In Western Washington, it's always gardening season

August 14, 2013 

Despite our cool weather outside of summer months, you really can have a year-round vegetable garden.

You can plant a second harvest this week by seeding a winter crop of kale, herbs, cabbage and carrots.

The trick to harvesting vegetables all year long is to cover the soil with a shade cloth in the summer to keep it cool right after you plant your summer seed.

For a winter harvest, cover your crops with a hoop house or clear plastic tunnel in late fall to protect your salad greens from the cold. These row covers are called “season extenders,” and in the mild winter climate of Western Washington you can enjoy freshly grown vegetables almost year-round.

A good source of harvest and planting supplies can be found online at gardeners.com or ask for a catalog by calling 800-427-3363

The middle of August is also tomato time. This has been a great year for tomato growers in Western Washington with a few exceptions:

Question: Why are my tomatoes splitting and cracking? They seem to be finally turning red but then are ruined before I can bring them indoors. — J., email

Answer: Do you get the tomatoes wet when you water? Anything you can do to keep rain or sprinkler water off the tomatoes skin will help to keep the fruit crack-free. Tomatoes are also picky about how often they get water. A consistent supply of water keeps the fruit from cat-facing or developing multiple cracks on the blossom end of the fruit. A mulch of wood chips two inches thick will help keep the moisture in the soil at consistent levels.

Q. Should I cut the tops off my tomato plants so that the green fruit will ripen sooner? My neighbors have red tomatoes but mine are still all green! — Green with Envy

A. Beheading your tomato vines is not necessary to speed ripening. The variety of tomato and the night temperatures get most of the credit for early ripening. Small fruited tomatoes such as Sweet 100 and yellow-skinned or pear-shaped tomatoes ripen sooner than large beefsteak varieties that require more hot nights to sweeten up and turn red. If your tomatoes are still green when a frost threatens in the fall, you can harvest them early and store the green fruit indoors in a cool dry spot until the tomatoes turn red and ripen.

Q. Every summer my lettuce grows tall and starts to flower. Then the leaves taste bitter. Is there a way to stop this from happening? R.Email

A. Lettuce hates warm weather so “lettuce” be practical. Growing lettuce and other leafy greens such as kale and spinach in a shaded spot or even draping the plants with a shade cloth will keep the foliage tender for a few extra weeks in the summer, but once August arrives your salad days are over. At the end of this month you can plant a fresh crop of salad greens from seed and harvest a fall crop of quick-growing leaf lettuce and spinach. Meanwhile, enjoy a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers from your summer garden.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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