Garden Notes: Second crops can be planted in the last half of August

“Pull some, plant some.”

That’s Eliot Coleman’s working order on his Maine (Zone 5) organic farm. He wrote “The Winter Harvest Handbook” and explains his method of producing vegetables 10 months out of the year.

“Pull some, plant some” means that every plant has room to grow until it stops producing. Then it’s composted, and the area garden soil is aerated and fertilized before a new planting takes place.

His practice has the additional benefit of lessening the chance of pathogens lurking in the old plant, where they can gather strength to create diseases in other crops.

Here in Blair County, we have about 118 frost-free days every growing season, so why not try out Mr. Coleman’s theory?

The National Climatic Data Center says we have a 50 percent chance of a first frost by Oct. 13 and a 90 percent chance by Oct. 25.

The best time to start second crops is the last half of August. It’s bound to be cooler than July, so vegetables that thrive in cool temperatures will enjoy the warm soil when first seeded and the lower temperatures as autumn arrives.

First thing to check is days-to-maturation for your succession crop. In Zone 5, Coleman adds 10 to 14 days to the maturation date to compensate for less sunlight as the days get shorter.

Spinach grows quickly and, in Blair County, seems to be a favored second crop. But peas, beans, beets and chard could fit within our frost-free window. If peas are your vegetable of choice, Coleman recommends bush peas, because they mature more quickly than climbers.

If you’re planting seeds, keep the heat of the August sun in mind and plant them twice as deep as you do in spring. Most cool weather vegetables won’t be able to germinate if the soil temperature is 80 degrees or more.

It’s a good idea to provide some shade for second crops, and just about anything that casts a shadow will help cool the area.

If, like Coleman, you use garden fabric to provide shade for your August seedlings, it will be handy should you need to offer some protection from an early October frost. Some gardeners start fall crops indoors or in a greenhouse. But if you check area garden centers, they usually have transplants of cold weather crops for sale.

I’ve planted bean seeds when other vegetables have exhausted themselves or died of thirst as a result of my erratic watering habits. Beans like warm and well- drained soil and, in return, deliver an extra measure of nitrogen to the soil. For the past several years, I’ve used Fortex beans which are stringless, and produce mildly sweet 10- to 12-inch bean pods. They produce right up to the first frost.

I like the look of the vines overwhelming the teepee poles, and I like the security of knowing I’m not going to be startled by a garden snake when I mistake it for a bush bean.

Contact Teresa Futrick at