If you want to harvest salad greens through fall, you need to sow lettuces, spinach, arugula and mustard greens in late summer. The only problem? These crops germinate inconsistently in warm soil. Luckily this conundrum is easily solved if you shade the soil with burlap before you plant.
What to plant now:
In most part of the country, late August through early September is a good time to sow spinach, arugula, Asian greens like bok choy and tatsoi, broccoli rabe, mustard greens, and lettuces.
How to cool the soil:
When soil temperatures heat up over 70 degrees, seeds of cool season greens often have trouble germinating. Get around this problem by shading the soil with burlap before you plant. In my garden, I've been using burlap table runners leftover from our neighbor Chelsea's wedding last fall. The runners are the perfect width for planting a thick strip of salad greens and Chelsea was glad to see them reused. She purchased rolls of burlap at a hardware store and you could do the same. Or, you can often pick up burlap bags for free from coffee shops.
Water the soil well (you want the water to soak in at least 6 to 8 inches) and then cover the area with a piece of burlap. Tack the corners down with U-shaped landscape fabric staples. The burlap shades the soil and also helps keep it moist. After one week, peel the burlap back and sow seeds in the cooler soil underneath. Water the seeds in with a gentle stream from a watering can. If you like, you can lay the burlap back over the newly sown seeds, as it will help them stay moist as they germinate. Keep the burlap damp and check under it daily. As soon as you see little green sprouts poking up out of the soil, take off the burlap and expose the seedlings to the sunlight. This strategy makes direct sowing into the garden when it is hot and dry so much less frustrating and it is super effective.
Note: If your fall cools down fast, skip sowing seeds and plant starts instead because they mature faster. If you plant starts you do not need to cool down the soil.
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Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Vegetable Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)