Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: August - a time to reap, a time to sow

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Though August is the eighth month of the year, it is an odd month for vegetable gardeners. That is because August embraces all of the activities that encompass a growing season. For one, it is a prime month for harvesting. Most crops are now being harvested. This includes the on-going harvest of leafy greens and root crops, as well as the brassicas, i.e. cabbage, broccoli, etc. Though our potatoes are not yet ready to be dug for storage, we continue to unearth a few "new" potatoes on occasion to satisfy our appetite. Other crops to be harvested include beans, cucumbers, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and, with the help of our local raccoon clan, sweet corn.

While the harvest goes on, so does routine garden maintenance. Weeds cannot be ignored now since many will rapidly go to seed if ignored. Rain has been plentiful of late, but that situation could quickly change and require watering to support growth of long season crops. Meanwhile, pests and diseases are not likely to take a vacation this month as many gardeners are prone to do. Hence, vigilance and pest and disease management are crucial now if we are to reap the rewards of our labors.

Perhaps surprising to some, August is also a month for planting. As space opens in the garden, we are sowing seeds of salad greens, beets, carrots, turnips and radishes. Many bush bean varieties, such "Provider," "Bountiful" and "Masai," will mature in 50 to 55 days. I can't predict when the first frost will occur, but with climate change, the first fall frost has been coming later each year it seems and, thus, sowing beans now is worth the risk. Another crop not thought of as a fall crop is peas. Early fall frosts will not be a problem for these sweeties. Even if beans and peas don't yield any of their fruit, they can still be turned under as green manure crops to enrich the soil. Speaking writing? ... of which, those vacant areas in the garden may also play host to cover crops, including buckwheat, annual rye, mustard and sudan grass.

So, harvest, maintain and sow this month. Maybe August is not so odd, after all.                              

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO DO?

Here are a few odd chores to keep you engaged this week:

- Thin out some of the plants in densely populated pachysandra beds. This is a relatively pest-free plant, but when the beds get too crowded, pachysandra is prone to a disease known as Volutella blight. The primary symptoms of the disease are tan circular, target-like spots on the leaves and dark, water-soaked lesions on the stems. When thinning the bed, also remove any accumulated leaf debris. This will improve air movement around the plants and allow them to dry quickly.

- Avoid mowing during the heat of the afternoon when grass is somewhat stressed. Instead, mow during the cooler times of the day, early morning or in the evening after dinner. Also, maintain the highest mowing height possible. Don't think that by mowing low you'll help the turf by reducing the amount of leaf area the roots have to support. Remember, if the turf doesn't have any leaves it can't harvest light for photosynthesis and the result is that more energy will be spent to produce new leaf tissue. Mow high and mow in the coolest part of the day.

- Don't despair if you suddenly see a slimy yellow mass appear on your lawn or on landscape mulch. Weather conditions of late have been ideal for growth of slime mold, in some circles referred to as "dog vomit fungus." Though it may offend your visual senses, this fungus does not harm the grass. Actually, the mold feeds on decaying organic matter, such as old grass clippings and wood chip mulch. Eventually the mold disappears on its own. Otherwise, a forceful spray from the garden hose will break up the mold.

- Harvest leaves from basil, oregano, dill, tarragon and sage for drying. Freshly dried herbs taste much better than dried herbs that have sat in warehouses or on grocery shelves for months. I use a food dryer for drying herbs, but they can also be air dried.

- Harvest sweet corn in early morning. The sugar content of the corn kernels is highest at that time. If you prefer corn flakes over sweet corn for breakfast, immediately refrigerate the corn, unhusked, until ready to use. This may not be as much of an issue for those growing some of the super-sweet hybrids.

- Make a cucumber salad on hot days. Cucumbers have been referred to as nature's air conditioner. Perhaps it is their high water content, but whatever the reason, eating cucumbers on a hot day makes me feel ... well, cool as a cucumber.

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