Gardening Tips: July 28, 2010

Mid-summer gardening
August marks the middle of our gardening season as well as mid-summer and this year I feel like we have already experienced a legitimate summer! July was one of the warmest on record in our region and most vegetable gardens are at peak production. This is actually a good time to plant some seeds for fall season harvests of lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes and assorted other salad greens. I remember when salad meant “lettuce” and not much else. Today you can buy seeds for all sorts of salad greens that combine nicely with lettuce. I planted a packet of “assorted greens” back in April and some of these greens are still producing but most have bolted. I let a few of the “bolted” i.e. gone to seed plants remain and hope they will self seed themselves for a fall harvest.
Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels’ sprouts and kale thrive in the cooler weather and shorter days of late August and September. I do hope August is cooler than July. Winter cold drives us all indoors for far too many months each winter and this year I have been driven indoors by summer heat also and I don’t like it! I have seen lots of blossom end rot on tomatoes this summer. Blossom end rot is a black, sometimes leathery, lesion on the bottom of the fruit that ruins at least half of the tomato. This physiological disorder is not a disease and it usually cures itself on the fruit that ripen later on. I have seen both early and late blight on tomatoes also but gardeners who have been diligently applying fungicides have avoided much of this.
Flower gardens can be rejuvenated right now by cutting back and removing the spent flowers on annuals and perennials. Some of these will reward your efforts by producing a second season of blooms. Hanging baskets and window boxes as well as other containerized plants may need to be watered as often as everyday now that their root systems have filled the containers. They too, may be cut back hard now for another show later on this summer.
Crumbly, gnarly, small and misshapen fruit on raspberries and blackberries are usually caused by a virus disease that infects these brambles via aphids or leafhoppers. Unfortunately once infected with virus there is no cure. Another symptom of virus infection is shriveled, dried up leaves. This is a good time to renovate strawberry beds by mowing off the leaves, ruthlessly thinning the plants to one per square foot, applying fertilizer (two pounds of 5-10-10 per 100 square feet) and getting rid of all the weeds! Remember that strawberry plants form their flower buds in the fall season for next year’s fruit.
Local peaches are beginning to ripen and some growers have noticed that the fruit are infested with earwigs. These ugly, reddish brown critters have large, forceps like appendages on their rear end. They end up feeding around the pit but many times most of the fruit can be salvaged by just cutting out the pit. Peaches are one of the few tree fruit that many backyard gardeners can grow successfully without needing to spray pesticides. Apples are far more difficult to get to produce perfect fruit without spraying often.