The growing season usually starts in spring around mid-March. It doesn’t have to end until the first hard frost of fall. This usually happens around mid-October in the mountains and mid to late November in the southern part of the state. That means we can plant crops like tomatoes, pepper, squash, sweet corn, southern peas, snap beans, cantaloupe and eggplant all over again. Cooler-season fall crops can be planted a little later on. With a little planning, harvesting can go on through the winter months, if last year’s weather doesn’t repeat itself.
Some gardeners choose to plant at intervals from spring through midsummer, which is fine. Others may carry out harvests on tomatoes, squash and the like throughout the summer. However, rather than trying to keep the same plants producing indefinitely, you often get a better harvest by making a fresh start.
Tomatoes, pepper and eggplant should be transplanted just as you did in the spring. For crops like squash, cantaloupes and cucumbers, however, seeding them directly into the ground will work just as well, if not better. Snap beans, sweet corn and southern peas are generally directly seeded.
Don’t plant the same crop back in the same place. Rotate your space so you can reduce potential disease problems. If you planted squash there this spring, plant peppers there for the second crop. Rotate families of crops. Plant peppers, tomatoes or eggplant where you had squash, cukes or cantaloupe. But don’t plant cukes on the same ground where you had squash. You should plan on having a three year interval between plantings in the same family.
Getting a crop established will be more of a challenge than it was in the spring. Because of the intense heat, you’ll need to keep the garden watered enough to reduce heat and drought stress. Make sure you take the time to apply a mulch layer to the ground. I’m partial to untreated grass clippings. There seems to be a never-ending supply! A topdressing of 1-2 inches applied every two weeks will not only help keep moisture in the soil, but will actually improve your soil as it adds much-needed organic matter to our Georgia clay. Water during the day to provide some cooling on the surface and allow foliage to dry by nightfall. Use a soaker hose to keep the water where it is supposed to go – to the roots. Avoid wetting the leaves as much as possible to avoid diseases.
From late July until frost will be roughly 120 days, so crops that mature in less than four months will usually bear fruit before frost, barring an early fall. However, the longer you wait, the longer it will take your second crop to mature as days get shorter and the weather cools off (eventually). So start these crops by mid-August. Some fast-maturing crops like snap beans, cucumbers and squash can still produce successfully if planted by early September.
Sometimes, we tend to get a little excited at planting time and we find ourselves with too much of a good thing. This happens with squash and zucchini all the time! We start leaving baskets of veggies on our neighbor’s doorsteps at night. Consider donating your extra produce to a local food pantry, church or senior center. They often get lots of canned and boxed donations, but rarely receive any fresh vegetables. You could even put a small basket of vegetables on a table outside your garden, with a sign welcoming people to help themselves. The worst thing is allowing your plants to go unharvested. Production stops and rotted vegetables contribute to the spread of insects and diseases.
Take advantage of Georgia’s wonderful climate and long growing season. Fresh vegetables are part of the delights of summer. Don’t let the summer heat cheat you or your neighbors out of the rewards of your second harvest.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the UGA Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact UGA Extension in Cherokee County, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.