By Cassandra Warner
July in the Garden is certainly filled with anticipation for that first ripe tomato. Then you can hardly wait for the sweet and juicy garden treats of water melon and cantaloupes.
Bees are buzzing and butterflies flit and flitter here and there from one beautiful flower to another. It is a delight to watch them as they enjoy our gardens. And the work they do is priceless.
Rewards of time spent in the garden from the last few months includes crunchy cucumbers, salad greens, tasty peppers and onions. Not to mentions savory summer squash and zucchini on the grill, fresh green beans with new potatoes.
As continuously producing crops such as cucumber, green beans, squash are maturing rapidly, they should be picked before they become overripe for best taste and nutrition. Many may need to be picked daily. If you were a bit zealous with your planting, you can most always find willing recipients for what you cannot eat and preserve. Also picking these crops when they are young and tender keeps the plant producing.
Eat fresh-picked for the best taste and nutrition. Remember “plot to pan or table” as soon as possible (or PPT/ASAP). Especially important is to harvest corn right before you are ready to cook it.
When the leafy tops of shallots have turned brown, the plant can be removed. Leave laying on the ground for a few days then place shallots on a supported screen to continue to dry for 2-3 weeks. Move shallots inside or cover in the event of rain. Once dry, cut away the tops and leave about 1-2 inches of the stem attached to the bulb. If you have any bulbs with thick green stems they should be used first.
Okra should be cut with a sharp knife when about three inches long.
Garlic should be harvested when 1/3-1/2 of the leaves have turned yellow. If all the leaves have yellowed or browned, the cloves within the bulb begins to separate. Garlic with separated cloves does not store as well after harvest. Dry garlic in an airy location out of direct sunlight. The drying or curing process takes about 3-4 weeks and is necessary for long term storage.
Squash in the Spotlight
You might wonder how much squash to plant. I answer that question this way: two for the squash bugs and two for me. Two vines of summer or winter squash are usually enough to feed four people and it can be hoped the squash bugs will get their fill on two vines or plants. If growing organically it is a must to inspect for squash bug eggs, remove and (yes) squash them before they hatch. If you miss some and they do hatch, squash the nymphs also.
Another pesky pest of the squash is the squash vine borer. Getting rid of it may require surgery. Gee, who knew a gardener would need to be so talented? Sudden wilting of squash vines is the first symptom, but to be sure the problem is indeed borers, inspect the base of the vine for a hole that exudes wet sawdust-like frass (insect excrement). If found, use a sharp knife to slit open the infected stem. Remove the borer and then cover the stem with some soil just above the point of injury. Many times the stem will form new roots and the patient (oh, I mean plant) will continue to grow and produce. I have had to do one surgery so far this year. So far, so good.
If growing a vinning cultivar of winter squash pinch off the growing tips when vines grow to about five feet to encourage fruit-bearing side shoots. Winter squash will have set all the fruit they have time to mature by the middle of summer. To encourage the plant to put its energy into ripening the crop, start removing the remaining flowers. A thick layer of mulch under maturing fruit, placing them on a board or flat rock or even an upside down flower pot will help prevent rot caused by resting directly on the soil.
Squash are low in calories and high in fiber. Enjoy it raw, cooked, grilled or “in disguise.” Steam the squash, puree and add ingredients for pumpkin pie. Top with whipped cream and the kids will never know they are eating squash.
Being sure plants get enough water is number one on the July garden list. When watering, remember to water early or late in the day to reduce water loss from evaporation. Water deeply and let the soil dry out between watering. Take care not to over-water cantaloupe and watermelons. As they near maturity too much water may reduce sweetness and flavor. You can also pinch off blossoms that develop, which may not have time to mature into ripe fruit before fall frost, to speed ripening of the remaining melons.
Turn the Compost
Now is the time to side dress with high nitrogen, natural fertilizer on all long season crops such as sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, winter squash and pumpkin. When side-dressing avoid applying high quantities of nitrogen. Sprinkling about a total of one pound of nitrogen along the crop row is enough for every 1,000 square foot of garden. This amount of nitrogen is contained in about 10 pounds of 4-3-4 organic fertilizer blend made from composted chicken manure.
If bushy herbs look shabby, cut them back to rejuvenate plants and encourage new healthy growth.
Watch out for striped cucumber beetles on cucumbers and squash. They will chew holes in the leaves but can also spread a bacterial disease that causes plants to wilt and die. Once the plant begins to wilt, it is best to remove the plant.
Apply a botanical pesticide such as pyrethum or rotenone on plants to get rid of the beetles on plants, you can also try hanging yellow sticky traps above the plants (available at garden centers).
If squash or melon start to show signs of powdery mildew, try making a spray with a solution of 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of water.
Fertilize June bearing strawberries after the harvest and everbearing varieties half way through the season, watering the fertilizer well to get down to the root zone (but do not over water). Over fertilization will cause excessive vegetation growth, reduce yields, increase loses from frost and foliar disease and result in winter injury.
Empty areas of the garden where crops have finished should be replanted with succession planting, fall crops or a cover crop.
Art in the Garden
If you provided pole beans or cucumbers something to climb on, you can have some fun and recycle too. If you constructed teepees, paint some wine or other attractive bottles with garden art. Place on top of teepees upside down as teepee toppers.
Plant successions of salad crops for continuous harvesting through out the summer.
Sow seeds for cool season crops directly into the garden by mid-July through the end of July. For a fall harvest of spinach you may need to shade seedlings at least through mid-summer and be sure to give them plenty of water. Spinach needs 30-45 days from sowing to harvest, depending on variety, so keep planting into early fall. Melody, Tyee and Indian summer are good varieties for late summer and fall planting.
Kale planted now will be ready for harvest this fall, but if weather is very hot, shade for seedlings may be necessary. Mulching with straw will also help retain moisture.
Sow more green beans and peas by the first part of July for a fall harvest.
By sowing short rooted varieties of carrots such as Little Finger, Gold Nuggets, Sweet and Short and Tiny Sweet in raised beds or containers, it will be possible to get a crop by fall.
Blanch celery about one week before harvesting if you like tender mild-flavored stalks. Blanching may be achieved by mounding soil around plants, wrapping leaf stalks with paper of foil or placing boards against plants in the row. Unblanched plants will have a stronger flavor. This is the first year I have grown celery, so I will to do both to determine my preference.
Turn under old pea vines as they are a good source of nitrogen. Wait a few weeks to let plants break down in the soil, then plant a cover crop of winter rye. Winter rye will absorb some of the nitrogen released by the decayed pea plants. Next spring when the winter rye is turned under it will release the nitrogen so newly planted crops will be nourished.
A garden is such a wonderful place. Awesome fragrances, the sights and the wonderful rewards of our labors, delight the mind, body and soul.
Originally from Texas, Cassandra Warner is a transplant to the garden of Tennessee. Gardening has been one of her passions for forty years. “Gardening connects you to the miracle of life and provides healthy exercise and stress relief. Mine has been a learn as you grow school, and I plan to always ‘Keep it Growing’,” she says.