By Jennifer Fairfield, owner The Garden Mill
(Publisher’s note: This is the first of a 2-part column.)
So, the weather people have a new one for us – we are apparently in an “Omega Blocking Pattern.”
OK – it’s probably not really new. They have likely called it this for a long time, but I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the term. So, I had to go look it up.
According to www.weather.gov, “Omega blocks get their name because the upper air pattern looks like the Greek letter omega (Ω). Omega blocks are a combination of two cutoff lows with one blocking high sandwiched between them.”
We are apparently going to be stuck in that “high sandwich” for a while, which means we will be getting very hot and dry conditions for the foreseeable future. Not my favorite kind of weather.
I both love being a gardener in July and hate it. I love it because so much is going on in the garden this month – lots of veggies are starting to be harvested, other vegetable plants get started indoors or seeds planted in the garden outside this month, and flowers are blooming all over. I hate it because I really don’t like the heat that we tend to get this month – it makes me not want to go out into my gardens except in the early morning and evening, when it’s not quite so breath-takingly hot.
Of course, I tend to get going on garden tasks in the morning, and get so involved that I don’t realize how hot it’s gotten (or how late) until I am parched and sweaty. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s very easy to lose track of everything else when I’m in my garden!
Here’s how you can lose track of time in your garden this month.
In the veggie garden:
- July should be harvest time for many crops. Spring crops, such as lettuce, spinach, and peas will mostly finish producing this month – if they haven’t already – while summer crops, such as zucchini, cucumbers, and early tomatoes will just start to come in by the end of the month.
- July is also a time for planting and starting new seedlings for fall harvest. If you want to have broccoli and cabbage for fall, start your own indoors between now and July 10th, so the seedlings will be ready for transplanting into your garden when they are six weeks old. They should be ready for harvest by early October. These can be good “succession crops” to be put into the garden in place of things like onions and garlic, once those have been harvested.
- You can plant late season successions of lettuce, spinach, peas, beets, carrots, and Swiss chard at the end of the month, to be ready for picking before it gets too cold. But wait to plant radishes until early or mid- August, as it will generally still be too hot at this point for these cool-weather lovers (they mature very quickly, and will bolt in the heat of August before they can get big enough for eating).
- Don’t forget to water your veggie garden regularly. Your plants generally need about an inch of water every week, and we certainly are not getting that! A good soaking once a week is better than a little bit every day or two, but when the temps are high, you might want to water a little more often. Don’t overdo it, but definitely make sure that your soil doesn’t totally dry out between watering. That’s a great way to stress your plants.
- Side dress your summer crops this month. Side dressing is just the simple act of giving your plants a mid-season boost of fertilizer, such as Espoma’s Garden-Tone. It provides the plants with a little extra food when they need it most – as they are producing flowers and fruit. By the time they are ready to start putting out flowers, the plants have used up most of the available nutrition in your garden. Providing a little more fertilizer at this point will make a big difference in whether your garden produces in abundance, which is the point of all this work, isn’t it? The term side-dressing really just means to apply fertilizer around the plant, in the root zone. Don’t just sprinkle it on top, though – carefully work it into the top inch or so of soil. Fertilizer left on top of the soil often will just wash away before it can break down and be useful to the plant. Don’t get any closer than about four inches from the stem of the plant, as you want the food to be available to the new root growth as the plant is growing and putting out more roots.
- Weed. I know – it’s pretty much nobody’s idea of a god time (though it is one of those things that makes the time just disappear), but it really is necessary. Weeds compete for water, food, and sunlight with the plants you are working so hard to grow. If you just do a little bit of regular weeding, you can stay on top of it, and pulling small weeds that don’t have very established roots is a lot easier than pulling bigger ones that have had lots of time to get anchored into the ground.
- Pests of all sorts have been driving me nuts this year in my gardens. I’ve been waging a losing battle with chipmunks in my veggie garden all spring (though I hope that they are about to lose that battle, as I have a new product that I’m going to put to the test this weekend). I’m also seeing cabbage worms on my kale, slugs on my lettuce, flea beetles on my eggplant, and grasshoppers on pretty much everything – especially my peppers.
- For the cabbage worms, I’m just picking them off and squishing them. The slugs have gotten a treatment of Espoma’s Slug and Snail Bait, which seems to have slowed them down. The flea beetles and grasshoppers are some of the harder pests to get under control, as they move very quickly when you get anywhere near them. I’ve covered my peppers with a sheer row cover cloth to give them a chance to get a little bigger, and maybe convince the grasshoppers to go somewhere else. I’ve also dusted my garden with diatomaceous earth to try to control the flea beetles and other insects.
- I’m going to keep that up on a regular basis until those little critters give up, or until my eggplant is big enough to withstand them. I’ll let you know how I make out with the chipmunks – those stripy little rodents have eaten all my edamame seeds, meaning no edamame for me for the second year in a row. They also got to my pole bean seeds, which I didn’t realize until it was too late to replant them. So, I just put some more bush bean seeds in. We’ll see if those make it to my table.
- Keep up with your program of fungicide spraying (or start now, if you haven’t already). There are a lot of diseases that really get going as summer progresses, especially on tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. MSU’s extension service has already reported cucumber downy mildew on the west side of the state, so it won’t be long until we see it and other diseases here. Treating your plants with a fungicide on a regular basis can help keep them healthy long enough to let you reap what you’ve sown. If you don’t start treating until you see disease, it’s already too late.
(Publisher’s note: Part 2 will publish tomorrow.)