August In The Vegetable Garden - Harvesting, Blossom End Rot, fall & Winter Planting
August is one of the busiest months in the garden, as well as the hottest and driest, making it doubly busy. I spend so much time watering and simply trying to keep things alive, is so crazy. I keep telling myself, just a few more weeks to go, just a few more weeks, hang in there, you can do it ; ) Don’t get me wrong, I love summer time, nothing better, but it is a busy time.
Some lucky areas of the island have been getting a bit of rain this summer when the ‘storms’ roll in, but here in our area, it never seemed to amount to more than a wee teaser. If you don’t live on the west coast, you might not know this, but we generally get tons of rain in fall and winter and drought in summer. Watering restrictions are a given each year and tend to start already in late spring.
I find that my potager is quite the mixed bag this month. Some things are definitely burnt out and pretty much done for, others just need a bit of a trim and clean up and they will keep going for weeks yet, and some are just starting to shine, like the tomatoes that are definitely just hitting their stride.
So, that said… Here is what is going on this month in the food garden…
Summer Squash - it seems that there is a new zucchini or three every day, and a few pattypans, as well. I try to pick my squash when they are small or medium sized. The wee ones are fantastic for dipping into a lovely ranch dressing and look great on the veggie platter, too. Save the big ones that get away from you for making zucchini bread and other baking, or grate them up and toss in the freezer for squash soups in winter.
Squash Problems You May Be Finding… these two issues seem to be big this year.. this is what you need to know.
Poor Pollination - If you are getting wee little squash that look like they rotted on the vine, that means that they were not pollinated. Nothing you can do about that, is out of your hands so not to worry. It is not the same as Blossom End Rot, which you can do something about. For pollination, you need a male and a female flower to be open at the same time. These flowers are only open for one day. If you do not have one of each open on the same day, the little fruit that forms will just fall off. This is normal.
When you do get both female and male flowers, some go around and pollinate them with a paintbrush or a by bringing the male flower to the females, but I just leave it to the bees … they absolutely love the big, yellow squash blossoms and buzz around in them all day long. Sometimes, you will not get much for fruit as your plant keeps making just male blossoms. This is also normal. When they first begin to flower, they will always make just male flowers. Theory is that this gets the bees coming around so that when they do make the females, they always get pollinated… but really, no one knows. That is Mother Nature, for you.
Blossom End Rot is a totally different thing. BER is when you have fruits forming nicely and then the end begins to rot. This is not a disease, it is a physiological issue brought on by a lack of calcium to the plant. This lack is caused by stress to the plant… the stress may be from weather conditions being too wet or too dry, too cool or too hot. It can be from drought, low soil pH, or too much fertiliser. Despite the popular myth, you cannot fix the problem by adding eggshells or milk powder. However, you can fix the problem by changing the conditions accordingly. Having a drought? Try to water regularly, not letting them run too dry or too wet. Are you watering too much? (common problem) Start deep watering twice a week instead. Feeding them too much high nitrogen fertiliser? Stop fertilising or switch to a veggie fertiliser. Quite often you will find that the weather improves, the plant adjusts, and the BER goes away on it’s own. If it persists throughout the growing season , check your pH to see if it is too low. Acidic soil can make it difficult for your plants to access the calcium in the soil. If you need to raise the pH, add lime in the fall so that it has time to make a difference for next year’s planting, it takes many months to change the soil pH.
Winter Squash - Pumpkins, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, hubbards, kabocha, acorn, delicate… Please, please, please let these guys ripen on the vine. I am not sure why everyone is picking their spaghetti squash early this year? We still have a good 6 weeks of great weather for them to ripen to a gorgeous deep gold. Vine ripened is always better. Anything vine ripened has superior flavour, simply tastes better than forced. They also cure better and store longer. Squash (except Acorns, eat those first) will last 5 to 6 months in the pantry, when cured properly.
How will you know when your winter squash is ready? They turn a deep colour and be kind of dull looking, not shiny… the whites will deep white, the yellows will be golden, the greens will be forest green. Then, do the fingernail test.. take your thumbnail and try to push it into the squash. If it goes right in, it is not yet ready. If your nail meets with resistance, it is good to go.
