The best time of year is when the highlight of the garden is the summer crops. The days get warmer and it doesn’t cool down during the night. The lettuce, spinach and peas that were great for the cool weather of spring are passing their peak. Some will bolt and go into seed production, which is okay if you want to save seeds for next year, but they are no longer edible. Most just stop producing and the flavor is no longer acceptable. It is time to remove the remains of those crops and make room for the heat-loving summer crops.
Summer crops thrive in the heat. They grow in size much faster than when it’s cool, and they start to set fruit. Most of the things you grow in the summer are also able to be stored for the winter by freezing, canning or drying. Of course, the best is eating fresh vegetables straight out of the garden. Here are some vegetables that you can enjoy in the summer.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes are number one in so many ways. For gardeners, that first ripe tomato is proof that you are a good gardener, and if you are ahead of your fellow gardeners, you’ve gained bragging rights for the season! Sun-ripened tomatoes justify the work of the garden for sure. Hopefully, you are growing a few different varieties of tomatoes and enjoying the subtle differences in flavors to determine your particular favorite. If you have some heirloom tomatoes in your garden, you are in for a big treat. The sizes, shapes and colors are so varied and the flavors are just as unique.
- Peppers. The peppers are in their glory once it heats up. These plants hate the cold–even more than the tomatoes do. If you had a cold spring, your pepper plants probably looked like they might not make it, but as soon as it gets warm, peppers make a complete recovery and thrive. Peppers not only are very productive, but they are one of the prettiest plants in the garden. There are so many peppers to choose from so this is a good one to plant in many varieties. Include some sweet bell peppers and then go for the heat!! Choose peppers in your comfort range of heat. Salsa, here we come!
- Cucumbers. Hopefully you planted some cucumber seeds in your garden. They love the summer heat as long as you provide enough water when there isn’t rain. Cucumbers can be left to just ramble on the ground, but they do best if grown vertically on a trellis or lines. That keeps the cucumbers clean and it makes them easier to pick. Trellising also takes less space, making room for other crops. Eat your cucumbers plain, fresh from the garden, or make a cucumber salad. If you have more than you can eat, make pickles!
- Squash. There are two main categories of squash: winter squash and summer squash. Winter squash is the type of squash you can store for use in the winter months, like acorn squash, crookneck and delicata. These squash stay on the vine until the fall harvest. Summer squash is the zucchini-type squash which does not keep well. All squash plants need the warm summer months to grow and produce fruit. Summer squash produces early and continues throughout the growing season. We have all seen the zucchini someone brings to work to give away. Some are the size of logs, but that is okay. They can still be shredded and used for things like zucchini bread. Ideally, the summer squash will be picked regularly and used in stir-fry or added to the grilled vegetables when cooking outdoors.
- Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes used to be a Southern crop only. They need a long growing season that isn’t possible in the north. That has all changed with the development of sweet potato varieties with a shorter growing season. Now all gardeners can grow sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are grown from sweet potato slips, which look like a piece of stem. They do need space to spread out and can be successfully grown in a large pot.
- Beans. There are so many varieties of beans to choose from. Besides the usual green and yellow beans, there are pink podded beans and purple beans, as well as others. Some varieties are bush beans and some are pole beans. Beans are delicious straight from the garden, but they also preserve easily for winter use. Beans have large seeds so they are very easy to plant. They take very little attention while growing and each plant produces an amazing amount of beans to enjoy.
All the summer crops are in their glory right now. Check them often and pick your vegetables when they are at their peak. Enjoy!