It has been a long time since I have said “we could use some rain” as I write this on July 17. The weather pattern we have settled into with warm, muggy, days triggering late afternoon thunderstorms may or may not provide some much needed precipitation, depending on where you live. Make sure you have some rain barrels set up to capture any brief showers that may occur. Quick downpours contribute little to soil moisture if it runs off before the soil is saturated. I still have a 55 gallon barrel and a half to use for irrigation of my potted plants and my window box. I am concerned about bacteria growing in my rain barrels as the water is now quite stagnant. I did a search and learned that it only requires about 2 teaspoons of household bleach to disinfect 55 gallons of water. That just does not seem like enough, but I will do it anyway.
There is still plenty of time to plant some vegetables that can be harvested this fall. By now there may be some space in the garden where your zucchini plants have died or perhaps you have harvested all the peas, beans, radishes and lettuce that you can stand for a while. A fall crop of turnips, beets, spinach, carrots or even more salad greens is achievable if you plant right now. You can actually plant lettuce and greens well into August. Lettuce seed does not germinate well when the soil surface temperature is over 80 degrees. To solve this problem, lay a wooden board such as a 2 by 6 on top of the seeded area and check underneath it every few days. The board will keep the soil cool and moist. As soon as the seed germinates, remove the board. You can also plant greens in the shade cast by taller crops, such as tomatoes or corn.
Until last year I had never grown carrots in my garden because.
1. I am not all that fond of carrots as a vegetable, in general;
2. I have never had soil that was suitable, in my opinion, for growing carrots. Turns out I was wrong about that. Carrots grow quite well even in heavy, clay soil if it is well tilled, especially in a raised bed, such as I employ.
After talking to a few other gardeners, who grow carrots faithfully every year, I decided to give them a try. I had been told that fresh carrots from the garden taste totally unlike any store bought ones and that intrigued me. Well, that turned out to be the truth and now carrots will be planted every year in the space that becomes available after I harvest my garlic. They really do taste different than supermarket produce.
Right now is also a good time to plant ornamentals, including perennials, trees and shrubs. They will require a little extra care, especially watering, but there is plenty of time for them to establish a good root system before cold weather sets in. In fact the shorter days and cool nights we will soon be experiencing put less overall stress on them in general. Roots will continue to grow well into the fall, even after the foliage fades and drops. Local garden centers and nurseries will soon be having sales that you should take advantage of. Container grown plants at the garden center may look a little “ratty” right now, especially spring flowering perennials and shrubs, but they will look great next year in your yard. Before you buy, if the garden center allows it, pop the plant out of its pot to examine the roots. If they are white in color and tightly wound in circles in the pot, it is fine. If the root system is missing or sparse, don’t buy it. When you plant them, take a knife and slice the roots vertically and tease them out so they grow outward and not in a circle as they did in the pot.
This is not a great time to establish a new lawn since grass seed also does not germinate well when soil temperature is this warm. Wait until late August or early September. Finally, avoid spraying or applying any weed killers right now. Many of these chemicals volatize in hot weather and may end up damaging your vegetable garden 50 yards away.
Reach Bob Beyfuss at firstname.lastname@example.org.