In the Vegetable Garden- August
Spotted Lantern Fly Update: A June 26 Washington Post Article drawing on the hands-on experience of Extension Agent Mark Sutphin described the increasing threat presented by this pest now present on the northern edge of Winchester, VA. They are known to attack 70 plant species, favoring Tree of Heaven but also do heavy damage to grape vines, fruit trees and various timber woods including oak, black walnut and maple trees.
They don’t travel far on their own but are transported into new areas by human activity. These are a sucking insect that weakens plants and reduces harvests by stealing nutrients while excreting a sticky “honeydew” that breeds sooty mold that collects on leaves and other surfaces in the area, further reducing photosynthesis and discoloring home and yard items on which it is deposited.
Spotted Lantern Fly is now present in PA, DE, NJ, MD and a 17-square-mile area in northern VA. Currently, sticky tape tree wraps are used to try to catch them, but with limited effectiveness. Other work is underway searching for predators as well as biological and chemical solutions, but spotted lantern fly is, at a minimum, a serious short-term threat to commercial and homeowner properties. If you see any evidence of this pest, please call your extension office immediately.
August is a transition month: the vegetable garden is moving from late spring and summer crops to cool weather or fall crops. The gardener who fails to plant a fall garden is 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 a second growing season, but also a second chance to plant those early spring crops that failed in the summer heat. August in central Virginia is definitely fall planting season. Timely planting is the key to success.
The VA Cooperative Extension pegs the Piedmont area’s average first frost date at October 19-29. Hardiness zone 7a puts it a little later at November 15. In any case, for planting purposes, consider the time from planting to harvest to give your fall crop time to mature. For the truly analytical among us, Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-334, “Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates” offers a calculator to help you decide what to plant and when to plant it.
More Gardening Tips and Tasks For August:
- 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 seed in August. Chinese cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels 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 (not ornamental) varieties of cabbage and kale.
- Fall plants often have fewer insect problems because they avoid the peak insect activity period of midsummer. However, some insects, such as cabbage worms and corn earworms, may be worse later in the year than in the summer; vigilance is still required. Avoid some pests and diseases by planting crops of different families than those which were originally grown 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 application of an organic or complete fertilizer will provide the nutrients needed by your fall crops.
- Dry soil can make working the soil difficult and can also inhibit seed germination during the late summer. Plant fall vegetables when the soil is moist, either 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 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 fungal diseases.
- When mulching around young seedlings, care should be taken not to cover the seedlings. Young seedlings need as much sunlight as possible; mulch should cover the soil, not the young plants.
- If you have a problem with cabbage worms on your cole crops (cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), consider using floating or hoop-supported row covers, pick worms off the plants when you see evidence of chewing or excrement on the plants, and for extreme infestations, use Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), an organic and relatively safe pesticide as per label directions. If you can protect your plants until the first frost you can enjoy harvesting many of these vegetables well into winter. For more detailed info on the problem and solutions refer to the article OMG, What’s Eating the Broccoli in the April 2018 issue of The Garden Shed.
- 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 away. 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 will 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. For more information on the benefits of growing buckwheat, check out the “Buckwheat” article in our August 2016 issue of The Garden Shed.
- Garden vegetables that become over-ripe are easy targets for some pests. Remove ripe vegetables as soon as possible.
- When harvesting, don’t let your produce sit in the hot sun for any length of time. Cover and even better, keep them cool, to prevent loss of succulence, wilting, and conversion of natural sugars to starch.
August is kind of a good news-bad news time for home gardeners. The spring plants are expiring, we’re fighting bugs and diseases, and we’re hot and tired. The good news is that removing the old plant material, reviving the soil with fresh compost or organic fertilizers, and planting new seeds or transplants gives us a second chance to enjoy again the growing and harvesting periods that make gardening so satisfying.
Thanks for visiting us in The Garden Shed. We look forward to sharing experiences again next month.
“Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Dates,” Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-334, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/426/426-331/426-331_pdf.pdf
“August Monthly Tip Sheets -Vegetables,” https://albemarle.ext.vt.edu/programs/horticulture-natural-resources.html