To cure your squash, you want to raise them up off the floor, on a wooden table, or a pallet, in a warm and airy spot with good air flow, perhaps where you cure your garlic? Do not try to cure them on concrete, they will go bad, raise them up off the ground. Leave for about 2 weeks to dry nicely. Some will wipe them down with a 10% bleach solution to kill off any fungal spores that may be on them, before putting them in the pantry for winter.
Tomatoes - Tomatoes are beginning to ripen faster than I almost know what to do with. The canning and saucing tomatoes are not yet quite ready, they are just starting to turn, but the ‘early’ varieties are coming on fast now. Not exactly early this year, but making up for it now. Hubby and I will be saucing up a storm in just a few weeks time.
Problems with tomatoes…
Catfacing - If your tomatoes are lumpy or look like they have been fused together, that is nothing that you did wrong, is just poor pollination. At the time that it was getting pollinated, a long time ago, the weather was either too hot, too cool, too wet, or too dry. This causes lumpy tomatoes. Not to worry, the ones that were pollinated later, will be normal.
BER - If you have rot at the bottom of the tomatoes, a black or brown scabby looking thing, that is called Blossom End Rod. See above in the part about the squash with BER for how to fix it. Most importantly, try to regulate your watering. Do not keep them too wet or too dry, the BER is telling you that they do not like your watering schedule ; )
Cracking - Circular cracks on your tomatoes mean a big fluctuation of moisture happened in your garden. This often happens when conditions have been dry and warm and then suddenly Mother Nature provides you with a big, lovely rainfall. The tomatoes then grow so quickly that their skins cannot keep up with the swelling flesh and so they crack.
Green Shoulders - The tomato is ripe everywhere else but the top remains green and hard. Green shoulders are caused by extended periods of hot and dry weather or too much sun exposure. Offer shade, if you can and would like. Simply cut off the green shoulder, it is still yummy and edible.
I water the tomatoes in my raised beds deeply, every 2nd or 3rd day, with soaker hoses. Potted plants are watered about every 2nd day, very thoroughly.
Feed tomatoes in the garden if they need a boost, but for sure feed tomatoes in pots as they have used up pretty much all the nutrients in the pot by now. I like the liquid seaweed or an organic tomato food but an all purpose 20-20-20 would be perfect, as well. Use a liquid or water soluble fertiliser at this time for an instant boost. Top dressing the pots and side dressing in the garden with manure is also a good idea.
Cucumbers - Water your cucumbers every day or two to keep them sweet and juicy. Going dry will cause them to get bitter tasting. The cukes are so good this year, sweet and lovely. I am eating one or two daily.. good thing they are low in calories ; )
Peppers - This has been a really good pepper year, getting tons of peppers on everything from the sweets to the milds to the super hots. Will be pickling the mild ones next weekend to keep the family in hot pickled pepper rings all winter. I am still watering only about once a week, every 5 to 7 days. They are all in the south facing greenhouse and I have the shade cloth down on half of the greenhouse to keep it a bit cooler in there. That keeps my power bill down as the fan does not go off. I leave the door open, too, to let out the excess heat, and to allow the bees free access to the blossoms. Peppers will keep producing until late into fall, so just keep them in a bright, sunny spot, keep feeding and watering.
Watermelons - I am also growing melons in a big pot in the greenhouse this year, and they are loving the heat in there. They get watered a lot more often than the peppers do, though. Watered every second day and fed every week or two with liquid seaweed. Tons of melons on the way : )
Onions - I did not get onions into the ground this year, bending down for that long was impossible after I broke my tailbone. However, I know it is just about harvest time for all you lucky people who did. They are ready when the tops begin to fold over. When about half of your crop has folded over, go ahead and lift them to cure. If the bulb is not yet as big as you like but the top has folded over, it will no longer grow so go ahead and pick it. Onions can be braided and hung up to dry with your garlic, or laid out on tables. As with garlic, make sure they are in the shade, with good air flow around each bulb while they cure.
