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Community gardens aren’t just allotments — they’re urban farms, great places to share gardening skills and crops.
Keep all of your tools performing at their best.
But, at a certain point, it’s time to harvest your pretty veggies and eat them. Otherwise, the only feast you’ll enjoy is a visible one, and seeing your plants grow isn’t as rewarding as filling your belly with them. If you hesitate too long before harvesting, your crops may not be very tasty when you do put them on your plate. And, if you wait, you may miss the window to sow more edibles to harvest later in the season.
Many of the seasonal veggies we put in the earth in late winter and early spring are considered “cool season” crops. These include plants like kales, mustards, spinach, cabbages, broccoli, radish, and lettuce. In some areas, these will continue to grow very well into the warmer months. But, if these veggies are seeded in late winter, their prime harvest period happens well before the long, hot days of summer. Radishes, for instance, are at their best if grown rapidly and harvested while it is still very cool. Kept into summer, they’ll become pithy and will go to seed. Stressed by even just a couple of warm days, mustards and broccoli will quickly put on spindly seed heads and toughen up their stems. Spinach and lettuce will melt to the ground in too much hot sun. And, there’s nothing as sad as seeing a tightly formed cabbage ball attempt to throw up seed heads. So, as soon as those crops begin to mature, cull them from the garden for your dinner table. This will also free up space in your vegetable beds to rotate in a new, warm season crop to harvest in late summer and early autumn.
Warm seasonal veggies like cucumber, squash, and tomatoes do best when planted into the garden well after the days become longer and the temperatures become consistently warm. For some gardeners, this happens as late as July. For others, it may be possible to put in tomatoes in early spring. Check at your nursery, if you’re not quite sure about your area.
Nightshade crops like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, and eggplant have a better chance of maturing and producing fruits when planted into the Earth as starts rather than seeds. If you didn’t manage to get yours growing from seed back in February or March, check your local nursery for the plants you need.
On the other hand, Curcurbit crops like zucchini, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, and other squashes grow rapidly from seed in warm, loose soil, and they do better if seeded directly into the ground rather than started in pots. Skip buying these pre-grown at the nursery and simply pop a few seeds into the ground once you have cleared out some of your cool season edibles.
Despite our best intentions to rotate out our lettuce crop and follow it with a planting of tomatoes, we may find that weather and other factors throw off the “to-dos” on our planning calendar. If you find that your cool season patch is still producing well, frustrating your efforts to get those tomatoes and cantaloupes into the ground, clear out a few sections of the cool season crop bed just large enough to allow you to pop in that tomatillo or winter squash seed. As the new plants emerge and begin taking up more space, continue harvesting the surrounding cool season crops in a circular pattern, moving away from the newer plantings. This way your crops may overlap in production, and you won’t miss your warm season planting window at all.