What You Can Plant in Northeast Ohio Now: How to Start a Midsummer Vegetable Garden

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Life can get in the way of gardening, especially in the spring. Graduations, kids sports, house maintenance, maybe a bout of Covid, and the next thing you know it’s July. Everyone harvests more tomatoes and zucchini than they know what to do with, and all you have are unopened bags of soil and seeds and lots of good intentions.

Luckily, now is the perfect time to plant a garden bed or two of summer vegetables that will be ready for fall and maybe even beyond. The key is to choose varieties with a relatively short grow-to-harvest time and tolerance to cooler temperatures.

According to the National Weather Service, the average first freeze in northeast Ohio occurs in early to mid-October, depending on your exact location, and can be as late as early November. That gives us at least 60 days to grow and harvest fast-growing leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach and lettuce, root vegetables like turnips, beets, carrots and radishes, and even legumes like green beans and peas which are associated with spring. All of these plants are considered cool weather crops and can be planted in July or even August for a fall harvest in 40 to 70 days, depending on the specific plant and variety. (The seed packet should contain specific information.)

Plants in the Brassica family, such as cabbage, kale, and broccoli, are also commonly recommended for fall harvest, and kale is particularly tolerant of cold temperatures. Unfortunately, the number of pests and diseases that attack these types of plants make them more difficult for novice or time-strapped gardeners to grow.

Instead, I find salad greens particularly rewarding to sow at this time of year. Their seeds will germinate quickly in the summer heat and the plants will stay cheerful and productive when cooler temperatures arrive and keep the summery flavors even as the days get shorter. Helpful reader Ray from Westlake shares that he can grow arugula (or arugula, as the English like to call it) during the winter months, and hope to copy his success this year. I saved my Swiss chard until November of last year and enjoyed its flavor and cheerful color even more in cold weather.

Another category of plants that can be sown now are herbs, which seem to double in price at the grocery store, but are easy to grow at home. Tender herbs like cilantro turn black at the first sign of frost, but grow so quickly from seed that they are still worth planting now. Hardier perennial herbs like oregano and thyme grow more slowly, so it would be better to plant seedlings instead of seeds, but once established they’ll likely survive the cold long enough for you to use them in your stuffing. Thanksgiving and come back next spring. too.

The pleasure of gardening does not stop with the first frosts either. As mentioned in the garlic scapes column a few weeks ago, garlic cloves are planted in late fall and harvested in July. So I add fresh compost and sow fall crops in my newly emptied garlic bed. Similarly, when the fall crops have finished producing, I will plant garlic in the same spot and sprout garlic sprouts in early spring. That way, no matter what surprises and distractions await me in the spring of 2023, I’ll have something growing in my vegetable garden.

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