Happy Solstice! Start Your Fall Vegetable Garden Now

A summer planting of carrots and beets will yield a sweet harvest this fall.
A summer planting of carrots and beets will yield a sweet harvest this fall.

Summer technically just began last Wednesday with the Summer Solstice, and most gardeners’ minds are focused on that first garden fresh, sun-kissed, perfectly-ripe tomato from the vegetable garden.
But did you know that late June is the time to think planting? Yes, vegetable planting. Now is the time for us Northern Illinois gardeners to focus on a second planting of some crops for the fall vegetable garden.
I know what you are probably thinking. It has been so hot and dry this whole spring, why would I want to plant more now? Because some vegetables aren’t in it for the long haul. And are even better the second time around.
Take some members of the root crop family — carrots and beets. Unlike that early spring, cut- and-come again lettuces and greens, root crops are one and done. Now is the time — June 25 to July 5 — to start a second crop of these delicious healthy vegetables.
And you probably have the room, you can direct sow them where the crop you just harvested was. There will also be available garden real estate as the spring peas wind down in the heat. (Don’t worry, it is not you, peas are called cool-season vegetables for a reason.)
The great thing about this second-chance summer planting for fall cropping, the vegetables will ripen as the weather cools. This will give you some of the sweetest carrots and beets you will ever taste. Cooler temps convert those starches to sweet sugar. That is also why Brussel sprouts harvested after a few light frosts are so much sweeter and less musty tasting than those harvested when it is still so warm.
June 25-July 5 is also a great time to put in a second crop of bush beans. Unlike their taller relatives — pole beans — bush beans produce a heavy crop at once. They were designed for this so gardeners/farmers/ packing industry would have a large harvest all at once.
Do bush beans produce a second crop? Yes, if they are picked quickly at the peak of harvest, but you may notice that their quality and, definitely their quantity of production is reduced, especially if you didn’t plan ahead and plant a few rows of beans for continuous harvest. Now is the time to put that second crop in.
Another crop of summer squash can be planted now, too. This is not only a fall gardening tip, but also a way to outsmart the bugs that cause bacterial wilt in all of our cucumber family plants — squash, zucchini, etc. Cucumber beetles and the most prominent cucurbit pest, the squash bug, have huge populations early on, infecting those spring planted squash with the terminal disease, bacterial wilt.
Most people have experienced this sad situation when you just get those first cucumbers or summer squash harvested; then the growing tip of the vine appears to wilt. So, you water (again) and it wilts more quickly, wilting the entire vine with the helpless baby fruit unable to come to maturity. Bacterial wilt gums up the circulatory system of plants, literally strangling them of life. A new planting now, when that first flush of the pests is in decline, is a good way to make it to the finish line with some nice summer squash harvests this fall.
It is worth a mention of the cruciform vegetables here (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.). Although you will find them on fall vegetable lists, I have found that it is tough to get these cool-season vegetables going and growing when the thermometer is climbing. You can’t direct-sow them because the high soil temps impede germination. I have tried starting seedlings for these indoors in the air conditioning, but transplant was only marginally successful, because it is still hot, deep into September and October these last few years.
As we turn the corner into August, and you are packing the kids or grandkids off back to school, you can plant some of the greens — lettuces, mustards, kale. I like to use the existing garden to my advantage here. Since we do not need root crops or leafy crops to flower to eat them, they are helped by the partial shade of our towering tomatoes and other summer vegetables.
Sometimes these leafy greens will bolt due to the high temperatures in fall, causing the plant to direct their energy budget to making seeds, and turning the leaves bitter. If this happens, just pull them out and try again. Gardening can be so harsh, but also so forgiving. Always giving us the opportunity to try again.
And when these fall greens do make it, they are extremely tolerant of cold weather. Remember, they were one of the first plants we can start in the spring vegetable garden. You can even extend some of these leafy grounds to the ultimate status — year-round vegetable gardening right here in Will County, if you add a season extender like a floating row cover.
Floating row covers are those white fabric tunnels you see in gardening magazines. They are the smaller cousin to the agricultural high tunnels. These fabric over-wire hoops protect the late plantings from early hard frosts, and also wayward pests.
That doesn’t mean if we have another snowmageddon polar vortex, that you will be leaving Santa a light salad on his cookie plate this year. But with the milder weather trends in the winter, you just might.


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