From assessing (don’t plant too closely) to zucchini (don’t let them get as big as ball bats), here’s how to grow better.
Here are 25 gardening tips (and a couple of great recipes) – one for each letter of the alphabet (except X) to carry you from July through October, which begins with the season’s hottest weather and most likely ends with your first killing frost.
Assess: Summer is when you learn whether you planted too closely; forgot that something tall would block the sun from reaching a shorter neighbor; planted too much, (or too little) of family favorites. Take notes for next season.
Bees: Honeybees are beset by mites and by a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. Fortunately, native bees, large and small, can take up the slack in your home garden. Keep them around with plantings of cosmos, sunflowers, herbs and buckwheat (a great summer “green manure”: allow to flower, then work into soil before it sets seed).
Can: Put up your excess produce. Don’t want to can, or don’t have enough for a canning run? Freeze instead. On a low-sodium diet? Except in pickles or relishes, omit salt. It’s added for flavor, not to preserve.
Deadhead: A plant’s goal is to set seed; your goal with flowers is to keep them blooming. To have your way, remove spent blossoms from marigolds, butterfly bush, zinnias, cosmos, etc.
Eat: Don’t get so carried away preserving your garden’s bounty that you forget that fresh is best. Make salads, stirfries, cold soups, ‘mater sandwiches and berry smoothies part of your summer staples.
Fall garden: Fall’s the time to enjoy a second harvest of cool-weather veggies (radishes, kale, cabbage, spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, etc.); they can withstand occasional frost. The challenge though is getting them started, in the hottest part of the summer, so they’ll mature before days get too short. Shade and mulch seedlings and keep them moist, or sow under lights and transplant outside when summer wanes.
Garlic: Most garlic comes out of the garden in July. Before it matures, enjoy chopped scapes (flower stalks produced by hardneck varieties) in stirfries. Save the best heads to break into cloves and plant in October.
Heirloom tomatoes: Tops in taste, heirlooms are more susceptible to blight than hybrids. Grow a few that set fruit early; at first sign of late blight (gooey black spots on leaves), harvest every fruit capable of ripening and dispose of plants (not in the compost pile).
Identify: Be able to identify beneficial insects in all life stages so you don’t mistake them for bad bugs. Know what ladybug eggs and larvae look like. Don’t wipe out your allies because you mistake them for something else.
Jams and jellies: Jams and jellies taste great and make wonderful gifts, but who wants to heat up the kitchen sterilizing jars when it’s hot if you don’t have to? Why not mash berries, freeze the pulp and make jam in winter instead?
Kohlrabi: This odd-looking member of the cabbage family – its leaves grow from a bulbous base that looks as though it ought to be underground – is good raw or cooked. Add a purple or pale green variety to your fall garden.
Leaves: Rake ‘em, bag ‘em, compost ‘em, mulch with ‘em. They’re free – and add organic matter to your soil. That increases its ability to absorb and retain water, reduces fertilizer requirements and keeps it cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Mulch: Bare ground heats up, dries out and gets weedy. Cover it with whatever you’ve got: cardboard, newspaper, straw. (Not hay, which will introduce weed seeds.)
Nasturtiums: Not only do they look pretty in your flowerbed, nasturtium blossoms add a splash of color and peppery taste to summer salads. Other edible flowers: calendula, violet, hibiscus.
Offer: I love calls from neighbors inviting me to pick peppers, cukes, squash or tomatoes, once they have harvested their fill. Give what you don’t need to friends, neighbors, co-workers; donate to a soup kitchen. Don’t let excess produce go to waste.
Pesticides: The average American is exposed to 10 or more pesticides per day, through diet and drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Resist the temptation to spray. Practice integrated pest management.
Quantity: It’s often hard to know just how many basil or squash plants is enough. If you’re inundated, don’t be afraid to yank some out and plant something else.
Refrigerator pickles: A half-gallon jar of Maudie Young’s Minnesota Pickles (see recipe) deserves a place in your ‘fridge. Add more cuke slices to replenish, until liquid loses its pizzaz. Recipe says these pickles keep for six weeks, though Maudie, who gave this recipe to my neighbor Helen McKinney, kept them in the fridge all winter!
Side-dressing: Giving plants a fertilizer boost throughout the season is called side-dressing. Fertilize 6-8 inches away from plants, around individuals or along a row. Heavy feeders and crops that take a long time to mature benefit most; side-dress leafy greens with fish emulsion added to a watering can. Don’t overdo: Too much fertilizer accumulates as salts in soil and damages roots. No need to side-dress nitrogen-fixing legumes (peas and beans).
Timeliness: Don’t let zucchini grow to the size of ball bats, okra get woody, or tomatoes rot on the vine. Harvest according to the garden’s schedule, not your own.
Up it goes: If you build it, they will climb. Save space by adding structures – for pole beans, cukes and vining squash.
Vidalia Chop Wizard: I’m not one for gadgets, but this one earned a permanent place in my kitchen last summer. Indispensible for reducing mountains of produce for relishes (like Yellow Squash Relish herewith) in minutes. (Google for sources.)
Water: Water wilting plants immediately – at their base, deeply, not by waving a hose in their direction – no matter what time of day. Best times for regular watering: early morning or before dark.
X: (The one we’re going to skip to make it come out at 25!)
Yellow squash relish: A delectable way to use up excess summer squash, which neither freezes nor cans well. Turn it into relish. Another recipe from Helen McKinney, and a universal hit with everyone we’ve offered it to.
Zucchini: I know of two people in this world who think there is no such thing as too much zucchini. I’m one of them. Harvest when small to add to salads. Make fritters and add to stir fries; grate or chunk excess to freeze for winter soups and breads.
Yellow Squash Relish
12 c. diced yellow squash
6 tsp. canning salt
Mix and let stand overnight or at least 12 hours, then pour off water and rinse well.
In a large cooking pot, mix:
2 c. bell peppers, chopped
2 c. onion, chopped
2 (4oz) jars pimentos
2 ½ c. vinegar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. turmeric
5 c. sugar
Boil 1 minute. Add squash, bring back to boil. Put in jars and seal. Yield: 8 pints
Maudie Young’s Minnesota Pickles
7 c. thinly sliced cukes
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped green pepper (optional)
1 tblsp. celery seed
2 tblsp. salt
2 c. sugar
1 c. vinegar
pinch of alum (optional, for crispness)
Stir till dissolved. Add cukes, stir a few minutes more, and refrigerate.
Lasts six weeks.