8/9/13: In the garden this week

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About 20 years ago, my kids and I planted everbearing raspberries ordered from Burpee at one end of my perennial garden. I told them that if they wanted raspberries, they had to help plant (they both love raspberries, and I wanted them to have the experience of going outside, picking ripe berries, and popping them into their mouths still warm from the sun). The kids are grown up and gone, but the raspberries are still going strong. This year’s second crop is ripening now. There’s so much fruit this year that the catbirds may actually let us have some.

We got a nice amount of much-needed rain over the past day or so, but the weather is supposed to clear tomorrow and then remain pleasantly cool for the next week. What an amazing summer! Neither drought nor inundation, and bearable heat and humidity! We are screening this season’s second load of compost in the early evenings, and when I get a chance during the day, I get out and weed. And of course, this time of year I’m thinking about next year’s garden. I really have to dig out a lot of those Rudbeckias in the spring . . .

But that’s for thinking about over the winter and doing next spring. This week it’s time to think about fall crops like peas and greens–it’s almost time to plant. Here are some things you might do in the garden this week:

— plan your fall vegetable garden. Next week (around August 15) is a good time to plant fall crops such as lettuce, arugula, and peas. I will be planting some Japanese greens and snow peas, in addition to my favorite mesclun mix and arugula. I purchased the seeds at the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize or water. We received over 2″ of rain this week.

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen throughout the season; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– the ground is nice and damp, making it easy to weed, so get rid of the summer’s growth of weeds while they are still small enough to pull out easily. It’s great exercise!

– continue to plant kale, chard, and other members of the brassica clan if you have room; harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Pull up bean plants when they stop producing.

– continue to stake tomato plants firmly as they grow and remove all suckers. Now that plants are producing fruit, cut back on watering to prevent cracking. given the amount of rain we have received this week, there is no need to water.

– monitor the garden carefully for pests and diseases; high humidity is causing fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, although most are not severe enough to threaten a plant’s health (more on that in a future post). Remove and discard infected leaves on vegetable plants, and water only early in the day to prevent the spread of fungus.

– identify pests before taking action: most insects are harmless or even beneficial, and many harmful ones can be easily removed by hand-picking

– take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed. My compost pile is ready to use, so I hope to get a third load this season.

Finally, take a close look at your perennials. Even as many start or continue to bloom with all their might, they are preparing for next season by creating new basal leaves that will remain all winter. Get out there and enjoy the nature that surrounds you!

Check out my latest column in the North Jersey newspapers.

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