Late-Summer Vegetable Garden Hints: Get the Most From Your Crops

In your late-summer vegetable garden, plants are entering the seed-making phase and will require a little special attention if you want to maximize harvests.

| August/September 1999

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    Utilize the flavors of the late-summer vegetable garden by making a batch of mixed refrigerator pickles.

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As summer begins to wind down toward fall, the spring-planted garden changes character. Once bright green and limber, the foliage darkens and dries, fairly leaps with insects and makes a rasping, rattly sound as you wander through. In the late-summer vegetable garden, your plants are entering the seed making phase and require a little special attention to prolong their productivity. 

Soil and Weeds in the Late-Summer Garden

First, if the soil is dry an inch down, water it well. Late corn tomatoes, lima beans and cabbage are still ripening even if their plants' leaves are turning brown on the edges. Fall viruses and fungi are eager to spread, so don't spray foliage. Instead, water the roots (we run a soaker hose down the rows).

And, even if you're getting a little bored with the garden after most of the harvest is in, hoe down fall weeds before they go to seed—especially those between the rows—lest they sap the food and water needed by late crops. Let the weed growth lie where it falls; it'll act as a moisture-retaining mulch, not to mention a hideaway for bug-consuming garden toads.

Tomato Options

You may notice a few tomato plants, already loaded with ripening fruit, beginning to put out fresh end growth and suckers; some will flower and set clusters of new fruit berries. Snap off all the lush, new looking growth as it sprouts so the plants will put energy into the maturing fruit already on the vines. Then poke the stem ends of several of the most vigorous sprouts into a rooting medium and set them in moist sand to take root (small-fruited varieties do best). Periodically inspect undersides of leaves and remove any little white cocoons to prevent an infestation of whitefly. Once rooted, transplant the sprouts into large pots filled with a rich growing medium. Placed under lights or in a sunny window, the plants will vine out long with small leaves in winter's reduced light. If you pollinate flowers, one to the next, with a little brush, you may have fresh tomatoes to start the New Year.

Or at the very least, if you remove new growing tips early in the new year, propagate them just as you did the parent sprout, then set out the months-old plants next May or June, you'll have the earliest tomatoes in the county next season—guaranteed.

End-of-Season Broccoli

Moving down the rows, be sure to cut off the main head of every broccoli plant, even the dwarfs. Nip off the secondary sprouts before they've a chance to turn into little sprays of yellow flowers. Keep the roots watered and you'll have fresh, if strong flavored, winter broccoli until Thanksgiving.

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