This summer has been very hot and dry, hazy with smoke from forest fires. At the latter end of August, we're all starting to feel a wee bit burnt out, like all we've done is water and water some more. Which is pretty accurate, actually.
Watering is always a bit crazy here on the west coast in summer. We get little to no rain till September, our lawns go golden and dormant in June, mulch is widely used to help retain moisture. Summer watering restrictions are commonplace annually and vary by city or district.
This year has been exceptionally hot and dry. Check with your jurisdiction for the restrictions in your area and please, please be water wise.
How does this heat and drought affect our gardens?
You may notice less tomatoes (maybe peppers, too) on some of your plants this year, especially if they are greenhouse grown. Tomato flowers go sterile in these plus 30°C temps. As our temperature has dropped just a few degrees, just enough for the tomatoes anyway, they will soon begin to blossom again, providing you with a few late summer fruits.
Plants may be stunted by the heat and lack of water this year and also produce less fruits. Some veggies may go straight from seedling to bolting, flowers and herbs may go to seed faster than usual, and trees may start to get yellow leaves and drop them early.
You may find more split root veggies upon harvest and Blossom End Rot on tomatoes, squash, and peppers. These issues are caused by inconsistent watering, try to water more often and regularly when it is super dry so that you do not have highs and lows.
In general, everything is just looking a wee bit tired and spent.
So how much to water in drought? When? How?
- Celery and celeriac are thriving (odd as it may seem, as they are like 95% water; ) and perfectly happy with a good, deep soak once or twice a week.
- Root crops like carrots, beets, onions, potatoes... all require a good soak once a week.
- Tomatoes are more needy this year than most. Usually I only deep soak every 3rd day in summertime, but this year I have now been doing so every 36 hours. Every day and half, if that makes sense? Today I water in the morning, tomorrow in the evening. Please do not wet your foliage if you are watering in the evening! This soon leads to fungal issues or blight. Use drip systems, weeping hoses, or a watering can at soil level in order to prevent any splash back on the foliage.
- Cucumbers are needy, they require water every day or two in order to keep producing sweet and tasty fruits. If they go dry for too long, you end up with bitter cukes.
- Squash is deep watered twice a week. Water well and feed well to keep them making new leaves as the older ones succumb to powdery mildew. Mildew on cukes and squash is a common issue in late summer as the weather conditions are dry in daytime but dewy at night, but they will continue to ripen the fruits despite how awful their leaves may look. *Tip. Contrary to what one might think, watering mildewed foliage (early in the day) helps flush off some of the spores and keep the spores from growing and spreading. The spores cannot grow on water. Cool, huh?
- Kale, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, any of the brassicas... deep watered once or twice a week.
Your food garden should be deep watered for nice robust, healthy plants with strong root systems, able to take up water and nutrients from the soil with ease. Deep watering is easiest when done by weeping hoses or drip tube systems. Sprinklers and watering wands lead to wet foliage, and thus, fungal diseases like powdery mildew, blight, and less hardy plants in general.
Soak hanging baskets and planters daily, feed once a week.
Tree that are not yet mature, less than 3 years old, will require a deep soak once or twice a week. Put the hose at a slow trickle at the base of each tree for about 20 minutes (or as long as it would take to fill a 5 gallon bucket at a slow trickle. You want to do it slow so that the water sinks in rather than running off.)
Let grass go dormant, it will green up again when the fall rains begin... or better yet, remove all lawns and replace with food crops and low water needs landscaping ; )
That is a bit cheeky, I know, but quite practical. Why not look at something pretty during the summer, rather than burnt out yellow lawn with green patches of weeds? We are working towards that on our acreage, hoping to be nearly grass free in just a few more years.
What to sow (seeds) now for fall harvesting?
Empty pockets of space are coming up in the garden as we harvest, or as plants burn out and go to seed in the heat, we gardeners are planning and planting for the fall and winter gardening seasons.
Lettuce. Sow any types of summer lettuces right now, this very week. They will still have enough time to mature and form heads, or grow mescluns or leaf lettuces for the cut and come again kind. You can also sow your winter lettuces, like Winter Density, January King, or Rouge D'Hiver now.
