By Jennifer Fairfield
(Part 1 published yesterday.)
Harvesting is the major activity of vegetable gardening in August.
Keeping up with harvesting will keep your plants producing. If you don’t keep your beans, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. picked regularly, the plants will work on maturing the fruits they have, rather than producing more.
It’s much like deadheading flowers – if you leave spent flowers on the plant, it will work on creating and maturing seeds from those flowers. Remove them, and the plant essentially gets tricked into producing more. Removing the seeds (those beans, zucchini, and cucumbers are seed pods, after all), does the same thing for your vegetable plants. In both cases, you get what you wanted – more flowers or more to eat.
August is also the time to put some “succession” plants in your veggie garden. Beets, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and peas all can be planted in August for harvest into the early fall.
Take a look at the seed packet for the “days to maturity” to determine how late you can plant and still harvest before frost (and some things, like kale, are even better after a light frost). To figure out your safe planting time frame, just count backwards from your average first date of frost (usually around Oct. 1 for our area, but you can get detailed information for your zip code here.)
So, if your packet says that the days to maturity is 45 and it takes 5 to 10 days to germinate, then you need to make sure that you have your seeds in by no later than Aug. 7. If you’re looking for seeds, we do still have some at the store, and they’re on sale.
If you haven’t seen any signs of disease in your garden yet, don’t think you’re safe. Many things start to really show up now. The Michigan State University Extension Service recently sent out a notification that cucumber downy mildew has been found in Michigan – on the west side of the state, but it will be heading in our direction. Late blight, which affects tomatoes and potatoes, has been found in Erie, PA, which means it’s in the northern states, so will likely be seen in our area sooner rather than later.
Keep up with a schedule of fungicide spraying to give your plants their best chance of surviving the diseases we know are going to get to us eventually. In general, a weekly application of an organic fungicide is your best defense. Once disease takes hold, it is all but impossible to get rid of, so prevention is the best medicine.
We are in prime garden pest season now. Japanese beetles have been eating everything in sight for a few weeks, flea beetles have been leaving holes in leaves everywhere, and grasshoppers and many damaging caterpillars, such as tomato hornworms and corn earworms, are just getting started, as are things like squash bugs. Keep an eye out for these and other insects around your plants.
Controlling them is important, not just because they eat your hard work, but also because they can transmit infection to your plants from diseased plants they’ve visited. We carry a number of options for pest control, including some organic choices that are very effective. But be sure to read the labels on whatever you choose, as these products can generally also kill beneficial insects.
The best way to minimize harming bees and other beneficials is to be very precise in your spraying – only directly spray the pest you are trying to kill, and don’t overspray. Broadcast spraying will almost guarantee that you kill things you don’t intend to.
Spraying until the leaves drip means that you will have pesticide dripping onto other plants or the ground, where beneficials can come in contact with it. Spraying in the evening can also reduce the chances of harming bees.
One last thing – keep up with the weeding. It is much easier to keep them under control if you get to the weeds while they are small. Do a little every day or so, and it won’t get out of control.
For the birds:
Be sure to keep hummingbird and oriole feeders cleaned out and refilled at least twice a week in the warm weather. Sugar water can spoil quickly in hot weather, which is harmful, if not deadly, to the birds. Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has lots of information about feeding hummers.
Actually, regularly cleaning all bird feeders is a really good idea. It helps to keep diseases from spreading through the bird populations visiting your feeders.
Keep bird baths cleaned out and filled up too. Dirty water in the bath can be just as harmful to your birds as dirty feeders, and you aren’t as likely to attract birds to a dirty bath.
Empty out old water, give the bath a good scrubbing, and refill it with clean water at least every-other day (daily is even better), and you’ll have healthier, happier birds.