August is the “last call” for gardeners in Minnesota to plant fall-bearing vegetables, and it is a tough time to get seeds started if the weather is hot and dry. Mulching, frequent watering, and shade are three tools we have to protect tiny seedlings emerging this month. My garden got to a slow start this year, but focusing on a bountiful autumn harvest is motivation for me to get seeds in the ground.
Without regular rainfall, crops like potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage will suffer in the heat. Keep an eye on the weather and give your plants a slow, deep drink in the morning every 2-3 days, as long as the air temperatures are high and soil is dry. This is a tricky season for seed germination, as moist, well drained soil is a big factor in seedling success. If you don’t have access to a greenhouse or don’t want to use the “milk jug” seed starting method, you can sow directly into the garden.
Shade cloth is an excellent way to protect your seed bed from the sun’s powerful rays while still allowing light through. You can make your own with light colored sheets or draperies; any thin cloth will work. You can hang it on the south side of the bed at an angle. If you need to keep pests or birds away, row covers (gauze or tulle-like fabric) and wire hoops can be a protective barrier. Just be sure to weigh down the edges with stones or dirt.
While mature plants should be allowed a few days in between heavy watering, newly planted seeds and seedlings require daily, light watering in the summer. If you use too much water, the seeds will “drown” and potentially rot before they can grow; if you use too little water, the sprout will shrivel before breaking the surface.
Minnesota typically has a first frost in early-mid October, which means we have about 60-70 days of frost free growing time left. You could potentially grow a bean plant in that time frame, but most hot weather crops are no longer an option (unless you want to experiment). You can plant beets, carrots, radishes, and other fast growing, cold hardy root vegetables, along with lettuce, kale, and some varieties of spinach. Row tunnels can help extend the life of fragile greens. There is still time to transplant pumpkin and winter squash plants as well.