As the end of summer draws near, it’s tempting to believe that the end of gardening season is here. Au contraire! Here in Northern Virginia we can continue to grow and harvest crops all the way through our first frost (and beyond for some crops — we’ll explain how to do that in a later post). So here’s what you can be doing right now to keep your garden going through these dog days of August…
Here in Northern Virginia (Zone 7), you know we get some intense Augusts! Our plants need water now more than ever to help them withstand the heat. Our rain can be inconsistent — a week with no precipitation, then a huge thunderstorm — so we need to balance it with regular watering. Be sure to water in the morning, so the plants have moisture to sustain them through the heat of day, and so they don’t go to bed wet. (Plants are not unlike humans!) And remember to water the soil, not the leaves — this will help prevent mildew, and will protect the tender leaves from sunburn. (Again, something we humans share with our plant cousins.)
What’s wrong with this picture? Whenever possible, it’s best to water the base of the plants, not the tops.
Not sure if your plants need watering? Test your soil’s moisture by inserting your fingers into the soil about two inches deep, and pull out a small handful of soil. Squeeze it in your fist: if the soil clumps together, it’s damp, and doesn’t need more water; if it has a sandy consistency and doesn’t stay clumped, it’s dry and that means the roots are thirsty, so give it some water.
Soil needs a rich array of nutrients to promote strong growth and an abundant harvest, and as gardeners, we can help the soil along with amendments. Compost is a wonderful addition to any garden, as it provides all the nutrients the soil needs. A well-composted garden will sustain thriving plants, and you can either make your own or purchase it. (For us urban farmers, purchasing is often a necessity, as we don’t have abundant space for a compost pile. I use Coast of Maine lobster compost, which is organic and works beautifully). Composting is generally done at the beginning of the season, but it never hurts to work some more into your soil throughout the season. You can also add topical fertilizer around the dripline of your plants (i.e., the perimeter around the base of the plant) — I use Tomato-Tone and Garden-Tone, both organic and proven effective in our local gardens.
Now’s the time to put our next round of crops into the ground, which will keep the garden productive through the autumn. The Brassica family of crops grow well in the cool season, and these include all the parts of a plant: roots (rutabaga, turnips), stems (kohlrabi), leaves (kale, collard greens), flowers (cauliflower, broccoli), buds (Brussels sprouts, cabbage), and seeds (mustard seed, rapeseed). Leafy greens also thrive in our cool fall (think spinach, and all varieties of lettuce). Sow the seeds now and you’ll be eating fresh-from-the-garden veggies until Thanksgiving.
Our “salad bowl” bed thrives in spring, takes a break during the heat of summer, then ramps up again in the cool days of autumn.
Bugs and disease will continue to pester us through the growing season, so don’t slack up on your monitoring duties. Look for signs of pests in the form of holey leaves or munched-up fruits. Some bugs are sneaky, so check carefully, including the under side of leaves (where many critters like to hide out). If you see that your leaves are being eaten, choose an organic remedy to protect them from further damage (I use Neem Oil for most pest issues, which can be purchased at your local nursery or home improvement store). Neem also works well on many diseases, likePowdery Mildew and other fungi.
Harvest & Enjoy!
Keep an eye on your garden and harvest the fruits and veggies as soon as they become ripe. It’s important to take the fruit off the vine before our critter friends get to them, and also to promote the production of more fruit. Now you can kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labors — you’ve earned it! Bring those veggies into the kitchen, and check out our recipes for some garden-to-kitchen inspiration.
A good day’s harvest in our August garden… squash, cucumber, okra, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and two kinds of peppers. Days like this make all the work worthwhile. Love it.
Happy (urban) farming!