The Raised Bed Summer Vegetable Garden

The summer vegetable garden is actually planted in late spring in most areas, although it may be late winter in others. Summer vegetables can be planted in spring vegetables beds which have been harvested.  Some vegetables will not tolerate cool weather at all and are planted 2 or 3 weeks after the last frost.  

Some vegetables that were listed in spring gardens can also be planted in the summer vegetable garden: asparagus, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, onion, parsley, and potato.

Some summer vegetables are “stand-alone” vegetables. They stay where you put them and don't take up extra space. Others like to wander all over the place. For those that wander, you can just let them go if you have the room. Otherwise, you will need to provide something for them to climb or cling to.  

To Climb Or Not To Climb

Pole beans, as well as bush beans, are prolific and easy to grow in your summer vegetable garden. Pole beans take longer to mature (10 weeks from planting to harvest), but they provide a steady harvest all season long. The traditional support for pole beans is  a wire support for them to climb and to plant 4 inches apart in one long row. My method is to use tomato cages stuck in the bed with the seeds planted at 4 inch intervals around it. If you really get primitive, you can stick dead tree branches in the ground and let them climb.

 Bush beans mature in 8 weeks and each plant produces one large crop all at once with a smaller crop a few weeks later. 

For faster starting, pre-soak seeds 30 minutes before planting. Make rows 4 inches apart. Poke holes in the rows at 4 inch intervals  and drop a seed in each hole. With maturity,  lift the leaves and water the roots rather than wetting the leaves.

Squash is a space-hogging vegetable. Summer squash is thin-skinned and is eaten young as they are harvested. Most varieties are bush type plants, but they need lots of room. Prepare a 3X3 foot bed, make a mound in the center of it and put in 3 seeds. Do not get the leaves wet to prevent powdery mildew. Lift the leaves and pour water directly on the roots. Harvest as soon as the blossoms wilt. Check every day. They grow rapidly. If this is worthwhile for you, plant one hill of yellow squash and one hill of zucchini. Maybe one also of the cute little patty pan squash.

Winter squash has a hard rind and can be stored for months at room temperature. It will take over your whole yard if you don't train it on a trellis. Don't harvest until the vines have been killed by frost. Leave a 2 inch stem when you harvest. Enjoy when you no longer have anything coming in from the garden. Winter squash needs to be in the ground by the end of June in most areas, 15 weeks before the first frost

Pumpkin and squash are of the same family. Pumpkins are great fun to grow, but they really need a lot of room. They can be trained on a trellis. They can also be planted near sweet corn and allowed to climb the corn if you actually have room for corn. One or two plants is enough. If you are only wanting pumpkin for making pies, try planting butternut squash instead. The last date for planting pumpkin is also 15 weeks before the first fall frost.

Climbing and Vining Vegetables

Tomatoes may be the only vegetable some people plant in their summer vegetable garden. Tomatoes can be planted in beds with a cage centered over the plant. Using a cage insures that each plant has sufficient growing room around it. They can be started from seed, but using transplants that you buy or start at home is more efficient. I use a container for my tomato, because I only plant one. If you like tomatoes, and perhaps like a variety, plant in raised beds. Set them out immediately after the last spring frost. If a surprise frost is predicted, use plastic milk jugs with the bottom cut out to cover them. Jugs can serve as little mini-greenhouses in northern climates. Take the cap off during the day and replace at night. Be sure to plant a couple of marigolds with each tomato plant.

Cucumbers and cantaloupes, as well as other melons, belong to the same family (cucumis). Do not plant the cucumbers and cantaloupes too close together or they will cross pollinate. I know this from personal experience. One year I had cantaloupes that had a distinct cucumber taste to them!

Plant cucumber, from seeds or transplants, in full sun, 6 inches apart. Water often in hot summer, once or twice a week. Don't let the soil dry out. Let them run over the ground if you have room, or train them on a trellis. They don't climb well on their own, but if you get them started by wrapping the tendrils around the wire, they will climb. Four or five plants will provide most families all they need for the summer.

Cantaloupe is the easiest of melons to grow in a summer vegetable garden. Give the plants plenty of room. Let them run or provide a trellis. I use a tomato cage.

Melons can be prey to several insects and diseases. The young plants can be protected under milk jugs with the bottoms removed. Leave the cap off. Make a slit in the handle of the jug and shove a stick through it to hold the jug down in wind.

If your vines are on the ground, raise the fruit off the ground when they start to mature to keep pill bugs and other pests from feeding on them. Garden stores sell a little wire basket for that purpose, or you can use an old pan or dish.

Keep melon plants well watered when they are young, but let the soil dry when the fruits are ripening. Since cantaloupes are harvested when the fruit is completely ripe, save some seed for next year's crop.

Watermelon develops deep roots, so they can handle drought better than other melons. Also, they are more resistant to insects. You will probably only want one or two plants, so you might as well buy a start from the nursery. Your watermelon plant will need lots of space and lots of warmth. Sugar Baby variety is my favorite since it is small and sweet. Trellis it if you need to.

Standing Alone Plants For Your Summer Vegetable Garden 

I haven't grown sweet corn (yet) in my summer vegetable garden because it is quite a large plant. Some gardeners tell me that they leave 12 to 14 inches between plants. Others who use square foot gardening methods say you can plant them 4 plants to each square. Corn needs very warm weather. If you plant it too soon the seeds will rot in the ground. You can start them indoors, put be prepared to transplant them into the ground as soon as they sprout. They grow amazingly fast. I know this because I watch my neighbor's field corn every summer. Corn can be planted in succession until 15 weeks before the last frost. That is by the end of June in my area.

Eggplant is another staple in the summer vegetable garden. Put out your transplants 3 weeks after the last frost. Leave 12 inches around each plant. If there is a hint of cool weather in the forecast, cover the little plants with plastic gallon milk jug with the bottom cut out. Leave the lid on at night, remove during the day. Use an organic homemade spray if flea beetles are a problem.

For no-see-ums or barely-see-ums make a pest spray by adding 12 garlic cloves to a quart of water in a blender along with one tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Blend, then bring to a boil on the stove or microwave.  Cool down, and put in a spray bottle. 

Being a southern girl, I love okra. It is a tall plant, (there are short varieties), but I make room for a dozen plants. Plant seeds one inch deep, 12 inches apart, 2 weeks after the last frost. Keep soil moist and mulch when the weather gets really hot. After the flowers have bloomed, the pods grow very fast. Check every day. If the pods get long and hard, they are inedible (save those for next year's seed). When harvesting, use nippers or a knife to remove the pods. If you try to pull them, you may damage the plant.

A tip from my brother: Whenever you remove an okra pod, Snip of a leaf from the bottom of the plant. The okra pod forms at the site of new growth. It does not need all those leaves using up the energy. (I know, the leaves create energy from sunlight. But they use the energy to build new plant material. The bottom leaves just slow down the process.)

There are many varieties of peppers for the summer vegetable garden; sweet, hot and everything in between. Put out started plants 2 weeks after the last frost, 12 inches around each plant. Harvest carefully so as not to damage the plant.

Do you have some good photos of your summer vegetable garden? An idea or a solution to share? How do you support your climbing plants? Share them!

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