Back to school gardening!

Welcome back to school! Summer is such a brief window of time, and there are few days even during the summer when the school is completely empty. However, for most regions, June and July are bountiful months for the garden. This is when the big, juicy, sweet summer veggies (or botanically-speaking, fruits, since they contain seeds) come into their prime. Tomatoes. Summer squash (including zucchini, yellow crookneck, patty pan). Winter squash (named as such because they store well so can be saved to eat in the cold season, but are still harvested during the summer) like pumpkin, butternut, acorn and delicata. Eggplants. Green beans.

If your garden was well-tended over the summer, you should be harvesting the tail end of these crops and waiting on the sweet potatoes to grow a bit more and sweeten up for a fall harvest. If untended over the summer, be ready for a treasure hunt! It’s quite possible that there are some choice veggies ready to harvest amidst the weeds. And it’s just as likely that this summer’s long dry spells and recent rains have done in all the veggies, leaving thriving plots of weeds. What to do?

A couple choices:

  • Selectively weed beds, carefully cleaning out unwanted plants and leaving the plants you want unharmed. Pro: rescue surviving vegetables and able to plant any open areas immediately. Con: Time consuming.
  • Dig out everything that’s growing for an immediate fresh start; add some compost and plant some seeds. Pro: instant gratification and ready to plant.  Con: might lose a few veggies.
  • Cover everything with a couple layers of cardboard and about 4” of wheat straw. Then when you are ready to plant, use seedlings and just clear a patch of straw and punch a hole in the cardboard to snuggle your plant safely into the soil. Pro: Very low labor input. Con: Need to buy wheat straw (can do just with cardboard, but not as aesthetically pleasing). Can’t direct seed.

Remember to replenish your soil for fall crop success. Add compost from your classroom worm bin (What? You don’t have one? Here are directions for starting your own with few buckets). Otherwise, top your beds with about a quarter inch of compost for direct seeding, or add a quarter cup of compost with each transplant as you plant.  

Alternatively, build soil by planting cover crops. For a raised bed, a couple handfuls of buckwheat (typically available at natural foods stores, make sure to choose the unhulled seeds) can be scattered on top of the soil and raked in for a lush green cover within three weeks.

August is a great time to plant seeds for fall crops. Leafy greens like kale, collards and mustard greens thrive and root crops like carrots and radishes thrive this time of year. Check out our School Planting Calendar for more details (outside of Metro Atlanta, enter your zip code here for your local planting information)

Make sure to plant spinach to participate in Georgia Organics Leaf it to Spinach activities for October Farm to School Month! Register here for Leaf it to Spinach activities and challenges!