First of all, Happy Birthday America! The past year and a half has presented many challenges to our nation, but I am proud that our country appears to have emerged relatively unscathed. I am also happy that many families have turned to gardening as a healthy way to deal with the isolation many have had to endure. We are never alone when there are plants we grow, depending on us for their sustenance.

Last week’s column on poison ivy elicited quite a bit of email from readers who shared their experiences. One reader, Jon, has an excellent website that discusses this weed extensively. I was also reminded that there are many other common poisonous plants growing right now worth mentioning and some plants, such as Virginia creeper, may also be toxic to some people, but is harmless to most.

One common roadside weed, wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, produces a rash that results in blisters that resemble and are as painful as a second degree burn. It is in the same family as Queens Anne’s lace, which it resembles, except for having yellow and not white, flowers. It can grow to six feet tall but it never reaches the stature of its close cousin, Giant Hogweed, which may grow 10 feet tall or even higher. I have not seen Giant hogweed in our region personally, but I suspect it may be growing around here, somewhere. Although wild parsnip is the same plant as the common garden parsnip we eat in soups and stews, the yellow flower heads are the second-year growth from the carrot-like roots. It is a close relative of carrots, parsley and angelica, all of which can cause similar skin reactions in sensitive individuals. It is odd that the toxic effects of the sap are generally only expressed in the presence of sunlight. If you get the sap on you, wash it off with soap and water and keep exposed skin covered from sunlight for at least 48 hours.

If you are a fan of oak trees in general, a reader highly recommends the recently published book “The Nature of Oaks” by Douglas W. Tallamy. I have not read it myself, but it is among several excellent unread books on my list.

Our vegetable gardens are producing all sorts of tasty treats right now for those of you in the Hudson Valley, thanks to some stupidly hot weather we have had the past two weeks. I have small, green tomatoes already and blossoms on my cucumbers and zucchini. The first Colorado potato bugs have appeared on some “volunteer” potatoes I failed to dig last fall. These chunky, yellow with black stripes, beetles can wipe out potato, tomato and eggplant in short order once they start multiplying. Look for and squish their yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves as you see them. A preventive insecticide spray applied now may be warranted. There are organic as well as conventional products available at most garden centers.

Early blight on tomatoes is evidenced by yellow spots on leaves that eventually turn brown and cause the leaves to wither and die. This disease cannot be cured, but it can be prevented somewhat, by fungicide applications applied now. Garlic is now being harvested as the cloves expand. Pull up a bulb to see if the individual cloves are fully formed, but can still be separated from each other with your fingers. Over ripe bulbs will have the cloves already separated. Save the biggest bulbs for replanting this October.

If you have space in the garden now from where you have harvested garlic, spinach, beets, turnips, lettuce or salad greens, you can still plant beans, carrots, beets and even summer squash for a fall crop. You can probably even plant a fast maturing variety of sweet corn that is ready to harvest in 70 days or less. Wait a few weeks to sow fall greens or lettuce. Hot weather makes radishes taste much hotter than cool weather and it also causes all sorts of plants to bolt prematurely. I will make my final asparagus harvest on July 4th and allow the spears to grow to fern for the rest of the season.

My peach trees have set an over abundant crop once again that I have been trying to thin now that the “June drop” is over. Ideally, peaches should be thinned to one fruit per eight inches of branch length. I think I may have to prop up some branches with stakes to keep them from breaking due to the added weight.

Most gardeners are reporting a good fruit set on berries as well as tree fruit. The strawberry season is in full swing now. Strawberry beds are usually only productive for a few years sadly. Next week I will tell you how to renovate the beds.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at

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