Enjoy summer's bounty of fresh vegetables


Many backyard gardens are bursting with crops of beans, tomatoes, onions, green pepper, zucchini, squash, corn, radishes, leeks, parsley, sweet potatoes, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and more.

There are a few vegetables that you can keep sowing to keep your garden going until frost. These include Chinese cabbage, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, winter radishes, turnips, and kohlrabi.

Chinese cabbage, also known as celery cabbage, grows in more of a stalk than a ball. Look for seeds developed for a fall crop, and start them in the summer.

Fresh lettuce - especially red leaf lettuce - is always a hit at our house. You can harvest the leaves as often as you like. To keep more room in the garden, cut every other plant down to ground level.

Mustard greens make a salad interesting, not only with their flavor, but with their ruffled leaves. They grow quickly and thrive in the cooler, moist conditions of the fall. Gardeners can harvest the entire plant or pick off a few leaves at a time.

Spinach is another leafy vegetable that grows well in the cool weather of spring or late fall. Hot summer heat makes the plants form premature seed stalks as a way to survive extreme temperatures. University experts recommend refrigerating spinach seeds for a week or two before planting in the late summer or fall. Stretch your fresh spinach season even longer by protecting the tender leaves from frost with mulch or cold frames.

Winter radishes mature slower than spring radishes, but grow bigger and stay fresh longer. Winter radishes look like long, fat carrots. They usually have a stronger taste than the spring variety.

Turnips occupy a small but interesting corner of our garden. Rutabagas and turnips are easy to grow and can be harvested until winter. The greens can be steamed like spinach and cabbage or used in salads like chard and Chinese cabbage. They are ready to harvest when they are about three inches in diameter. Sometimes cool weather will sweeten their flavor.

Kohlrabi, sometimes called a stem turnip, tastes like a mild, white turnip. Some gardeners also like to toss its edible foliage into their salad mixture. The key to good-tasting kohlrabi is to harvest it when it is small. University of Illinois experts recommend pulling or cutting it at ground level when the stems are about an inch in diameter.

I like to turn one of my spring flower boxes into a fall vegetable garden. It becomes a great project for the kids. I fill it with lettuce, mustard, and radish seeds, and let the children tend to the watering and weeding. The kids will eat the salad harvested from their own garden. The best time to pick your bounty is in the cool morning, storing it as soon as possible to hold its best flavor. Think about planting a cover crop of after you have picked your garden clean.