5 crops to plant in July for a Fall and Winter Harvest
Now that mid-summer is behind us and the days are long and hot, many gardeners are focused on the peak production lurking just around the corner of July. The days of plentiful are upon us, with summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap beans at their most productive.
I share this sense of wonder in summer’s bounty and the sometimes exhausting amount of work that comes along with it. Preserving the harvest can be a daunting task and it leads many gardeners to forget an ever true fact: winter is always coming.
July is the perfect time to plant many of your crops for a Fall and Winter harvest. Most of the continental United States has at least 90 frost-free days in front of them and this means now is the time to plant those long-maturing crops for a perfect Fall gardening season.
#1 Winter Squash
Squashes love to germinate in warm soil and planting them too early will stunt them for the season and thus reducing the size and quality of the harvest. I always caution people not to plant their winter squashes too early because unlike summer squash, you generally don’t have a second chance at a crop. They take so long to mature that the seeds you plant in June and July are your first and only chance at a harvest for most of the country.
Don’t let this make you discount winter squash as a crop, though. Few crops produce a more satisfying, delicious and long-standing harvest as winter squash do. When properly cured, but winter squash last me all the way into the next season, when my garden is filled again with delicious fresh produce.
My favorite winter squash for flavor is easily Honeynut Baby Butternut Squash, a butternut squash variety resulting from a cooperation between a chef and a traditional plant breeder. The result is a small butternut squash, perfect for a single meal for a small family, with a sugar content way higher than any other winter squash. The smaller vines are very productive, with an average of 10 fruits per plant in my garden. Only caveat here: in my experience, it doesn’t store as long as other winter squashes. It doesn’t matter much, though, as it’s so good my family goes through our harvest in the span of a few months!
Another great tasting is the very rare Shishigatani winter squash. This Japanese variety produces stunning, warted fruits of a medium size. The flavor is sweet and complex and the texture is remarkably smooth. I find the plants productive and vigorous, disease resistance and all around great! The beauty of the squash makes a great fall display and they keep very well, easily 6 months in my cold storage room.
When people ask me for a productive winter squash, I always recommend Orange Stripe Cushaw. It’s what I like to call my workhorse squash, the one I turn to for quantity and quality.
Orange Stripe Cushaw produces a plentiful harvest with little care.
Not enough space to grow the large, sprawling winter squashes? Go with a Table Queen Acorn squash or a Uchiki Kuri Winter Squash. The Table Queen Acorn grows relatively short vines and the small fruits of the Uchiki Kuri squash allow it to be grown vertically, saving gardening space.
Whatever winter squash you chose to plant, make sure you look at the time to harvest and the number of days remaining in your growing season. If planting you squash past the summer solstice, add 2 weeks to the maturity time to make up for shorter days.
Rutabaga are the unsung heroes of the Fall and Winter garden. I love everything about them and I wish they were grown in every garden!
A member of the Brassica family, Rutabaga are a true staple in my root cellar. I grow at least one full bed every year, and most years a second one is added. The taste of a garden fresh rutabaga, harvest after a few good frost – sometimes even just past the New Year in my Connecticut garden – is a thing of beauty. It is one of the few root crops that can be transplanted when young as the root swells above soil level.
Improved Purple Top Rutabaga makes a great Fall vegetable
A few things to know about rutabagas is that they require a long growing season and they must not be crowded. My favorite variety, Improved Purple Top Rutabaga, takes at least 90 days to mature so time is of the essence if I want a large harvest. The longer the plant is allowed to grow, the larger the roots will become, up to 6 inches across for me!
Most rutabagas require only average fertility and can work through tough, rocky soil without problem. The swollen root develops mostly above ground and hard soil won’t stunt their development as they would for a carrot. They make a perfect, hardy crop for those who want to increase their output of food throughout the cold season.
Tip: go with a tough love approach with your rutabagas. Don’t baby your crop like you would for other fall-harvested brassicas. Allowing them to fight for their survival means the plant will develop a long, sturdy taproot, resulting in a richer, more nutritious root at the timer of harvest. I don’t bother watering my rutabaga bed unless there is a pronounced drought in my area.
This doesn’t apply to seedling, of course! Keep the soil moist and well watered until your plants are about 3-4 weeks old or well established in the case of transplants. Those can’t take the tough love approach as
Right up there at the top of the most delectable vegetable is the cabbage. This underrated crop is a true delight in the Fall garden. When the heat-loving summer crops are long gone and the leaves are turning, your Fall grown cabbage will sing with happiness. They grow to impressive size and are truly satisfying to behold as the rest of nature tempers down to crawl.
Fall cabbage are great producer and the best varieties can be kept in a cool, damp cellar all winter due to their firm tightly packed heads. I turn a great amount of mine into sauerkraut for a nutritious and easy cabbage preserve and the Fall cabbages make the most delicious fermented food you can find.
I grow a steady few staple varieties of Fall cabbage in my garden. Late Flat Dutch Cabbage is perhaps the best known and has an incomparable sweet taste, especially after a few weeks of nightly frost. Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage is another reliable producer that I love to turn into shockingly purple sauerkraut. I also grow a number of the refined Savoy Perfection Cabbage for warm, comforting fall meals. Those will keep less long than the storage types such as Late Flat Dutch and Mammoth Red Rock, but they still keep their eating qualities for a month or so and have a great flavor and texture for soups and stews.
