Summer is Here All Too Soon! Is it Too Late to Plant Seeds in My Garden?

The end of spring is always a busy time around our house. There are field trips, recitals, cadet activities, and special presentations for weeks leading up to the end of the school year – a time when we would rather be outside getting the garden started. Now I understand why my mother never put her garden in until the end of June!

Ideal Planting Time

But by June and July, many other gardeners are already harvesting early crops such as lettuce, kale, radishes and turnips. As I write this, we have already received two weeks of our CSA deliveries from Cartwheel Farm. So is it too late to plant a garden?

Ideally, some seeds should go into the ground as soon as it can be worked. Onions, peas, and spinach are very early crops. Right around your last frost date, you can start planting root vegetables, celery, brassicas like cabbage and broccoli, and most greens. More tender vegetables follow a few weeks later, and your entire garden should be planted within a few weeks of that last frost date. That means, for most of us, our gardens should be well in order by mid-June.

Starting a Late Season Garden

How many of us start out buying our seeds or even planting those early season crops, and then get too busy to be out in the garden? And there are plenty too, who only start thinking about planting a garden once they start to see all the lovely spring produce at the farmers market.

Luckily, it’s not too late to plant a garden if you want to start now. You may want to pare down the number of crops you are growing. You may also have to hold off on plants with a longer growing season. But there are still plenty of fast-growing vegetables, as well as some that are tolerant of the cold and can be planted in the later weeks of summer.

General tips for planting late in the season:

  • Know your first frost date and check the “days to harvest” on seed packets to determine if there’s enough time left to grow the seeds you’ve chosen

  • Look for seed varieties with the word “early” on the packet

  • To get a head start on your growing season, buy and transplant vegetable starts – especially those that are already flowering or bearing small fruit

  • Choose vegetables that are cold-tolerant to extend growing into the fall

  • Plant in a sheltered place that will stay warmer towards fall

  • Think about planting in containers that can be moved to a warmer spot at the end of the season

  • Use row covers and cold frames to extend your growing season into the fall or even winter


4 Fast-growing crops for your late-start garden | Heirloom gardening | Vegetable garden | Starting a garden in June or July
Even in June or July, you still have time to start your vegetable garden
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At about 20-30 days to harvest, radishes are probably the fastest growing vegetables and one of the quickest to germinate too. This is one of the reasons that gardeners use radish seeds to help mark the rows for the slower-growing carrots in the vegetable patch.

Radishes can be planted in succession weekly throughout the spring, then again towards the fall. If you’re getting a late start, try planting some of your radish seeds about 1/2” deep and others a little deeper. The ones closer to the soil will germinate first but the ones you plant deeper will give you larger radishes. This extends your growing season a bit. Remember to eat the radishes you thin from your garden too! Radish greens are quite edible.

Radish varieties to try:

‘Early Scarlet Globe’ (24 days): this heirloom radish is a classic; great for bunching and market sales

‘French Breakfast’ (20-25 days): a French heirloom known under the name ‘Radis Demi-long Rose à Bout Blanc,’ this is an early market variety; oblong red radishes with white tips and white flesh; mildly spicy taste

‘Helios’ (30-35 days): a delightful heirloom variety with yellow skin and white flesh, named for the Greek god of the sun

‘Philadelphia White Box’ (30 days): a spicy white heirloom radish that grows well in the garden and can also be forced in containers

Grow radishes for the roots and their greens
Radishes are probably the fasted growing vegetables at only 20-30 days to harvest
(Image: carissarogers/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

Swiss Chard

Although chard is one of the plants you can sow very early in the season, it’s OK if it gets a late start. Chard takes 50-60 days to reach maturity, but it can be eaten when the leaves are young and tender. And it’s moderately cold-tolerant, so you don’t have to worry if you get a frost before it’s all grown. I’ve picked lovely, crisp chard from my garden late into the fall. One year, we actually had snow on the ground and the chard wasn’t bothered at all!

Not sure which chard to grow? You can go with a classic heirloom variety like ‘Fordhook Giant.’ But I love the gorgeous colours of the chard mixes that most seed catalogues offer. Look for them under names like “Rainbow,” “Celebration,” or “5 Colour.”


Peas take around 60-70 days to mature, so it’s still safe to plant if you have that long until first frost. Don’t have long enough? That’s OK. You can grow the plants for the pea shoots and tendrils. It only takes about a month before you can start harvesting your first, small pea shoots. If your pea plants happen to flower, you can eat the pea blossoms too!

