water them in, pouring water down each hole. This settles the soil around the roots.
If you can get young plants that haven't been around for too long great. This will give you bigger leeks. Seed sown now will still produce tasty, tender baby leeks.
Other vegetables to sow in midsummer
Cabbage (pointed varieties grow fastest)
Radish (again they prefer cool weather)
Carrot (check for fast maturing varieties)
Generally the best bet is to go and look through the seed packets at a good garden centre. Obviously timings depend on where you live and the growing conditions in a year. If autumn weather stays warm and frost free growing conditions can still be ideal.
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