A harvest of Late Flat Dutch is always a satisfying experience
A few things to know about growing fall cabbage is that care must be taken when planning your crop. Timing, watering and fertility are key points to remember to make sure you have a great crop comes the Fall.
A Brassica family member, cabbage need plenty of fertility, especially nitrogen, to produce the large amount of leafy growth necessary for a tightly packed, high quality head of cabbage. I always amend my soil heavily before planting my Fall cabbage, more so than any other Fall crop, even the squashes. A high content in organic matter will also increase the moisture retention of the soil, which brings us to the key component of a great Fall cabbage.
Cabbages do not like hot, dry temperatures and seedlings will indubitable suffer if grown under those conditions, leading to poor results at harvest time. For this reason, I always start my Fall cabbages indoors, where I can control essentials like moisture and temperature.
I start my seeds in early July, when I have at least 110 frost-free days ahead of me. I will keep those seedlings well fed and pampered for 4-6 weeks, until they are good and strong, capable of withstanding the outdoors conditions. If you find yourself short on days, you can always grow an all-purpose variety like Golden Acre Cabbage or Red Acre Cabbage. Those will produce fine heads of great quality, but perhaps not store as long or grow as large. It's still a great option for those with shorter season or who start their seeds just a tad late. Better a smaller head of cabbage than no head at all!
When transplanting outdoors, you must take absolute care not to let those seedlings dry out. Keeping them well watered will ensure that the plants will thrive even under the unforgiving heat.
Also keep the pests like cabbage moths and other leaf-munching creatures in mind. Cabbage is an attractive crop to mostly anything that crawls, flies of jumps around the garden and I make sure to keep mine under sheer until outside pressure has lessened. A great crop to interplant with your cabbage is Nasturtium, as its smell repels the dreaded cabbage moth. It doesn’t seem to repel deer and rabbits so much, which is why mine is kept under lock and keys, but the addition of Nasturtium also seems to keep the plants healthier, with an added bonus of beauty and nutrition as Nasturtium is a great edible flower.
Sunflowers are the quintessential flowers of the summer. Their exuberant, colorful beauty is a staple in many garden and for good reason. Not only are they a stunning accent in any garden, but they attract pollinator and provide nutritious, delicious seeds.
Those seeds can be left on the plant in the Fall and Winter to feed wildlife, harvested and stored to provide nutrition to humans or fed to livestock. My chicken flock is especially fond of sunflower seeds in the cold winter months of January and February and I keep a great amount of seeds just for them while also leaving some for the wild birds that abound in my area.
Some sunflowers like this Lemon Queen Sunflowers are quite rare
Sunflower seeds love to germinate in the heat and most of the United States has enough days left in front of them to grow even the Mammoth Grey Stripe that provides the largest seed harvest.
Rare beauties like the Velvet Queen Sunflower and the Lemon Queen Sunflower only take about 100 days to bloom and will happily do so in the Fall, when the garden feels sleepy. The short, whimsical stalks of Sunspot sunflower take little time and grows fast in the hot days. I grow an entire row as a edge at the top of my retaining wall and do not tire to look at the large heads.
Whatever variety you chose to grow, sunflowers require a lot of fertility to grow their best. Make sure the soil has ample moisture as well as the plants grow. They will be sturdy enough when about a foot tall to provide for themselves in all but the most strenuous drought.
Every gardener know beans love to germinate and grow in the heat of summer and can turn a crop quickly and satisfyingly.
The same applies for dry beans, but with a bit of caution: they will need a much longer season to produce the mature seeds you will be eating. Seeds need a lot more time to mature than many gardeners think and if you want to maximize your dry bean crop, you need to plan ahead.
Most dry beans need about 90 days to produce a full crop of dry pole beans and 70 days for bush beans.
As a general rule, bush dry bean will be easier to harvest than poles, as they set all their fruits at once and proceed to mature them. This means a single harvest per plant and is the reason all commercial variety of dry beans are bush. In a home garden, a pole type is usually a better choice as the total yield will be much higher.
Dry beans are comprised of a variety of different crops. In the South, cowpeas are an excellent choice as they are drought resistant and prolific. In the North, the traditional Phaseolus Vulgaris is a better choice as it tends to prefer cooler weather.
Both climates can successfully grow lima beans, although they do prefer the warmer climate of the South.
I love to eat the dry beans of my Scarlet Emperor Runner beans and I get to enjoy an ample supply of fresh green beans earlier in the season as well. If I want to have enough dry beans to store for the winter, I have to be careful. Harvesting the first “flush” of beans from a runner or pole bean will stimulate the plant to produce even more fruits, but harvesting too much will mean the beans won’t have time to mature and dry on the vines in time for fall.
Scarlet Emperor Runner bean produces large, delicious beans as well as fresh snap beans
In the end, if you want to have a double duty crop, it’s all about balance. As a general rule, I grow my snap beans and my dry beans separately and reserve most of the Scarlet Emperor runner beans for use as a dry bean and focus on the more productive bush beans for fresh eating, but if you find yourself lacking in space, having double duty plants can be beneficial. Like in all things, it will mean you have to compromise on the quantity of both, but it’s certainly an attractive option.
That's it! Do you have any other crop that you like to plant in July for a Fall and Winter Harvest? Let me know in the comments below.