Planting Vegetables in July

If you’ve missed out on planting a vegetable garden this year, or if the garden you planted is beginning to slow down, it’s not too late to plant a second crop for fall harvesting.

The month of July is an excellent time to plant vegetables that will mature in 50-70 days because they will have enough time to complete their growing cycle before cold weather sets in.  Planting now bypasses huge swings in temperatures and too much rainfall (in a normal year!).  The soil temperature is ideal and many early season pests and diseases are less of an issue.

Cucumbers germinate quickly from seed but plant them away from potatoes and aromatic herbs like basil and sage.  Provide some sort of support as they need a place for the vines to anchor.

Green beans, the bush variety, planted around the outer edges of a vegetable or flower bed, will look like a border.  They don’t like to be planted near basil, fennel, kohlrabi or onions.

Lettuce likes a little shade, so plant it where it gets morning sun and some afternoon shade.  Lettuce seeds germinate quickly and many varieties are ready to eat in 25-30 days after planting.  To have leaf lettuce continuously, plant seeds again a couple of weeks after the first planting.  Head lettuce will take a little longer and be ready to pick in about 60 days.

Kale is another super healthy green leaf plant that germinates quickly and can be reseed every two to three weeks.  Check the seed packet for days to mature and plan your last seeding so the plants mature about three weeks after last frost.

If you love spinach salad or put it in your smoothies, growing your own gives you a continuous supply all through summer and into fall if you plant more seeds every few weeks. Spinach will appreciate a little afternoon shade.

Heat loving plants like tomatoes and peppers need the heat of mid-summer to ripen their fruit, so they won’t be good veggies to plant now.

Fantastic Tomatoes

I’m starting to see little yellow flowers on my tomato plants, so it’s time to get out the Epsom salts and fertilizer so I’ll have tons of delicious tomatoes in a few weeks.

Epsom Salts

Why Epsom salts, you might ask.  Epsom salts improve flower blooming and enhance a plant’s green color.  It is made of hydrated magnesium sulfate which is important to healthy plant growth. Magnesium helps plants take up valuable nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  Plant leaves green up because magnesium helps create chlorophyll.

Apply Epsom salts as a folliar spray after the first bloom and fruit set.  Add one tablespoons of Epsom salts to one gallon of water and spray the entire plant.


Magnesium is not the only nutrient tomatoes need though.  They also need Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K).  Whether you use a granular or liquid fertilizer is a matter of preference, but you might want to use organic fertilizers on your food crops. For tomatoes, fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous and potassium is recommended.

Finding the right fertilizer can be challenging as each producer seems to have a different ratio of N-P-K.  Try different ones till you find what works best for your plants or check out what gardeners online are using.  Always follow the makers recommendations for how much and how often to use.

Granular fertilizers dissolve slowly and provide a steady stream of nutrients.  Spread them around the base of the plant a little away from the stem, scratch into the soil, and follow with a good watering.

Liquid fertilizers like fish emulsion or powders you add to water are good to drench the soil.  Be sure to follow recommendations on the bottle or box for frequency.

Worm Castings work wonders for vegetable plants as they are organic and produced by earthworms.  Basically worm manure, worm castings improve soil aeration and drainage as well as increase water retention.  They contain all the essential nutrients that plants need in addition to enriching the soil.

Other Manures – Chicken and horse manure (usually mixed with straw or hay and well composted) work wonders for plants and soil.  Be sure it is not fresh as it could burn the plants.


Where Did Barbecue Originate?

No one really knows for sure where barbeque came from, but the theory is that Spanish ships visiting the Caribbean called the natives’ method of slow-cooking meat over a wood platform barbacoa.

By the 19th century, the tradition had made its way to the American South and because pigs were plentiful, pork became the primary meat.  Traditionally, barbecue required three things, the meat, smoke, and a sauce.  Barbecue was a dietary staple to impoverished southerners, who often ate it with fried okra and sweet potatoes. It is still considered “soul food”.

The four main styles of barbecue in America are named after their place of origin, namely Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, and Texas.  Memphis is famous for pulled pork-shoulder doused in sweet tomato-based sauce and eaten as a sandwich. North Carolina smokes the whole hog in a vinegar-based sauce.  Kansas City natives prefer ribs cooked in a dry rub, and Texans prefer beef (duh!). Texas is divided into East and West styles.  Because East Texas is closer to Tennessee, their favorite is pulled pork.  West Texas leans toward mesquite-grilled “cowboy style” brisket.

