Monday, June 6, 2011

Give It A Rest! (Your Garden, That Is)

That's right, it's not even Summer yet (June 21st marks the official start date), and it's already time to let our Summer gardens do a bit of resting. This has been one heck of a hot and dry Spring, and those who were lucky to get plants in early and maybe have really big rain barrels are the lucky ones. I've seen plenty of nice tomatoes and peppers on our clients' plants, some really excellent chards and some massive beets. But the plants that were put in at the end of the season are still struggling to cope with the heat. Yellow leaves, stunted growth, dropped fruit: all signs of plant stress due to hot weather.

We were spoiled last year with plenty of rain and a longer, cooler Spring. My garden was slammin' last year , producing tons of cucumbers, tomatoes and other goodies. We might have missed out on a great early season, but there's still hope for the Fall. Take this time to chill out a bit, despite the heat and get ready for your next planting season. Here are some ideas for things to do with your garden now and

Harvest! With any luck your veggie plants should be putting on tasty fruit, and most will produce more and produce tastier if you harvest often. Cucumbers taste best when still small - don't let lemon cukes actually turn yellow or they'll be dry, and can get bitter if left to overripen in hot sun. Bells peppers can be picked early or late, green or yellow/red/purple/whatever color they mature to. Hot peppers can also be harvested green or ripe: red jalapenos have a sweeter flavor and are slightly milder. Keep 'cut and come again' harvesting your chard and summer greens. Pick off any blooms on basil and other herbs to keep the flavor sweet. Green beans will respond with tons more beans if you harvest often. Tomatoes can be picked as soon as a hint of 'blush' can be seen. Keep them safe from bugs and birds: let them ripen in your kitchen. Onions should be about ready: when their tops start to wither and fall over you know it's time to pull 'em.

Water. Keeping the garden watered in this drought is a difficult task. Water for an hour every other day to get those roots digging deep for moisture and water early in the day before the heat will seek out and evaporate.

Troubleshoot and Weed. It's hot outside, so plan a little time in the morning for some garden bonding. Catching the first signs of pests or disease early can mean life or death for your crop. Weeding is also lighter work if done little bits at a time instead of waiting for their roots to grab deep and flowers to go to seed. Bugs are drowsy in the morning and can be caught and squished more easily.

Save Seeds. If you let some lettuce bolt and flower, you probably have harvestable lettuce seeds. There are tons of books on how to save seeds, and i've read zero of them. Keep your harvested seeds in a breathable container, like an envelope to keep any moisture from rotting the other seeds, but try to be sure and only pick off the driest seeds that are ready for storage. Glass jars also work well for saving seeds, or even the original seed packet. Green beans and peas are really easy to save: let them dry on the vine and pick them off to dry a bit more in the house. Break the hard seeds out of the dry seed pod for storage. Marigolds and wildflowers also have easily saved seeds, and will readily reseed themselves next year if you don't dead head.

Plant. You can get away with putting in some more cantaloupe and watermelon this time of year, as well as okra and sunflowers. For the most part though, save planting for July.

Plan. Pumpkins go in July 4th to be ready for Halloween. Peppers and tomatoes do well in the Fall when put in around July 13th. Eggplants, sweet potatoes and chard will also do well in the Fall. Start planning where you want to put your Fall gardens, and what plants are doing well enough now to keep their location, and which should be pulled. Plan ahead for September/October as well: garlic and onions like the cooler months as do cool season greens.

Although Summer is a time of rest in the garden, it's also a time of bounty. Whip up a delicious batch of gazpacho and sit in the shade sketching out your next garden. Leave the heavy digging for the cooler months, or even consider leaving it to your local edible garden installer: Yard Farm Austin, whom this post was originally written for. I vouche for their excellent work and commitment to organic veggie gardening. Their badge will remain on this blog until i'm re-settled in Oregon, so feel free to check them out for all of your gardening needs!

This post is part of the Homestead Revival Barn Hop!

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