Gardener’s Notebook: story and photo by Joshua Burman Thayer
August is almost here, and your tomatoes, basil, peppers, melons, and zucchini are in full summer swagger, ready to yield food for your kitchen well into September and October. That means it’s prime time to assess your garden for open spaces and unused corners where you might be able to get a second crop before the cold nights of autumn begin to slow the pace of our California growing season.
It may seem like a radical idea, but by making room to replant in midsummer, you are pre-investing in an abundant fall. Look for the gaps and unused portions of your garden to directly sow from seeds, which with warmth and long hours of sunshine may quickly sprout, reach full height, and offer ripe abundance. It’s a way to affordably create a bonus harvest of peas and beans.
The following plants will charge up passively. All you need to do is assess, sow, and perhaps stake them once they get tall.
Italian Pole Beans: Year after year, these are a staple in my home. They can grow well in two to three crops between the months of April and October. I plant them three times in constant succession to maximize the use of my raised beds.
Sugar Snap Peas: Although peas are regarded as a winter and spring crop, I have over the years enjoyed playing with pushing those time constraints and planting them nearly year round. How, you ask? By utilizing the mixed, dappled light of existing trees and shrubs, I can get a small “grove” of peas to sprout and reach maturity in the summer heat. The indirect sunlight is adequate for the hot-dry summer months. It’s important to note that they will need nearly daily water to pull this off in summer shade.
Moringa: This African plant is a flexible, vertical grower. It’s touted as a super food and also helps foster the health of your soil. (Read about growing moringa here).
Mexican Bush Bean: Shorter than its Italian cousin, the Mexican bush bean is wonderful as a side-patch crop for dried bean collection in fall. Try seeding them 6 inches apart and soak the patch four times per week. In fall, you can collect your dry beans to have as storage provisions to add to your soups all winter.
Fall Fava: The above three stars can be incorporated into your midsummer garden to grow, trellis, and yield by the time your last tomatoes are ripening. Fava then becomes the all-important ground cover to sow into your fall garden. As you yank a spent corn or tomato plant, consider sowing some fava in its place. It serves as a placeholder of sorts in the soil structure all winter long and provide copious amounts of biomass that keeps your soil alive and productive.