To make sure you have good germination with your lettuce, keep seeds cool and damp by covering the rows with burlap and soaking well daily. The next week or is supposed to stay in the upper 20's and lettuce seeds do not like heat. Start checking for germination in 3 to 6 days time. *Tip..see the back of the seed package for an idea of how many days till germination.
Greens. This family includes all kinds of leafy greens... mesclun, mustard, arugula, radicchio, pak choi, mache (corn salad).
Spinach. Sow your spinach now, start to harvest in 4 or 5 weeks time as you get baby greens. Harvest the leaves till late fall. Leave the plants in the garden for the winter, in spring you will get another flush of sweet greens.
Radishes. Sow a few rows now or a bit each week till mid-September.
Cilantro. For you cilantro lovers, this is the best time of year to sow cilantro. It will last until a hard frost kills it off, well into November! Spring sown cilantro always bolts so quickly, but fall cilantro loves the cooler temps and will last and last.
Turnips. Yum! Try the mild Japanese baby ones, they are super yummy and very frost tolerant, or any turnip seeds that you happen to have at home. They can be sown now and for several weeks ahead yet, so time to get in a couple of batches, if you'd like : )
What to plant from starters now?
- Winter Cauliflower
- Purple Sprouting Broccoli (hurry! It is almost too late)
That is it. Is too late for carrots, onions, and Brussels sprouts now, they will simply not have enough time to size up this late in the season. Once fall comes with it's shorter days, they stop growing and go dormant. Sadly, they will not start growing again in spring, will instead go to seed as soon as the weather starts to warm up some.
It is also pretty much too late for peas now, but if you found some starter plants, you could try planting those.
Later in the fall, we will be able to sow some broad beans and daikon though...
Don't forget to keep notes in your journal. Write down what worked and what did not. What succumbed to the heat, which tomatoes did the best and produced like mad, which cucumbers stayed sweet despite the heat, which flowers were most enjoyed by the pollinators... anything that either wowed you or bummed you out.
You think that you will remember next year, but trust me, by the time spring seeding comes along, it will all be like dust in the wind. Plus, is fun to look back on in a few year's time and compare with what you are growing and how much you have learned in the meantime. It may even spark a renewed interest in something you grew in the past.
A few other things of note in your late August garden....
Tomatoes. At the end of the month, you can pinch off the tops of indeterminate (cordon/vining) varieties to force the energy into ripening the tomatoes on the vine. You should also remove any suckers and all of the bottom foliage, but leave the top 1/2 of the leaves on the vine.
Harvest. The more you pick, the more they make. This applies to everything (except root crops).
Onions. Lift when the tops fold over and lay out to cure in a sunny spot. Once the tops fold over, the bulb stops growing regardless of what size it is once it topples.
Peppers. Harvest regularly to keep them fruiting. Toss a tablespoon or two of Epsom salts on top of the soil in pots, it will feed the roots each time you water. Feed with a tomato food, if a boost is needed. Peppers will keep on giving till well into November, till frost knocks them out.
Hanging baskets. Feed weekly and water daily to keep them blooming and happy for many weeks yet to come. Keep deadheading, too.
Dahlias, zinnias, other annuals. Deadhead regularly or harvest flowers often for vases to keep them blooming. If you let the blossoms go to seed, they will figure that their job is done for the year, stop flowering, and start to die down for the year.
Remove annuals (like calendula) that are finished for the year or they will go to seed and spread everywhere. This also applies to herbs like borage, lemon balm, and anise hyssop.
At Olde Thyme this fall...
Organic garlic for fall planting will be ready to go next month, in about mid-September.
Not sure how to plant garlic? Join us at the FREE workshop mentioned below for a quick how-to about garlic planting and putting your garden to bed for winter.
Garlic can also be picked up/purchased at that time.
Attend the FREE fall workshop on September 29th at 11 am.
"How to put your organic food garden to bed for winter"
Learn all that you need to know for the best results with next year's garden. How to do it up right. Also, how to plant garlic for the biggest and best results.
This is a short how-to that is held right in the garden area so please dress for the weather. More information soon.