Other countries have their versions also.  Korean barbecue is made with thin slices of beef or pork cooked and served with rice.  Argentina has asado, a marinade-free meat cooked in a smokeless pit.  Mongolian barbecue, which is neither barbecue or Mongolian, is a kind of stir fry where you select the meats, vegetables, spices, and sauces you want for your dish and it is then cooked on a very hot grill.

True barbecue is distinctly American and a traditional Fourth of July treat.  If you want to see what Montana barbecue is like, join us at the 16th Annual Montana BBQ Cook-Off tomorrow (Sunday, June 24 in Absarokee).

Get Out of the Kitchen Quicker

With the weather heating up, most of us don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen every day, but there are ways to shortcut food preparation that will get you out of the kitchen quickly.

Do Ahead Ingredient Prep

Take time to chop, slice, and dice vegetables you use frequently like onions, peppers, radishes, celery, lettuce, and cucumbers and store them till needed.  Add marinade to meats and store in refrigerator, then freeze.

Cook a Weeks Meals in One Day

Sure, you don’t want to give up an evening, Saturday, or Sunday cooking, but if it meant you didn’t have to cook the rest of the week would it be worth it?  Create a menu for fast and easy dinners and do all your shopping. Make sure you have the storage bags/containers for freezer/refrigerator/microwave. On the day you choose to prepare the meals, gather all the ingredients, make each night’s main dish, and freeze it.

Use Work Saving Appliances

To cut up vegetables, use a food chopper or a device that lets you place the veggie on a cutting screen, push down the lid and voila! chopped onions, apples, peppers, and lots more.  Small chopping appliances also work well and quickly.  A stand mixer speeds up prep time for batters, bread, whip cream, and much more.

Blenders and Food Processors

Place blocks of cheese in the food processor (one at a time) and grate for fresher, better tasting cheese without additives and fillers.  Food processors are great for making hummus, sauces, and nut butters.  They allso work well for grating carrots, cabbage, and “riceing” cauliflower.

Food Storage

Nothing beats a supply of Ball canning jars for food storage.  You can see ingredients at a glance and they make sizes to fit every need.  Easy clean up in the dishwasher and no worries about chemicals leaking into your food.  Canning jars can go in the freezer and microwave too.  Store grains, nuts, flours, sugars, cinnamon sticks, and anything else that you want to be able to grab quickly without hunting for it.  Use the small size for spices as it’s easier to open a lid than fight with a spice jar cap, box, or bag.

Grilling Tools and Accessories

Having the right tools can make grilling a much more efficient task, and with some of the latest technological gadgets you could even control what is happening at the grill from your smart phone.

Grill Sets

If you are a serious grill master, you will have a set of tools to handle what’s cooking on the grill. You can buy the tools individually or buy a set that includes several.  Some basics are a fork, a basting brush, sharp knife, spatula, and tongs (best or meats like steak and chicken so juices don’t run out).  Stainless steel will last you the longest and be easy to clean and you may want a steak thermometer also.

Baskets & Racks

Depending on what you grill, you may want some grill baskets to keep food from falling through the grate.  There are round baskets with lids, square connected racks, and skillet like pans with holes in them to allow heat in.  Baskets are great for chopped vegetables, shrimp, tomatoes and other small items.  The racks are great for corn, lobster, chicken fingers, and whole fish.

Mats and Grates

Mats are great when you are camping or just want to grill foods you wouldn’t normally grill like bacon, eggs, or pancakes.  A cast iron sear grate lets you get grill marks on your food without having to rotate it.  You can even find stainless steel steam trays to use on the grill.

Bluetooth Thermometer

These interesting thermometers connect with your smart phone through Bluetooth and with the application, let you monitor what’s happening on the grill from a distance, but it only works if your signal remains active.  Most Bluetooth thermometers come with one probe, but you can usually buy additional ones to add so that you know which one is in which piece of meat when you are grilling different meats.


If your grill stays outside, you may want to consider a water resistant cover to protect it from the weather.  Grill covers can block dirt, water and sun from your gas grill and come in a variety of fabrics like polyester and marine grade outdoor

Crop Rotation in the Home Garden

Plan to practice crop rotation. That is, don’t plant vegetables in the same place where you planted them last year. Each vegetable uses different minerals in the soil, so planting the same vegetables in the same spot each year will provide you with weaker slower producing vegetables as the soil won’t have the needed nutrients.