Pea varieties to try:

‘Amish snap’ (60 days): An heirloom snap pea that grows very tall vines; known for its superior sweetness; these peas were grown by the Amish even before the official discovery of sugar snap peas in the 1970s

‘Blue Pod Capucijner‘ (70 days): These delightful purple-podded peas are a Dutch heirloom; flowers are bicolour pink and wine, and fade to blue as they wilt; use as a sugar snap pea prior to the full development of seeds, or allow the pods to grow leathery and harvest as a soup pea (also good in casseroles and porridge)

‘Tom Thumb’ (50-55 days): The tiniest shelling pea, this heirloom is perfect for growing in containers and is especially known as a winter pea that can be grown in cold frames; William Woys Weaver says the peas will survive for several days below freezing; the tiny white blossoms are tinged with green; vines only reach 6”- 9” in height;

Important note: Do not try to eat ornamental sweet peas, as these are not safe for consumption.


Some lettuces are quick to bolt once the summer heat sets in. So if you decide to plant lettuce later in the season, look for varieties that are slow to bolt. Leaf lettuce is easier to grow than head lettuce if you’re getting a late start. Remember that lettuce – and really all of the greens in your late-start vegetable patch – can be stretched by picking it in a cut-and-come-again fashion. Just trim away a few of the outer leaves from each plant and let the rest grow a while longer.

Lettuce varieties to try:

‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ (45 days): This heirloom looseleaf lettuce is very popular; known for its tender, ruffled leaves and delicate flavour; easy to grow from seed

‘Gaviota’ (28-35 days): This is slow-bolting tango-type lettuce with deeply lobed, curly leaves; best for baby greens that add loft and bright green colour to a salad

‘Red Sails’ (45-55 days): An All-American Selection in 1985, this red-tipped savoy lettuce is pretty enough to be used as an edging plant; plant in containers or straight in the garden; baby greens are ready in just 28 days

Other Vegetables to Try Late in the Season

  • Arugula

  • Beets

  • Brussels Sprouts

  • Bush beans

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Collard greens

  • Kale

  • Parsnips

  • Spinach

  • Turnips

  • Zucchini

Did you know you can still be planting seeds in your garden in July? Check out this awesome July planting guide with ideas for every region of the US. And come August, it’s time to plant late-season greens and root vegetables for a fall harvest. So you’ve still got lots of time to enjoy your vegetable garden!


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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image created in Canva using a CC0 photo from Pixabay user Patricia Maine

Food History: Meet the Once-Famous Fruit that Survived Near Extinction

A culinary delicacy that was once served alongside champagne and beluga caviar in upscale hotel restaurants, the Montreal market melon is probably the least known of Canada’s contributions to the world of food. At the beginning of the 20th century, this gourmet treat was much sought after. It sold for upwards of $1 a slice, about twice the price of a full-course meal at the time.


Montreal melon: The caviar of cantaloupe
The Montreal melon was a delicacy on par with champagne and caviar


The Caviar of Cantaloupe

BuzzFeed has called the Montreal market melon “the caviar of cantaloupe,” and rightly so! You couldn’t get this rare and exotic fruit just anywhere: it was difficult to grow and didn’t stand up to transport over long distances. But in Montreal, Boston, and New York City, diners in the best restaurants could feast on a juicy slice of this green-fleshed melon if they were willing to pay the price.

The melons were grown by farmers on the slopes of Mount Royal and shipped to the United States daily. The seed was sold in America by a number of merchants, notably Atlee Burpee, who had discovered a specimen at the Ste Anne’s Market in 1880. But the Queen of Melons, as the variety came to be known, never did as well in New England as it did in the rich soil of its homeland. Perhaps it was due to the extreme care taken by farmers in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grâce who grew the fruit. But maybe it’s a bit of a lesson to all gardeners about landraces: is local better, even when it comes to choosing seeds for our gardens?


Montreal market melon, from 19th century advertising card
Rendering of the melon, listed as the “new Montreal Nutmeg,” from an 1887 advertising card for Rice’s vegetable seeds
(Image: Boston Public Library/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)


Developing a Premium Market Melon

So what does this infamous melon look like, and where did it come from?

The Montreal market melon, also sometimes called the Montreal muskmelon or the Montreal nutmeg melon, is a cross between the green-fleshed nutmeg melon and European cantaloupes that were brought to the New World by French settlers in the 17th century. Nobody seems to know when exactly the first Montreal melons were grown, but they were definitely noticed when cantaloupes and muskmelons became a market crop at the end of the 19th century.

