Weather Records, Endless Broccoli Bliss, and Summer Sowing

by Doug Muller

Ah, mid-July. By this time of year the garden is typically chugging away, cranking out food and beginning the crescendo toward late summer's bounty. However, 2009 has proven to be an especially challenging growing year, and the tomato lovers among us are all anxiously awaiting some heat. (Did you know that NYC has not hit 85 degrees a single time since May? This was one of the four coldest Junes on record--and it's been seventy years since the last such June in the city!)

Speaking of weather records, any struggling gardeners in the Mid-Hudson Valley can take heart in the news that this was the wettest June on record in nearly 120 years of record-keeping at the Mohonk Mountain House (Click here to read a PDF with more details.) We received nearly fourteen inches of rain in June--almost ten inches more than normal! Thankfully, soils are beginning to dry out with our recent stretch of drier weather--but dig down a bit, as we did yesterday to set some gate posts, and you'll find that the subsoil remains totally sodden. Are your plants looking a bit pale yellow? Somewhat stunted? These are common symptoms of waterlogged gardens. Unfortunately, there's little to do about it if you have a heavy soil; all we can do is cross our fingers for a sustained dry spell--and some heat for our nightshades!

In the meantime, we hope you all are enjoying July's treats. One of our favorite crops from the July garden is broccoli, and we've recently been enjoying the sweet, soft, succulent melt-in-your-mouth delight that is freshly picked Piracicaba Broccoli. We first discovered this variety a few years ago in the FEDCO catalog, and were instantly won over. The taste is phenomenal--sweeter and juicier than any other broccoli we've grown. It also produces tons of side shoots, which means that by harvesting the emerging florets you can remain in broccoli for the rest of the summer. However, if you miss a day or two of plucking off all the shoots, you're done for: the plant quickly flowers and the side shoot production pretty much stops.

Of course, we're growing for seed, which means we have to resist, with much anguish, harvesting the tender spears. We've selected a couple plants to be our "eating broccolis," mostly because they're the weakest looking plants in the plot and we don't want them to reproduce. But the rest are currently resplendent in yellow, their snappy flowers giving a yellow mist to the broccoli corner of the field.

Broccoli is a twice-a-year crop. To get big new heads in the fall means summer sowing. Broccoli seed should be sown right now--no later than the third week of July, for sure. For a fall garden, timely sowing is critical: the day length will soon begin to diminish and plant growth will slow with the shorter days and cooler nights (though, frankly, they've been awfully cool this whole summer so far...). So, in addition to the broccoli, seeds for the following crops ought to be sown right now in order to get good yields in the fall garden: last round of summer squash, last round of cukes, snap beans, beets, chard, early cabbages (such as Early Jersey Wakefield), kale, collards, lettuce, scallions, parsley, cilantro, and Asian greens. Several of these crops--the Asian Greens, lettuce, scallions, and cilantro--can be sown until late July/early August, when many direct sown crops are seeded, too: radishes, spinach, turnips, lettuces, and more. Yes, it can be hard to say no to the weeding and cleaning that is so necessary this time of year--but trust me, taking an afternoon to sow an array of fall crops will pay off in a long, delicious bounty of green veggies, usually lasting until the new year.

So, enjoy the broccoli--keep on sowing--and cross your fingers for some heat.

Stay seedy! --Doug