Move Them Each Year

Best practice is to move your vegetables to another spot every year for three years and add compost to the garden in the fall and spring. Next, where vegetables have depleted the soil, plant cover crops in the fall that replenish the nutrients in the soil.


For example, tomatoes need high nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, so don’t plant them where you grew potatoes, peppers and eggplant because these plants have used up the nutrients the tomatoes need.

Peas and Beans

Nitrogen fixing plants such as peas and beans take nitrogen from the air and store it in the plant’s roots. When the plant is done producing and dies, the nitrogen is released into the soil for the plants that follow. Planting winter cover crops such as clover, annual rye, or winter peas will also replenish nutrients to the soil. Cover crops can then be turned under in your garden, or you can cut them back and plant new plants right through them.

Prevent Disease

Another reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time and cause crop failure. Also, rotating crops helps reduce insect infestations.

Track Your Plantings Each Year

Divide your garden into sections and plant a different plant family in each section every year. Suggested groups would be (1) plants grown for leaves or flowers, such as salad greens and broccoli; (2) plants grown for fruits such as tomatoes and peppers; (3) plants grown for roots such as carrots and onions, (4) plants that feed the soil such as peas, beans and cover crops.

For a very handy four step rotation plan check out this website:


How to Become a Grillmaster

The first thing in becoming a grill master is to have the right grill.  Consider things like how often do you grill?  Do you like the flavor of charcoal or would a gas grill suit your needs better? Consider what you grill.  Are you simply a meat griller, or do you have a vast array of delicious vegetables and meats that you grill often?

Clean the Grate

 Start with a clean grill. Leftover bits of meat and vegetables aren’t going to enhance your food.  An easy way to clean is to brew a full pot of coffee.  Pour it into a basin and soak your grill grates for 60-75 minutes.  Give them a quick scrub; rinse with warm water and they’ll be good as new.

Grilling Basics

Oil the grate with a paper towel soaked in olive oil. This will help keep chicken, fish, and port from sticking to the grill.  You can also oil the meat and vegetables before adding to the grate.  If you’re using propane, make sure you have enough fuel to last till the food is cooked.

Handling the Food

Always use tongs to move food around on the grill. Piercing with a fork drains the juices.  Use a basket or grill clips for small items like carrots and cut up zucchini.  Grill water-based vegetables like bell peppers and onions directly over the heat but put dense vegetables like sliced potatoes or eggplant far away from the heat on the edges of the grate.

Grill Marks

Cross hatch grill marks are the grill master’s signature.  To prepare steaks, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, place the steaks on the grill and let cook for a few minutes.  Using tongs, turn the food 90 degrees and cook a few minutes more.  Turn over and repeat on the other side.  When finished, place on a plate or board and let rest a few minutes before cutting.



Companion Planting in the Garden

The Iroquois used the earliest known method of companion planting when they grew what is called the Three Sisters, the practice of planting corn, beans and squash together.  They knew that these plants were compatible with each other and each one provided nutrition that the others needed.

Corn needs plenty of nitrogen to thrive and beans fix nitrogen in the soil.  The corn then provided a “trellis” for the beans to climb on.  The bean stalks provided extra strength for the corn.  Planted at the base of the corn and beans, the squash provided mulch on the soil. It’s widespread leaves kept the soil cool, held in moisture, repelled weeds, and made it harder for animals like raccoons to get to the corn.

You can have this same harmony among plants in your garden even if you don’t grow corn, beans and squash together.  For example, tomatoes get along well with carrots and like marigolds and nasturtiums at their feet to confuse pests.  Other plants also like these two flowers as pest deterrents.

At the same time, vegetables also have neighbors they dislike very much.  Cucumbers should never be planted beside any of the nightshade family of plants (tomatoes, potatoes, bell & chili peppers, and eggplant) because nightshades contain alkaloids that are highly toxic to some other plants.  Nightshades can attract pests that seek out cucumber vines.

Other bad companions include onions and garlic.  Don’t plant asparagus, beans, or cabbage near them.  Some herbs like fennel aren’t compatible with any other plants, so plant it off by itself.  Butterflies like to lay eggs in fennel foliage so give them their own space.

For a comprehensive list of companion plantings, check out The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith.  This is a great all around gardener’s guide to growing all kinds of vegetables.