The Montreal melon is a green-fleshed, netted melon with a slightly spicy taste like nutmeg. Grown under the right conditions, it is enormous. Some sources say the melon grows to about 15 – 25 lb. At least one reference speaks of melons as big as 40 lb. Like its European ancestors, the melon is ribbed and has a grey-green skin that is netted like that of the salmon-fleshed cantaloupe most North Americans know and love.

Montreal melons were once the pride of the country. Back when they were first sold by Burpee Seeds, their catalogue described the fruits as “remarkably thick, light green, melting, and of a delicious flavor.” They called it the “handsomest possible melon,” and by 1883 were offering cash prizes to farmers who were able to produce the largest melons. Burpee referred to the fruit as the Montreal Green Nutmeg Melon.

Atlee Burpee wasn’t the only one singing the praises of the Montreal melon. A USDA farming bulletin published in 1909 called it a “melon of unusual excellence.” In his review of heirloom melon varieties, food historian William Woys Weaver says of the Montreal melon, “It became the most widely grown muskmelon in New England, Canada, and the Upper Midwest, not only because of its large size but because it yielded the best-flavored melons for short-season gardens.”

Near-Extinction of the Montreal Melon

Montreal’s market melon was once grown over acres and acres of farmland between Mount Royal and the St. Lawrence River. But over the years many of the farms were lost to urban expansion. Cars replaced horses, and all but one of the racetracks that once supplied manure for the heavy-feeding melon crops closed their doors. The Decarie Expressway now cuts through what used to be the farm of one noted melon-growing family; row upon row of duplexes line streets with names like Old Orchard Avenue, a faint memory of the farms that once dominated the landscape of Montreal’s N.D.G.

Green melons fell out of favour sometime after World War II, and the delicate skin of the Montreal market melon didn’t stand up to transport. As the melon was more suitable to family-based cultivation than to agribusiness, it just gradually stopped being grown. Even Burpee Seeds dropped the melon from its catalogue in the 1950s. At one point it was believed to be extinct: one of the many cultivars that were lost as the 20th century saw 75% of the world’s food crops simply drop out of existence. Biodiversity was losing ground to agribusiness and the pressures of global climate change.


Heirloom gardening: Montreal market melon, developed by crossing traditional French cantaloupes with spicy, green-fleshed nutmeg melons
The Montreal melon was developed by crossing traditional French cantaloupes like this Charentais melon with spicy, green nutmeg melons
If you enjoyed learning about the Montreal market melon, please feel free to use this image when you pin the article on Pinterest
Graphic made in Canva using a CC0 photo by Pixabay user Anybid


A Lazarus Species

Luckily, a few seeds for the Montreal market melon were tucked away in a USDA seed repository in Ames, Iowa. In the late 1990s, they were given to scientist and farmer Ken Taylor, a man whom I had the pleasure to know all too briefly while I was at college in Ste. Anne de Bellevue in the 80s. The melons were grown at Windmill Point Farm, about an hour from the slopes where the cultivar originated. The seeds grew true to type, and Taylor was able to produce a stable strain that attracted attention from local and national media, as well as organizations such as Seeds of Diversity. At one point, the Montreal melon was even selected for the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Once sufficient seeds had been saved, Taylor started spreading them around in an effort to preserve the rare genes. He worked on the crop for several years and even crossed it with other melons to produce a smaller variety that has the same taste as the original Montreal muskmelon. But the melon never enjoyed the same commercial success it had in the early 20th century. Taylor has since stopped growing it altogether, and now it’s hard to find a mention of it except as a historical curiosity.

But the melon is still regarded as a “Lazarus species,” one rescued from extinction and restored to life. It may not be available in your local supermarket, or even at your farmers market, but there is sufficient supply of the seed to ensure that heirloom gardeners will be able to grow the crop at home.

Growing the Montreal Market Melon in the 21st Century

Want to grow the caviar of cantaloupe in your heirloom garden? You can now purchase seeds for the Montreal market melon from a number of online seed catalogues across Canada. I haven’t been able to locate a supplier for the melon seeds in either the US or Europe, but please post a comment if you know of one! Montreal muskmelons need full sun and lots of pampering. But if you are up to the challenge of growing these historic beauties, in about 85-90 days you, too, can enjoy an exotic taste from the past. Remember, these are really huge fruits! Even though most growing them nowadays say they aren’t able to produce a melon on the same scale as those of days gone by, they are still growing to a weight of 5 lbs. As the melons don’t store well, it’s best to eat them soon after harvest. So be sure to share them around! Let your friends and neighbours get a taste of the fruit that came back from the dead.


