The Summer Edible Garden

Reader Contribution by Melodie Metje
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A summer edible garden has the crops must of us associate with vegetable gardening like peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and the fresh favorite tomato. The summer garden is typically started in May. Summer crops love the warm soil and air temperatures. Most are subtropical in origin so a frost can kill them.

Crops for the Early May Garden

There are two basic categories of edible garden crops, cold crops and warm season crops. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, carrots, cilantro, kale, chard, cabbage will get bitter and bolt as the temperatures start hitting the 80s. For us in the Midwest, this is the end of May.

Warm season crops love the warm days of May through September and start waning in October. Most will continue to have some production into November or the first hard frost of the year.  

Since summer lovers thrive in warm temperatures, they don’t really grow until the soil has warmed up so starting early outdoors isn’t an advantage. Seeds will just sit in the chilly ground and many will rot if planted too early. Plant seeds or transplants after all danger of frost has passed and temperatures are on the rise.

Everyone loves to brag about their first ripe tomato, but tomatoes don’t appreciate cold feet so resist the urge to plant too early. After it warms up, they will really take off.

You can start your warm season crops indoors or buy plants to get a jump start on getting harvests. There are many options nowadays at the local hardware store, nurseries and big box stores.

For indoor seed starting, here are some pointers: Indoor seed starting tips.

Crops that do well with just planting seeds directly into the ground are corn, cucumbers, melons, squashes, and beans. They have large seeds and very sturdy stems. Sweet potatoes are starting using slips that you buy and then plant directly into the ground.

Be sure to fertilize when planting and then monthly.  Water during dry periods.  Even moisture is important. Letting the soil get very dry and then giving a good watering can give you split tomatoes and peppers.

Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Vegetables

The links here go to my site, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, where I offer plant profiles and growing tips in more detail.

  • Artichokes 
  • Arugula 
  • Beans (fresh and shelling)
  • Celeriac  
  • Celery  
  • Chard  
  • Corn  
  • Cucumbers 
  • Cultivated Dandelions
  • Edamame (soy beans)  
  • Eggplant 
  • Kohlrabi  
  • Malabar Spinach  
  • Melons  
  • New Zealand Spinach
  • Okra  
  • Peppers (sweet and hot)  
  • Sorrel 
  • Sprouting broccoli  
  • Summer squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes  
  • Zucchini  

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow. They thrive on heat and don’t mind dry conditions. If you are just starting out, this is a great one to start with.

Mid-May Garden: Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Herbs

  • Basil  
  • Bay
  • Bee balm
  • Borage
  • Catnip
  • Chives (Garden and Garlic) 
  • Cilantro (heat tolerant variety)  
  • Comfrey
  • Dill
  • Egyptian walking onions  
  • Horseradish
  • Mint
  • Lavender  
  • Lemon verbena
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Parsley (flat leaf) 
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Salad Burnet
  • Summer savory
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Mid to late summer is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests so be sure to have a spot in your summer garden for these tasty cool season vegetables. For more on late summer plantings for fall harvests, here is more information.

Crops Planted in Mid to Late Summer for Fall and Winter Harvests

  • Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower (for fall harvests)
  • Beets, Carrots, Radishes, and Turnips (for fall and winter harvests) 
  • Cilantro 
  • Escarole, Radicchio, and Frisee (for fall and winter harvests)  
  • Fennel Growing fennel
  • Greens (Lettuce, Kale, Mustard, Pak Choi, Spinach) 
  • Leeks (for fall harvesting)  
  • Winter squash  

You can procrastinate until June and still have a productive edible garden. I always interplant my garden with flowers. More precisely, I plant my fruit and vegetable plants in my flower beds. Flowers bring pollinators into the garden. For fruiting veggies like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, the more pollinators around, the more fruits you get. If you want, you can grow edible flowers.

I use zinnias, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, old fashioned Cock’s Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Moonflower vine, Blue morning glory vine, heirloom sunflowers, and alyssum for annuals. For perennials, there are delphiniums, hollyhocks in a variety of colors-Summer Carnival and Peach, red hot poker, day-lilies, irises, dahlias, fairy lilies, and gladiolas.

Summer is an exciting time in the garden. Every day you go out, you can see things growing. Just be sure to keep ahead of the weeds and provide even watering. I garden in my flower beds so they are always mulched, providing protection against weeds and keeping even moisture.

Melodie Metje is a retired engineer from Ohio who started her blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, to help guide her family’s gardening efforts and to keep track of what was happening in her own garden. She named it after the victory gardens grown to help the WWII effort. Melodie thinks we are in a similar situation today: Our country needs our help in battling the war on ill health. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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