I spend many of my days as an Extension agent driving across Alabama. I visit forest/landowners to help them with natural resource questions on their property. While I am driving I have the privilege to view vegetable gardens from the road. This time of summer I see corn standing tall, beans climbing their trellis, and melons spreading out in all directions..... And it reminds me, this is a great time of year to live in the South!
Many of my northern friends are just dreaming of fresh blueberries, that first home-grown tomato, and for a taste of sweet corn. They will have to wait until August for what we enjoy today. However in August, many of our gardens are over grown with weeds, relics of neglect and the heat of dog days. What I want to talk with you about today is summed up in three words; pick – plow – plant.
Enjoy the fruits of your springtime labor. Pick and enjoy the crops you planted mid-April, or May. Tax Day was ninety days ago, much has happened since then. Those who had soil dry enough to plant had the opportunity to watch your gardens grow and reap the bounty. Those with wetter soils had to wait out the spring rains and planted later. Many are waiting for their produce to ‘come in’. Pressure and water-bath canners are working overtime right now. Blanching, packing freezer bags and deep freezing ensures a bountiful, less expensive, food bill this winter.
Now think forward with me. What date is ninety days from mid-July? Your right, Columbus Day! And consider that our normal first frost in Birmingham is around Veterans Day, November 11. Right now we are still 120 days away from our first frost. There is enough time to grow a second summer garden. While not all plants like to grow through the heat of summer, many do.It is time to plow the garden again.
Some gardeners prefer plants with long production times. Bush beans give a gardener three pickings. The first is generally small. The second and third pickings are generally bumper crops. I have hoped for a fourth picking, but normally the plants begin to wither. The remaining beans shrivel up, and no new flowers bloom. This is why many of my neighbors plant pole beans; they keep producing as they grow. I take a different tact though, and plow under my green beans after the third picking. It's time for a new garden before I lose sight of summer.
Two year ago, I grew two varieties of corn. When each variety was mature, I picked the entire variety the same day. I had 150 feet of “peaches and cream” corn packed into five thirty-foot rows. After picking 150 ears of corn, I pulled the stalks, laid them in the rows, and took my tiller and plowed them under. The stalks were still green when they went into the soil. One week later I tilled the area again, and most of the stalk residue was gone! I planted wide rows of green beans, butter beans, and pinkeye purple-hulls over top of the corn. Two weeks later I began the same process with my rows of “golden queen” corn. I was still picking fresh beans/peas around Halloween. I did this also in the areas with my cabbage family crops (Cole crops). As they matured in June, they were harvested, tilled under and replanted with beans.
Granted, not all plants can be grown this way. Crops with long maturity dates (120 days) such as melons and sweet potatoes need more time to develop. Tomatoes and peppers also normally stay in the garden all summer. I choose the location of these crops carefully as I plan out my garden each year. Normally these plants are in areas well suited for my fall/winter garden. As the vines and plants of summer wither and wait to be pulled, I plan, seed transplants, and dream of cooler days.
So don’t let full bellies and freezers, and the heat of summer stop your garden cold. Remember, pick plow and plant now. Enjoy fresh inexpensive produce all summer long and into early fall.
Written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
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