Nothing’s more synonymous with a Carolina summer than getting out in the garden in a big straw hat and growing some ‘maters, cukes, squash and peppers. No matter how small your plot is, you can grow much more than that. And don’t just think about planting once this summer. There are plenty of things you can plant throughout the season to extend your garden (and your family’s health) well into the fall.
The list of fruits and veggies you can grow this season are boundless. Start in mid-April and save some room for a second or even third planting over the next few months. Refer to the planting guide below for individual crops. When the dog days are upon us and your neighbor’s garden is fading fast, you will still reap the benefits of late-season planting well into the fall. Tomatoes and eggplant in October? You betcha.
According to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, April 2 is the average day for the final frost of the season in the Charlotte area. If you aim to plant the majority of your crop around tax day, that should work fine. Beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes and turnips are some good choices.
Favorites like cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes and watermelons grow best when planted late in the season.
Along with good, weed-free soil and lots of sunlight, the single most important thing to your summer garden’s health is water. When it’s hot out and when many of us are out of town for vacation, you need a plan in place.
Whether you have an irrigation system, a rain barrel, or some small helpful hands to carry water cans, your established garden needs to be watered at least every other day.
If it hasn’t rained in awhile and it is extremely hot, it would benefit from daily waterings. See our Watering the garden “section for more info.
Insects, bugs and other pests are more active during the late summer than any other time of the year. Before reaching for seven dust that harms your veggies and your family, read our guide on Organic pest control.
Perfect conditions for growing tomatoes are also perfect conditions for growing weeds. Annoyingly, weeds (any unwanted plant) often grow faster than the plants we are trying to grow. Weeds are a problem because they compete with and often crowd out your veggies.
However annoying, you do not need to spray for weeds. Weed killers also harm veggie plants and our bodies when we eat them. Instead keep weeds from growing in the first place by mulching your garden heavily. (See our Watering the garden and Organic pest controls sections.) When weeds do pop up, simply weed by hand into a bucket and then dump into your compost pile. For larger gardens, you will need a hoe to cut the weeds off at the surface.
There’s more to gardening than just digging in the dirt, though most children enjoy finding worms and other creatures in the soil. Make sure the kids are involved with choosing seeds and plants and planning what you will grow.
If you have pests in your garden, and you will, collect and identify them in a bug book. Pulling weeds can get a little boring for all of us. Try making a game out of it. See who can fill their pail the fastest for a small prize. Just make sure they know the difference between a weed and a plant you want to keep!
Have your kids paint small stake signs identifying each crop. Popsicle sticks or wood scraps work fine. A parent can nail the stakes together. Keep a photo diary documenting your growing garden.
When it’s time to start harvesting, kids love to help judge and pick what’s ripe. Let small hands help with the cooking as well and, at summer’s end, share the tradition of canning and pickling. Pasta sauce or vegetable soup will taste much better in January when they know they helped make it themselves.
By Henry Owen with assistance from Kathy Metzo and Carol Adams