Most people think of the life cycle of a garden as something that begins in the spring, simmers slowly, grows like crazy all summer and then is over in August or so. Planting is deeply tied in most people's brains with the spring- but even here in North Central Indiana where we live in zone 5, planting continues into August in our garden. We like to spread our garden bounty over as many months as possible, both to extend the return and because with a full time job, I could not possibly handle everything needing to be harvested and processed all at once.
In the next week, I will be planting Okra, second crop turnips, late leaf lettuce and more green beans. If you look at my garden right now, it is a complicated mix of ready to harvest vegetables growing right next to just sprouted seedlings. I have a stash of seeds in my garage waiting for early August planting- peas, snow peas, spinach and kale. They are cool weather crops, and with a little luck and not a very early snow, we will be harvesting the peas and snow peas in September and will continue getting spinach and kale until the first very hard freeze. Kale is hardy enough that is will often survive a couple of freezes and you can go pick it out of the snow.
If you have been contemplating a garden, but have given up because you think it is too late, get out there and get some seeds. Here are some examples of wonderful foods you can still grow and harvest this season, even in hardiness zone 5:
1. Tomatoes. It is way too late to plant seeds, but you can still go grab a tomato plant from your local garden shop and stick it in dirt. They do well in containers or in the garden. The critical factor with tomatoes is to find a spot where they get at least 8 hours of sun to set fruit. It will be late before you get fruit, but for the last few years we have harvested tomatoes up until November in our garden.
2. Lettuce. It is too late for a large head lettuce, but most leaf lettuces are ready to start eating only a month from planting, and then continue on for many weeks after that. Baby or mini romaine lettuce will also sometimes be ready in only 6 weeks- that is a mid August harvest.
3. Radishes. Check the packets for expected time to harvest. Regular red globe radishes are typically a month to harvest, and right now is the perfect planting time for the long growing, late harvest radishes like a Daikon to be ready in early September.
4. Green Beans. With a 6-8 week plant to harvest cycle, you can still get green beans planted for the next couple of weeks. These are easy to grow and freeze very well for consumption later on. We are working on squeezing in as many cycles of green beans as we can this year to last longer into the winter.
5. Peas and snow peas. It is actually too early to plant the late crop of these chill weather loving plants. If it is too hot when they flower, they will not set fruit well. If you live in a warmer zone, you will have to push the planting date out even later than the early August date we use around here.
6. Turnips . Turnips are another plant with a 6-8 week harvest cycle. Get those seeds in the ground and be fat and happy for Labor Day.
7. Okra. Because I tend to like to eat Okra in gumbos and soups, which are cool weather foods for us, I am waiting until this week to plant my Okra. This will give me a late August harvest date. We will have some fresh for Labor Day, then freeze the rest for winter eating.
8. Winter Squash. Check the seed packet of your preferred variety, but some could still be planted today for September harvests. My Pumpkin seeds are going in the ground tomorrow. That is a little later than normal, but will give us great October harvests and hopefully skip the August wilt we had last year.
With an early spring and a mid summer planting of some crops ( green beans, turnips, etc..) we actually manage to get twice as many harvests out of a single season. You may have missed the early spring planting, but you could still make the mid summer planting and be enjoying fresh salads and vegetables from your garden at your Labor Day cookout.