Fair season is here, meaning a plethora of summer vegetables will be harvested and presented in groupings on paper plates. These vegetable harvests are judged for their pristine appearance and the young gardener’s knowledge of growing.
To many gardeners, late summer is the time to replant and start their new fall garden of cooler season crops. According to University of Illinois Extension educator Bill Davison, carrots can be planted as late as the last week of July and radishes, arugula, spinach and lettuces can still be planted as late as the third week of August. The following crops are not only late season edibles but have high ornamental value.
After comparing the growth pattern of basil grown from seed versus a plant, you may change the way you start growing basil in the future. Basil started from seed is more likely to form thickets of delectable leaves than the flowers. It's not too late to start another crop of basil especially since the heavy Japanese beetle population may have already decimated your summer stand.
Although, basil will not withstand frost it can withstand temperatures into the 40s. When temperatures drop harvest the entire crop and make pesto. Basil can be planted through the last week of July.
Try growing a new green like Chinese vegetable bok choy. In the cabbage family, bok choy has shiny leaves atop a green or white bulbous base. Depending on variety, bok choy grows 1 to 2 feet tall and will grow in partial shade. Bok choy started by seed yields a harvest in 8-10 weeks, but started by transplants yields a 4-6 week harvest. The benefit of seeding is growers can nibble as they thin plants. Bok choy can be planted until the third week of August.
A hearty and impressive-looking green, kale thrives in fall’s cooler temperatures. Select several different varieties, like Lacinato, Red Russian and Curly Leaf varieties to add texture and interest. Kale tastes better when leaves are harvest at a size 4 inches or less. Allow some leaves to grow large for the ornamental value and harvest the youngest for dinner.
This garden favorite develops show stopping pink, red, yellow, white, or orange stems sure to brighten any dish. Swiss chard grows 12 to 18 inches tall with delightful dark green, wrinkled leaves you can harvest at any time for salads or cooking.
Beets work well in combination with greens and flowers. Most gardeners may have are planted beets as early spring crop, but plant again in mid-summer for a fall harvest. Do not forget that beet leaves (greens) are also edible, and boast a bright red midrib on shiny green leaves.
When harvesting leaves, don't take more than half the plant to ensure proper root growth. Deep red orbs can be harvested in 6-8 weeks. Swiss chard and beets should be planted until the last week of July.
University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Candice Hart encourages gardeners to use these leafy greens for their ornamental value in mixed containers.