With summer around the corner and growth picking up there’s the temptation to take the foot off the gas and cruise to summer-long harvests. But that would be a mistake, because now’s the ideal time to make more sowings to get extra harvests right through summer, and on into autumn and winter. So let’s bust open the seed box once again and get sowing!
Second Sowing Salad Leaves
Many salad vegetables sown earlier in spring may already have been harvested or will be soon, so it’s a smart move to sow some more to keep them coming over the next few months. Cut-and-come again salad leaves are very useful because they allow you to harvest just a few leaves at a time over for a longer period. I love my salads, and often whip up a garden-harvested mix of leaves and fresh goodies like salad onion and radish as a healthy and delicious base to summer al-fresco lunches. Paired with a zingy dressing, it really can’t be beaten.
I often sow into plug trays in advance because it allows me to have seedlings ready to plant as soon as there’s space in the garden, but if you have an empty patch of ground not needed by other crops, try sowing direct into the soil. Mark out a row just under a half inch (1cm) deep, then sow the seeds very thinly. Cover them back over with soil, then water the row thoroughly.
Lettuce seeds struggle to germinate in hot weather, so if it is very warm when you’re sowing choose a shady spot or sow in the cooling, soothing shadow of taller veggies like pole beans. It can help to sow early in the evening once temperatures have relaxed a bit, and/or cover the sown row with a plank of wood to shade the soil. Check daily and remove the plank promptly once you notice the first seedlings poking up.
When to Sow Arugula Seeds
One salad leaf you should delay sowing until we get the other side of the summer solstice is arugula. Earlier sowings have frustrated me in the past because they seemed to almost immediately bolt (go to seed), which doesn’t leave much scope for harvesting their satisfyingly spicy leaves. That’s because lengthening days encourage this salad to flower – it’s biologically programmed to do this. But sow it once days are beginning to shorten once again, and bolting is much less of an issue.
Carrots and beets can be harvested well into the fall. These maincrop roots may also be lifted to store in boxes of damp sand or potting mix to enjoy throughout the winter.
Space can get really tight in the vegetable garden in summer, but I have a canny space-saving trick to get around this! Garlic will be harvested in just a few weeks’ time, so at this point there’s no harm sowing carrots between the rows. Then, once the garlic has gone, the carrots can continue to grow on and fill out. Sow the seeds nice and thinly into weed-free soil, again around a half inch (1cm) deep, and then cover them over. I just love the way this makes such efficient use of space!
Beets may also be sown direct. The bigger, knobbly seeds are easy to sow one at a time, spacing them about a half inch (1cm) apart. You can thin them out once they’re up. Alternatively, if there’s no bed space at the time of sowing, sow three or four seeds into each plug tray to grow on and plant out in clusters once earlier harvests have freed up space.
Bulb fennel (also known as Florence fennel) can be fickle early on in the season, and like arugula can all-too-quickly grow thin and run to flower instead of fattening up their delicious bulbs. Warmer weather means less of that, and so now we should reach harvest with few problems.
Did you know that bulb fennel doesn’t technically produce bulbs? The thickened portion is actually made up of stems wrapped tightly together – I think that’s pretty cool!
Again, you can sow them into plug trays of potting mix to grow on a bit if garden space is scarce right now. Pop in two or three seeds per plug then cover with a little more potting mix. Thin the seedlings to leave the strongest in each plug, and then plant out once the roots have filled the plug. They love to grow in a warm, moist, and sunny position.
Autumn and Winter Brassicas
Early summer is the ideal time of year to sow cabbage-family favorites. Kale is perhaps the number one autumn-through-to-winter staple, offering up regular pickings of its deep, dark green leaves. For me it has to be ‘Cavolo Nero’ kale every time, otherwise known as ‘Black Tuscan’ or ‘dinosaur kale’ due to the richly wrinkled surface. The leaves are easy to strip away from the central stem, and I reckon they taste the best too. Purple sprouting broccoli will yield its spears in the spring when there’s not much else to pick. And lovely Savoy cabbages will produce wholesome hearts of leaves from early winter onwards – just the job for a homegrown Christmas dinner!
All three are started off in the same way. I prefer to sow them into pots to begin with, then transfer the seedlings into plug trays or pots to grow on a bit. Sow a pinch of seeds across the surface of some firmed in all-purpose, sieved potting mix. Cover them over with a little more potting mix before giving everything a good watering. And don’t forget to label your pots and plugs trays because these are all brassicas and the seedlings look almost identical and are all too easy to mix up – said from experience I assure you!
I’m often asked ‘Why not just sow straight into plug trays?’ You absolutely can do that – it’s just I prefer to start in pots so I can carefully transplant the seedlings to ensure exactly one per plug for a more even result. It also means I can select the biggest and best seedlings. To be honest though, I just really love handling the seedlings and the satisfaction of having them all transplanted and growing on!
Once your young brassica plants have grown on and the roots have filled their plug trays or pots, it’s time for them to go outside to their final positions. Plant kale and cabbages about 18in (45cm) apart, and sprouting broccoli around 2ft (60cm) apart. Be sure to cover them with netting to protect them from pigeons and caterpillars.