This time of year, gardens can get out of hand while the gardener is on vacation, or just plain too hot. Yet mid-to-late-summer is a super-important time for keeping your summer crops pumping, and planting the veggies you'll eat all winter. Here are some tips to keep your garden happy and yourself cool.

Thumb lettuce jericho above texturedSalad sounds great, but lettuce is a cool-season crop. Here is how to have sweet lettuce in summer: Lettuce seed goes dormant when the temps are over 80 degrees. Put your seed in the fridge for a week. Once chilled, it will think it's spring and sprout readily. Sow in the evening, water well, and make sure your planting is shaded all afternoon, either by other crops or by a structure(or shade cloth). The east or north side of some corn or tomatoes is good.

Consider using shade cloth. Plants go into shock when the air is above 90 degrees. Tomatoes will abort their fruit, green beans will stop making pods. Peppers and tomatoes will sun-scald. Shadecloth cuts down the heat while letting in enough light for good growth. It is lightweight and doesn't need elaborate support. A few outward-leaning sticks will support it over a bed of lettuce or peppers. Bamboo poles will carry it over tomatoes. A bed sheet works in a pinch, if it's open on all sides and at least a foot above the plants.

Thumb kale lacinatoMid-to-late summer is the best time to start kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and other fall veggies. But the garden is full of summer stuff and besides, it's too hot out there for kale right now. Make a nursery bed in the shade. Then they aren't in little pots getting rootbound, and you can get the whole job accomplished without going out in the sun. Plant twice as close as usual. You'll transplant your fall veggies to their permanent spots in Fall. The whole cabbage tribe thrives on transplanting—university studies show bigger & better root systems when they are transplanted once or even twice! For details:

Thumb bean dragon closeupMake one last planting of bush beans, corn, melons, and maybe even zucchini. This is the absolute best time to plant okra. Hot weather goes til October--make sure your hot-weather vegetables don't quit early.

Thumb orach auroraRight now most broccoli and peas have had it for the year. Yank them out and immediately plant something that likes heat. Or just cover the ground with straw. This saves hours of weeding. One easy alternative is to sprinkle seed for hot-weather greens in the gaps. Purslane, chard, Egyptian spinach, orach (shown left), and amaranth all sprout easily in heat.

Most important of all, remember that 15-30 minutes in the cool of the evening or with morning coffee can accomplish a lot. If you set out to do a manageable amount, you'll be enthusiastic about doing it again tomorrow.   

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