Garden of Eatin' / Seeds & Seedlings

Seed Starting in the Summer

Seed starting in the summer

Lately I’ve been lamenting the fact that my friends with kids are all saying summer’s almost over, just because their kids are back in school soon. Come on, people. It’s only August! I sometimes don’t even consider it summer until this time of year, when it’s still daylight at 8 pm, the ocean is warm and my tomatoes are at their peak.

But I can’t blame ’em, since summer’s the time when we start prepping for fall in the garden. When it comes to seed starting, spring gets all the attention. Everyone is coming out of hibernation, hanging up their parkas and dusting off their trowels, eagerly approaching a new season of planting.

But truth be told, I love summer for seed starting. There’s not as much pressure to get things in the ground. You can start over with plants that didn’t do so well in spring. You can succession plant the other crops you want to keep going through fall. And you can look forward to all the cool season crops that only get better as it gets colder.

After a couple of days spent cultivating the soil, my garden looks like this right now…

Freshly amended garden beds

Raised bed ready for fall planting

Doesn’t it make you want to run out and start planting right away?! Ahhh, I love a clean slate.

While you can’t start, say, tomatoes or peppers in the summer (unless you live in a place like Hawaii, in which case, I’m jealous and not talking to you), you can start many, many other seeds right now — in August — that will grow steadily and be ready for harvest in the fall. It’s not too late!

Now is the perfect time to start more basil if yours has already begun to flower. It won’t survive through winter in most climates, but you can plan ahead and put yours in a pot to bring inside when the first frost hits.

Parsley, cilantro, dill and chives do their best in cooler weather but will germinate in warmer soil. If your summer’s rather intense for another month or so, you can start the seeds inside and transplant outside in a few weeks, mulching around the seedlings to keep the soil cool and moist.

You can also plop in a few more bush bean seeds (including edamame) and get a decent crop in fall. (Remember to account for the shorter daylight hours and lower angle of the sun as the seasons change, and plant your beans in the sunniest spot possible.)

If your zone isn’t susceptible to frost, plant fava beans now and you’ll have huge delicious pods by winter. If your zone is susceptible to frost, you don’t do much gardening in winter and you don’t even like fava beans, plant them anyway because they grow quickly and make an excellent cover crop. (And who knows, come spring when your favas start flowering and putting out pods, you might have changed your mind about them…)

In warmer climates, cucumbers and squash planted in August should give you a few good fruit before it turns too chilly. (I’ve found that Mexican Sour Gherkins, in addition to being adorable, tolerate cold better than other cukes. Last year in zone 10b, these babies were still producing for me in November and I expect the same this year from my summer-sown crop.)

If you haven’t already, sow seeds for brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, and collard greens. All members of the cabbage family actually taste sweeter if lightly kissed with frost, as the cold spurs them to produce more sugars.

As soon as you have space in the garden, sow mustard greens, spinach, chard, lettuce, kale, and peas. For microgreens from these varieties, just sow new seeds every week and you can harvest the tiny tops when they’re a week or two old.

I also love the microgreens from beets and radishes, but even if you don’t, root veggies like those (along with carrots, turnips and parsnips) should be planted right now as well. Those of us in milder regions can plant another round of root veggies a couple weeks after and enjoy two (or even three) crops over fall and winter!

While it’s still too early to plant garlic and onions, it’s always fun to figure out which varieties you want to try this year. I usually do all my garlic and onion seed shopping in the summer (especially important for unique garlic varieties, which tend to sell out by end of summer), so come October-ish when it’s time to plant, I’ll have my cloves and seeds ready to go in the ground.

What will you be planting this season?

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »