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Beets, carrots can fill empty spots in the summer garden

As you’re enjoying your garden’s delicious bounty, you may notice a few empty spots in the garden from the earliest crops you harvested.

The turn from July to August is a great time to start planning what to plant for the fall. We’re lucky in Virginia to be able to grow food well into the winter, but the key is planning your fall plantings during the summer and continuing with succession plantings through September.

August is challenging for seedlings in the brassica family like broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards, that can handle cooler temperatures better than hot ones. However, with enough water and potentially some shade to ward off the blistering heat, establishing these crops in August will pay off for fall harvests. You can seed carrots, beets, turnips and radishes directly into the soil in August as well, though it’s important to keep the ground moist right after seeding so they germinate well.

You may notice that the empty spots in your garden are from brassica and root crops you grew in the spring. If you harvested broccoli in June, where it grew would be a great place to seed some beets. Where you had rows of spring carrots and turnips can become plantings of collards. Brassica plants use up a lot of nitrogen in the soil, so planting kale in the same spot you had cabbage just two months ago may yield a smaller, less productive kale plant. Root crops require less nitrogen than their brassica counterparts and can rotate into the places brassica crops grew before.

When you’re preparing to replant an area for fall crops, mixing some compost into the soil first gives the new seedlings a fertility boost for growth. You can strategically plant your fall seedlings near mature tomato plants whose height shades the baby plants in the afternoon. Soon enough, those tomato plants will come out of the ground and your fall crops will have full sun after surviving the brutal August heat.

Succession planting is key to extending your harvest period. If you plant a row of beets every Saturday for four weeks, you’ll have several harvests to look forward to, one after the other.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s “Home Garden Vegetable Guide” has charts with recommended planting and expected harvest dates for different crops that you can find on their website. You can plant radishes and lettuce into October, but would see a much smaller yield of collards if you planted them outdoors in October. It’s important that vegetable plants get enough sunlight to establish themselves before days shorten toward winter. As the cold comes, crops’ growth rate slows, but it’s possible to harvest off September-planted brassicas into December.

Somehow, planning ahead for fall harvests has a cooling effect during the peak of the summer. Just imagine how refreshing a brisk October evening will feel as you pick greens for dinner.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www.virginiafoodworks.org/Home-Canning-Resources.

Katharine Wilson is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.