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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured Image: Collage created in Canva using CC0 photos from Pixabay users Isasza, seagul, and Robert Owen-Wahl

Budget Cooking: Yummy, Old Fashioned Tuna Casserole Feeds the Body & Comforts the Soul

Easy dinner recipes rule in summer, when it’s too hot to be cooped up in the kitchen and food preparation has to be quick and simple. But that doesn’t mean your only options are salad and sandwiches, or foods you can cook up on the grill! One of my favourite pasta dishes is an old fashioned tuna casserole. It’s a frugal, easy, one-dish meal that never seems to go out of style. Tuna casserole is a great way to use up canned and dried goods that you have sitting in your pantry. But you can make it special just by changing up a few ingredients.

Why Tuna Casserole?

Pasta recipes are a mainstay of budget cooking. Noodles are an inexpensive, versatile food that even children can learn to cook. Tuna is a good source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrient levels vary depending on the type of tuna you buy, so read the nutrition label. Tuna can provide a range of nutrients, including selenium, potassium, magnesium, iron, several B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Canned tuna is an economical way to include fish in your family’s diet. And contrary to what you might think, canned fish is likely to be lower in mercury than fresh tuna. If you’re still concerned you can choose light tuna, which is generally smaller skipjack tuna, over tuna labelled “white” or “albacore.” The smaller the fish, the lower the mercury levels tend to be. Do consult your doctor if you are pregnant or if anyone in your family has a specific health concern but for most people, the occasional meal made with tuna is quite safe.

How to Cook Tuna Casserole

Bare Bones: Cook up a box of mac and cheese. Mix in one can drained tuna and one can cream of celery soup while the pasta is still piping hot. If you’ve got them, throw in a can of mushy peas or some mixed vegetables. Got a packet of saltines leftover from that bowl of soup you ate at the school cafeteria? Crumble it over your tuna casserole for a bit of extra crunch.

No oven necessary! You can cook this tuna casserole in a microwave or on the stovetop. Even a hot plate in your dorm room will do!

Even Cheaper: Mac and cheese is getting expensive these days, especially if you buy the name brand stuff a box at a time. Save money by getting the macaroni and the cheese powder separately. A big family bag of elbow macaroni can cost about the same as two boxes of Kraft Dinner, and you’ll get a lot more meals out of it.

You can buy the cheese powder in a shaker, where you’d find the Parmesan cheese at the grocery store, but check out the bulk aisle too. If you just buy what you need for now, the price tag will be pretty small.

Slightly Fancier: Switch things up a bit and buy shells, bow tie pasta, or cavatappi (this pasta kind of looks like a bigger, more twisty version of elbow macaroni.) If you’ve got a little cheddar or mozzarella in the fridge, grate it up and mix it with some bread crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture over your cooked pasta and tuna, then microwave or broil your tuna casserole to melt the cheese.

Best Ever Tuna Casserole: Start with your best tuna casserole recipe. Add in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of sliced black olives, both drained. Mix in and some fresh or dried basil. Cover the top of the casserole with even more cheese, some tomato slices and whole green olives,

Gluten-Free, Lower Carb Version: Substitute your favourite veggie “pasta” for the noodles in the recipe. You can just slice zucchini up as you would for a zucchini lasagna, or if you have a spiralizer you can spiral cut your veggies. This is an easy way to use up the overabundance of summer squash from your garden, but if you’re making this tuna casserole in the winter you might want to use carrots instead. Carrots are one of the least expensive and most nutritious vegetables found in a North American kitchen. And because you can use a vegetable peeler to cut them into ribbons, you don’t need to invest in a spiral cutter.

Fish Allergy? Instead of canned tuna, use flakes of chicken, turkey or ham. Or use some ground meat that you’ve browned ahead of time. Or a little chopped ham, chicken or turkey leftover from an earlier meal. Your tuna casserole will be just as tasty if it’s made with meat or poultry.

Make-Ahead Tip: When you cook tuna casserole prepare a second batch for the freezer! Label with baking instructions, and store tightly covered. When you want to bake it, let your freezer meal defrost about two days in the fridge.

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Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne, adapted from content I published on Bubblews in September 2014

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!