This summer’s weather has returned to some semblance of “normal” as we enter the middle of August. It has been a bit warmer than “normal” with more than 12 days above 90 degrees already recorded in Albany and also a bit wetter due to hit and miss thundershowers that mostly have “missed” my garden. That’s OK with me after a very wet spring that carried over from last winter.
Most years I harvest my garlic in the middle to the end of July. This year I was surprised to see that at least two of the varieties I grew were not ready until early August. I grew 4, hard necked varieties, this year. Rioja is a red skinned, smallish bulb, Vietnamese, a much larger white skinned bulb, Persian Star, also white skinned and large and a variety called Music that has pinkish skin on the bulb. I have not compared the flavors of them yet since they are still curing. Garlic is best harvested when the individual cloves are visible and clearly defined within the bulb, but before they split the outer skin. Well, both Vietnamese and Persian Star were not quite mature even in early August, but Rioja and Music, were over mature and the cloves had split the skin. I will use these two first and store the others.
I have always tried to cut off the garlic scapes (flower stalks) as soon as they appear, since I had read that they can be used in various manners, such as making a pesto or just cooked. This year, with the varying maturity times, I missed cutting off some of them and I was pretty surprised to see how much they affected the overall bulb size. The bulbs that did not have the scapes removed were about half the size of the ones that did have them removed. My neighbor Werner made the exact same observation with different varieties. I also learned that planting the largest cloves makes the largest bulbs, by a lot! I only had a couple of Rioja bulbs so I planted some very small cloves from them last October and the resulting bulbs are also very small.
Garlic, onions, shallots, chives and leeks are all called “Alliums” since they are all in the onion family and they are perhaps the easiest crops to grow organically in a backyard garden. I apply one early insecticide spray to the soil shortly after planting to kill off any onion maggots that may appear, but nothing at all after that.
On the other end of the “need to spray” spectrum, are the Brassicas, namely Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. These crops are subject to several pests and I usually spray them early in the season for root maggots. Right now I am seeing the white butterfly that is laying eggs which will hatch into green colored, cabbage worms in a few days. These pests can be controlled organically by using the biological products containing Bacillus thurigiensis, sometimes sold as Dipel or “organic caterpillar control”.
Some readers have reported their zucchini or other squash plants abruptly collapsing and dying. Careful observation of the base of the plants show what appears to be a sawdust like material on the lower leaf stems. This is called “frass” which is a polite term for insect poop! Several weeks ago a non-descript, clear winged insect, called the squash vine borer, laid eggs at the base of the plant that hatched into larvae that eat the inside of the leaf stalks. There is nothing that can be done at this time except to try to skewer the “worms” that are still inside the stalks with a paper clip. Some people actually welcome the demise of their zucchini plants after a few weeks of production! This is another example of where an early applied prophylactic spray is needed to prevent the egg laying to begin with.
The other major squash pest are grey colored, shield shaped “squash bugs” that can overwhelm all members of the squash family. Some gardeners have even quit growing summer squash (including me) due to these pests which come back year after year. To prevent them from multiplying it is necessary to spray early and often.
Cucumber vines wilting, shriveling and dying is usually due to a disease called “bacterial wilt.” This disease is transmitted by tiny, harmless looking, striped cucumbers beetles that are only about quarter inch long. Their larvae feed underground on the roots where they transmit the disease early in the season. Once the vines begin to wilt in mid-summer, there is no control. No one likes to spray poisons on food crops, but if applied early in the growing season, these insecticides break down long before harvest begins.
Reach Bob Beyfuss at firstname.lastname@example.org.