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August is prime time for some less-common crops

August is prime time for some less-common crops

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Get out the vegetable seeds and start planting in any empty garden spots you have. Mid August is prime time to sow cool-season favorites like lettuce and spinach.

If you want to keep the salad bowl full with a single pack of seeds, buy a mixture of greens, or mesclun. You can make repeated cuttings from one planting.

There are also many less-common crops you can plant now. Here are a few to consider:

Asian Delight pak choi. This All-America Selections winner is the easiest pak choi I've ever grown. It's very quick to form small heads of dark green leaves for the salad bowl. The tender, sweet, white stalks can be used like celery sticks for dipping. Best of all, Asian Delight is unlikely to bolt to seed like other varieties, even if the weather is hot.

Baby turnips. Any variety will do, but my go-to favorite is Mikado Japanese baby turnips from Renee's Garden. White roots the size of ping-pong balls are ready for eating just a month after planting. They are mild and crisp, perfect for eating raw or roasting. Like all turnips, they taste even better if first touched by a light fall frost or two before harvest.

Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage. As easy to grow as lettuce, this non-heading cabbage produces light-green, ruffled leaves that make a nice addition to salads. Baby leaves are ready to start picking just three weeks after sowing, and are full-sized in 45 days.

Radishes. Fall favors radishes, which quickly turn pithy and bolt to seed in hot, dry weather. You can choose from an amazing assortment of varieties to grow: round or long, sweet or hot, in red, white or black. One quirky possibility: Red Meat, the unusually sweet watermelon radish that has dark pink flesh. Radishes aren't just for eating raw these days. It's trendy to bake radishes to serve as a cooked vegetable.

Baby kale. You can start harvesting baby leaves as soon as the plants are 3 or 4 inches tall, usually in about 30 days. Fall frost won't deter kale, but simply make the leaves taste sweeter. Older kale leaves are for cooking, but tender young leaves are ideal for eating raw in salads.

Mustard greens. Choose red or green varieties, or Ruby Streaks, with serrated, bicolored leaves that are unusually pretty. Baby leaves are ready to harvest just 21 days after planting and add a spicy flavor to salads. The plants reach full size in 40 to 45 days.

Autumn in the vegetable garden is a delight. Pest problems are significantly reduced in the fall and disappear completely after the first frost. Meanwhile, these cold-hardy vegetables soldier on.

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