August Tips and Tasks in the Veggie Garden
My grandfather once remarked, “The dog days in central Virginia are so hot and miserable, even the dog quits fetching.” And dog days can also be an uncomfortable time for the vegetable gardener. The neat rows and beds in the vegetable garden often begin to look like a bedraggled mutt. Weeds are often flourishing, a harvest trip to the garden often resembles an Easter egg hunt, the lettuce and spinach bolted weeks ago, peas are long gone, the potato plants have died, and early blight is making it’s annual march up the tomato plants. Those neat rows and weedless vegetable garden patch have become a distant memory. August is a month of harvest, watering, and weeding. It’s also the month when we transition from warm weather crops to cool weather crops. It takes a lot of vision to think ahead to the cool crisp days of autumn and a fall garden during the hot and dry dog days of August.
The gardener who fails to plant a fall garden is often missing out on a remarkable growing season. Here in central Virginia, we can harvest fresh produce well into the fall and often into early winter. No matter how ragged the summer garden looks, a fall garden offers us not only second growing season, but a second chance to plant those early spring crops that failed in the summer heat. August in central Virginia is fall planting season, the time to plan and plant a fall garden. Timely planting is the key to a successful fall garden.
- When choosing vegetables for the fall garden, select those that are semi-hardy, as they will tolerate a light to moderate frost and look for those with quick maturity (fewest days to harvest). This information will be listed on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.
- Vegetables that can be planted in August include leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, collards, kale and mustard. Radishes, turnips, beets and carrots can all be started from seeds. Chinese cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts can be transplanted in August and still have enough time to produce a good harvest. When selecting plants for transplanting at the local gardening center be sure you are selecting edible and not ornamental, varieties of cabbage and kale.
- Fall plants often have fewer insect problems, as they avoid the peak insect activity period of midsummer. However, some insects, such as cabbageworm and corn earworm, may be even worse late in the year than summer; vigilance is still required. Avoid some pests and diseases by planting crops of different families than were originally in that section of garden.
- When planting fall crops, prepare the soil by restoring the nutrients removed by spring and summer crops. A light layer of compost or aged manure, or a small application of an organic or complete fertilizer will provide the nutrients needed by your fall crops.
- Dry soil can making working the soil difficult and can also inhibit seed germination during the late summer. Plant fall vegetables when the soil is moist — after a rain or after you’ve watered the area thoroughly the day before planting. Plant the seeds slightly deeper than recommended for spring planting. Once planted, water them in thoroughly, and then use a mulch or a covering of compost to prevent the soil from crusting.
- Watering properly is the key to conserving water in the heat of the late summer. One inch per week applied all at one time will wet the soil 6 to 8 inches deep and insure good yield from your mature crops. Two inches of organic mulch such as leaves or straw, will cool the soil and reduce surface evaporation of water. Water the garden early in the day so the foliage dries before nightfall. Wet foliage at night increases susceptibility to fungus diseases.
- When mulching around young seedlings, care should be taken not to cover the seedlings. Young seedlings need as much sunlight as possible, and the mulch should be covering the soil — not engulfing the young plants.
- Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants producing. If you are going on vacation this month, harvest all your vegetables beforehand, and then arrange for someone to pick fast-maturing crops such as squash and okra while you’re off loafing. Otherwise, your vegetables will become over-mature and stop producing,
- Potatoes continue to grow as long as the tops are green. Dig only as many as you need for immediate use. The tubers will keep better in the ground than in a warm dry area.
- Consider planting a cover crop. A cover crop such as annual rye decreases erosion of the soil during the winter, shades out weeds, adds organic material when it is incorporated into the soil in spring, improves the soil structure and adds valuable nutrients. Cover crops can be sown between rows of fall vegetables a month or less before expected harvest. The cover crops will get a head start and not interfere with vegetable plant growth. Buckwheat will be killed by frost but can be sown as a cover crop up to 6-8 weeks before a killing frost, usually about the 3rd or 4th week in October.
- Garden vegetables that become over-ripe are easy targets for some pests. Remove then as soon as possible to avoid detection by pests.
- Having trouble locating your tools in the garden amongst your plants? Paint the handles of your garden tools a bright color other than green or tie a piece of bright orange surveyor’s tape around the handle.
During the hot dog days of August, one of the last things a vegetable gardener wants to think about is planting more crops. But look ahead to the fall garden, which offers its own satisfaction through its prolonged harvest of fresh vegetables, savings in food costs and knowing that you are making full use of your gardening space and season.
Thanks for joining us in The Garden Shed. We look forward to you stopping by next month for a visit.
Case, Chris. “The Dog Days Of Summer,” The Sheridan Libraries Blog 2015. Web. 19 July 2015. http://blogs.library.jhu.edu/wordpress/2014/07/the-dog-days-of-summer/
“August Monthly Tip Sheets – August Vegetables,” .http://offices.ext.vt.edu/albemarle/programs/anr/tip-sheets/8-14-vegetables.pdf (Relf, Diane, Extension Specialist, Environmental Horticulture, Virginia Cooperative Extension-Albemarle County/Charlottesville)
“Fall Vegetable Gardening,” Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-334, http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-334/426-334.html