Extend the season in the veggie garden

Vegetable plants are difficult to find this time of year and pickings in the garden centers are growing increasingly thin.

Midway through the season, however, we don’t have to stop planting. In fact, we can continue to plant in the vegetable garden for several weeks.

Mid-summer doesn’t mean it’s all over when the last green bean is harvested.

Those vegetables that are harvested first, particularly lettuce, chard, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, scallions and green beans, can all be replanted for a late summer harvest. In the case of lettuce and other greens, many are ready for harvest in less than 30 days and can be planted in succession all season long. No one said we had to plant our vegetable garden on Memorial Day weekend and consider it finished.

If you started many of your plants from seeds, chances are you still have plenty left, especially varieties of lettuce and other greens. If you’re like me, you can’t just buy one variety and must try several so you end up with several seed packets because there wasn’t enough space for all of them in the first planting.

If that’s the case and the green beans, peas or potatoes aren’t finished with their harvest, start a flat or two indoors and have plants ready to go in the ground when there is available space in the garden. Other fast growing vegetables, such as radishes and scallions can be started from seed and will be ready for harvest before the end of the season.

It’s also time to think about fall vegetables that can take a few cool nights, such as kale, chard and collards and the brassicas, such as broccoli and cauliflower. The idea is to have something ready to go into the garden as soon as something else comes out.

Successive planting means to keep filling garden space as things are used. If you can’t use all of it, there are ways to preserve many things for the winter, particularly by freezing or in the case of many herbs, by drying.

Mix them up by putting your favorite herb combinations in bags and freeze them for an easy bouquet garni when the days grow cold and the thought of soup for dinner is comforting. Here are some of my favorite methods of preserving produce and herbs from my garden:

Puree mixtures of herbs, such as basil, oregano, garlic, onions and marjoram in the food processor and freeze them ice cube trays. Pop the frozen herb cubes out of the tray’s cells and put them in freezer bags. I use them in scrambled eggs, soups and stews, and meat marinades all winter.

Instead of taking a lot of time to process tomatoes, particularly the smaller Italian Roma tomatoes, after washing, I put them whole into gallon-size bags and put them right in the freezer. When I’m ready to use them, I put them in a colander and run them under warm water. The skins will easily slip off and if desired, they can be diced or pureed for any number of dishes. Bigger tomatoes can be diced and frozen this way as well.

Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and beans are easily frozen but should be quickly blanched before putting into bags. This takes a little longer than just putting into bags, but not much. Boil a big pot of water and drop the washed vegetables in to boil for about three minutes. Plunge them into ice cold water for another three minutes and then put into the bags or containers for freezing.

Unfortunately I haven’t figured out a way to preserve tender greens, such as lettuce and spinach, so I only grow what I think I will use and then toss what I don’t use onto the compost pile. It makes me feel better to know they aren’t going into a trash bag to end up in a landfill but instead will decompose and feed the soil for next year’s garden. I have, however, frozen kale.