Garlic - is cleaned up and has cured nicely but I leave it outside in the curing shed for another month or so yet. Then it will be, for sure, fully cured when I bring it in, and so will keep well throughout the winter until the next batch of garlic comes … next July.
To clean them up, trim off the beard at the bottom, the roots, and rub off a bit of the skins to get to a shiny, nice, clean wrapper. For hardneck varieties, leave a bit of a stem to use as a crank to help you break open up the bulbs to get at those cloves easily. The garlic you buy at the store is softneck, that is why it has no stem/neck.
Small bulbs and any garlic that lost their skins due to late harvest are being turned into garlic powder. This is a not-very-fun job, must admit, as it is super time consuming … but worth every bit of the work for the fantastic flavour. Homegrown is always best : ) The hardest part is breaking them up and then peeling all those wee cloves. To make the peeling easier, I dehydrate them for 24 hours, let them cool, and then the peels come off much easier as the cloves have shrunk down a bit in their skins. Slice them up and place them back in the dehydrator till the are fully dried with no moisture left in them, or they will clump up and go mouldy.
Carrots- Leave in the garden and harvest as needed. They will store well throughout the winter, not phased by snow or frost.
Celery - Harvest the stalks when you need them for salads or canning, but leave the plant in the ground. It will store well in the garden pretty much all winter long, handles all but the hardest of frosts. Even if frost does knock it down into a mushy mess, it will start to regrow from the centre as the days grow warmer.
Swiss Chard - Treat the same as the celery above. Tip…. I read that if your chard is bolting in this heat, you can cut it down to just a couple of inches tall and let it regrow for sweet fall stalks. I have not tried this yet but I can see that it makes total sense and should work well.
Planting and Sowing for Fall and Winter Harvest
Prep your soil before you plant by adding a bit of manure or compost and scratching that into the surface. A good organic dry fertiliser is also beneficial, like Gaia Green 4-4-4 or similar.
You can also add a good, high nitrogen source to your bed, something we never seem to have enough of, especially if you are growing lots of greens. Scratch blood meal or alfalfa meal into your bed before you plant. You can also toss alfalfa pellets hither and tither in your beds … as long as you do not have bunnies ; )
What Can You Plant and Sow This Month?
Pick up all kinds of starter plants at the farmer’s markets or nurseries this month. If you did not sow your kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.. seeds in July, pick them up as starters instead. However, still time to sow seeds for all kinds of other veggies …
Beets - Get in another row or two of short season beets, sow now.
Green Onions aka spring onions aka scallions - Yay! One of my favourites!
Lettuce - Winter hardy varieties will thrive as we go into the shorter days. Grow in cold frames, unheated greenhouse, under a poly cover, or in pots/planters protected from the winter rains.
Peas - Sow seeds now or grow from starter plants.
Radishes - fall radishes are perfect, much sweeter and even yummier than spring sown ones.
Spinach & Other Great Greens! - Is finally time to sow all kinds of hardy greens like arugula, mustard, mesclun, pak choi, for fall harvest.
As mentioned last month, this is also a great time to toss in some more cilantro, dill, and even parsley for a nice, fresh source of herbs all the way through till winter.
Wondering where on earth you are going to put them as your garden all full of summer veggies? Look for empty pockets wherever you can… or make them.
Wee spaces where you have harvested cabbages from, or potatoes, or beets..
Remove sad looking companion flowers that may have powdery mildew, bugs, or simply be burning out in the heat.
Have any veggie plants that are struggling, not producing? Pull them out and plant in some fresh fall and winter veggies… Squash plants that are not yet growing and giving? Tomatoes that have no tomatoes on them yet or are struggling? Get rid of them, is too late for them to do much of anything for you.
Harvest season is here, so anything that you are able to harvest to make room for your fall and winter veggies.. like onions!
Are your plants starting to look a bit tired? Burnt out? Companion flowers full of aphids or holes or just done for in the heat? Pull them out and pop in some fresh flowers now. Pick up some nasturtiums from a local grower or pop in some seeds here and there. Before you know it, you will have a nice pop of colour in your garden again, to freshen it up for the late summer season.