My life-long gardener neighbor is in her 70s and she tells me this weather is unlike anything she’s ever seen before. But she says that every single month. That’s gardeners for ya, always distinguishing among the 50 shades of gray. I refer to the subtle variations of sky color in Seattle, of course. Why, what did you think I was talking about?
Anyway, this summer the weather has been a lot like 2011: spring lasted a long time and the heat lovers were a little slow to get moving. Early summer brought some weird big-rain-thunderstorms, like the kind the Midwest is supposed to get and really could’ve used last month. Those are very unusual for this area. But otherwise, pretty normal. And August will shape up to be just average: pretty dry, with temps ranging between 55 and 85. That’s my prediction.
Plan & Purchase
- Garlic should be ordered now for planting in late September/early October. I like hardneck varieties, which don’t store quite as well as braidable softnecks, but give you one layer of larger cloves. Music is my favorite.
- August is when the real harvest of beans, squash, tomatoes and the like starts. In between canning and pickling, think about what you have enough of, what you are overwhelmed by, and what you really wish you had more of. Write this info down, along with how much of each thing you are currently growing. You’ll want it when you plan next year’s garden.
It’s too late to start cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc. (though good nurseries will have appropriate season starts in now to purchase if you need). Seed-starting lights are off for awhile.
Sow and Plant Outside
- Greens! – August is a great month to direct sow fall greens. Sow lettuces and any of the fall greens like frisee, arugula, spinach, mustard etc. any time this month. Be diligent about watering the emerging seedlings. In general it’s better to water deep and less often, but until baby plants get some root under them and have a few true leaves, plan on at least a daily sprinkle.
- Kale – it’s not too late to sow kale. Your plants won’t be big going into winter, but they’ll give you something to pick from. I’d sow relatively thickly and plan on eating the thinnings.
- Radishes – gotta love anything that can be ready to pick from seeding in 3 or 4 weeks. Radishes sown towards the mid/end of August will mature as the days are cooling off and will hold in the ground as tasty mild radishes for quite awhile. If you are sowing the winter hardy varieties like Black Spanish or Daikon-style radishes, those take a lot longer to mature and should go in asap.
- Green Onions: I’m always surprised how long green onions take to mature, but a sowing now should give you some in fall. If they go in late, you’ll have a very early spring scallion crop.
- Asian Brassicas: why does Chinese Cabbage seem to mature so fast when round cabbage takes forever? In any event, early August is a great time to seed all kinds of fast maturing Asian brassicas: Chinese cabbage, bok choy, Chinese mustard greens, mizuna, tatsoi, etc. My nursery carries seed from Kitazawa Seed, a specialty Asian vegetable seed company, and the variety of Asian greens is pretty amazing. Check it out.
- Other root crops: hopefully you’ve already seeded beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips. If you haven’t and you have room, it can’t hurt to throw some seed down and see what you get.
Ok, here’s the big job: get those transplants you started in late June and early July in the ground asap. No really, as soon as you can! Hopefully they are 4-6 weeks old now, nicely filling out their pots but not rootbound. Water them! And if it’s hot and sunny cover them with shade cloth or prop a cardboard box lid up on wooden posts over them to protect them from too hard of sun after the transplant. If you didn’t start seedlings last month or in June, your local nursery may be carrying them.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Sprouting broccoli
Pretty much everything except the fall root crops, winter squash and some of the fall/winter brassicas (for me, brussels sprouts are fall/winter only) are ready. August is A-to-Z prime time in the garden.
- Artichokes – if you started a new batch this year. Most established plants will have already wrapped up and will be opening into gorgeous thistle flowers.
- Corn – Krikie, mate, I think I’m gonna have corn in a few weeks! This is a first for me. I’m very excited. And apparently when I get excited I turn kinda Australian. Awesome! Australians are big gardeners…
- Greens of all kinds
- Peppers – harvested my first red one a few days ago. And then my son harvested a green one.
- Salad greens
- Tomatoes – the grape and cherry tomatoes are doing well and a few of the full size tomatoes are taking on color
- Strawberries – everbearing types are still chunking along.
- Blueberries – someone teach my son to pick the blue ones.
- Raspberries – my main patch is done. This was a rotten year because of the late rains.
- Blackberries – 3 more weeks, I think.
- Currants – My currents matured a bit earlier this year, in late July, and the kids stripped the plants.
- Cherries – Sour cherries were ripe in mid/late July. Local sweet cherries are still available. My main crop from Eastern Washington came throughout July.
- Apple – The earliest apples and pears should start maturing in late August. A few of my apples are alreay tasting decent. Still tart but no longer puckeringly astringent.
- Pear & Asian Pear – just like apple.
- Peaches – First Eastern Washington peaches are available early-August and will continue through early/mid-September. I posted a great Eastern Washington peach variety ripening chart on Facebook yesterday based on info I received from the good people at ValicoffFarms. Check it out if you are planning to buy a lot for canning adn research your varieties.
Weeding, watering and harvesting. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Preserve, pickle, freeze, can. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Weed – I’ve been getting in touch with my inner-permaculturalist lately so I’m less-ahem-finicky about weeding. But I still can’t shake the desire for a orderly aesthetic so my raised beds are mostly under control. Mostly.
- Water – pay close attention to anything fruiting (cucumbers, beans, peppers, etc.), plus transplants and seedlings coming up for the fall and winter garden.
- Mulch. Mulch over moist, well watered soil.
- Cure garlic and onions – I’ve got my just-pulled garlic sitting atop the mesh roof of the chicken coop. Works great! Knock down onion tops when most fall over on their own then dry.
- Pinch out climbing beans – you should definitely do this when your beans hit the top of their supports. That said, I never do this. Those wire mesh trellises are covered in beans!
- Train tomatoes – I do do this. I train my indeterminate tomatoes to single or double cordons around twine. This keeps them in line and manageable, but it does require that I regularly pinch out the sideshoots that want to grow out.
- Train cucumbers - You can get fancy and pinch out side growth, or pinch out main growth, or pinch off growth two leaves past the fruit. I don’t know, I just shove mine back into the trellis and periodically cut off any huge leaves that are overshading the plant, or chop some unfruitful parts of the vine off if they get way, way out of control. This year I’m mostly unable to get them to climb a trellis so they are just flopping around. And really, do you want a flopping around cucumber? Me either.
- Side dress heavy feeders – Definitely do this if you notice your plant growth slowing or leaf color lightening. Anything that is working hard for you over a long time should be fed. I’ll side dress summer and winter squash, cukes, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, collards, broccoli, and cauliflower. A light side-banding of organic fertilizer ought to do it. Little and every few weeks is better than a lot all at once. Super leafy things (think spinach or basil) get the occasional foliar feed with fish emulsion.
- Net ripening fruit against birds if that’s a problem for you. Or get cats. I have decided bird netting is spun from filaments of hatred, bound together with evil. I’ll take my chances with the birds.
- Summer prune soft fruit and espaliered/heavily-managed tree fruit.
- Tie in canefruit as necessary.
- Trap or apply Sluggo regularly for slug and snail control if necessary.
- Handpick or apply BT for cabbage moth control if necessary.
- Preserve – freeze, pickle and dry what you cannot eat fresh. Eat fresh when possible.
It’s kinda a big list when I write it all out, but August feels calmer in the garden and more chaotic in the kitchen to me. I think as long as you walk around once a day and water and pick stuff you’ll basically be fine at this time of year. Everything else is just bonus.
What are you going to accomplish in the garden this weekend?