Well, hot damn.
And I do mean hot. Without bothering to get my butt off this couch where I’m drinking club soda and sweating a lot, I’m going to estimate that this has been the most summery summer I’ve seen in at least 8 years. Oh, sure, because it’s Seattle there is always the possibility of clouds and drizzle, but for the most part the Pacific Northwest is a solid month ahead of typical weather patterns. 75 degrees? Psaw. I’ll see that and raise you 10 or 20 degrees, just for good measure.
Right now there is an excessive heat warning in effect in Seattle, which is a bit silly for weather that most of the world would consider perfect – mostly high-70s to mid-80s and sunny – but of course AC is non existent here so we defend our right to freak out at anything hotter than 75.
What Does This Heat Mean For The Garden?
With all this solar energy, the plants are responding. I ate a ripe tomato on July 6th guys. A big one that I didn’t coddle inside a greenhouse. Do you know how totally weird that is for this area? So, sweat and sunburn aside, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. I’ve rolled the dice on watermelon this year and the way it’s going I might actually get a harvest.
This continued heat means I’m doubling down on my bet that this will be a particularly good year for the heat loving, fruiting crops that we typically have to baby into maturity. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant – even melon! – I’m coming for you guys. Get ripe and get ready.
It also means turn on your faucet. Sun + water = amazing growth. Sun + no water = desert. So don’t neglect your plants. They need you and your sprinkler to show up and get the hydration job done.
The hardest watering jobs when the weather is hot are the seedlings. Seeds just sprinkled over soil haven’t had a chance to get some roots underneath them and find those lower, cooler, moisture layers of soil. If you have baby plants just up, or seeds you’re hoping will germinate soon, you may need to give them a top sprinkle several times a day. If a seed starts to germinate and then dries out, it will typically die.
You can help keep moisture in the soil with mulch, so if your soil is bare, punch yourself in the head several times, then add straw or burlap or shredded bark or compost over your soaker-hose. If you have a greenhouse or high tunnel or tunnel cloches, make sure ventilation is wide-open. Add a fan if necessary to keep the air circulating.
Plan & Purchase
Garlic should be ordered now for planting in late September/early October. Decide right now if you are going to start your own Fall and Winter crops from seed. If you aren’t, make sure you track down a decent local nursery that sells cool season starts. With only a teeny bit of planning, we are a year-round gardening climate so we might as well work it.
Start In A Pot
Much of the fall garden needs to be started asap (or, like, three weeks ago – sorry, guys, this post is late) to give you harvestable vegetables by the time October rolls around and growth slows to a crawl. If you didn’t do it last month, get your long-season coles like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower started right now.
If you sow directly in this heat, the duel threat of slugs and desiccation means you’ll need to exercise constant vigilance. I sow in pots or in soil blocks in flats. My seed lights are turned off for the year, so I’m starting the cool season crops outside, in a spot that gets morning sun but afternoon shade. This helps keep the seed-starting mix from drying out too quickly.
This week is really the last opportunity to start the long-maturing hardy coles (cabbage, brussels sprouts) and root crops that make up the bulk of the cool season edibles.
So if you’re gonna do it, stop whatever you are doing and go sow:
- Fall Cabbage
- Overwintering Cabbage
- Fall Broccoli
- Sprouting Broccoli
- Fall Cauliflower
- Overwintering Cauliflower
- Swiss Chard
- Winter Kohlrabi
Sow Directly Outside
If you have a bare patch of earth anywhere in your garden right now, use it for your fall and overwintering root crops. Carrots, beets, winter radish, rutabaga (my favorite survival crop!), turnips and beets really need to go in as early in the month as possible to give a good sized harvest.
Get the following seeds in the ground:
- Root crops: carrots, beets, turnip, etc.
- Green Onions. It’s probably too late for leeks at this point, but roll the dice if you want.
- Fall Salad Greens: Swiss chard, Frisee, escarole, radicchio, and arugula can be sown out about now. Lettuce and spinach will be better and longer lasting if sowing is delayed until the end of the month or early August.
- Long-maturing brassicas: Fall and overwintering broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower, plus kale, collards, kohlrahi and Chinese cabbage can all be sown out now if you aren’t starting these crops in a pot.
- Green beans: For a last picking in September or October, pick a fast maturing bush type and plant asap. They’ll germinate quickly.
- Fall peas: If you grow a fall crop of peas you should start them this month.
If you started your cool season crops in mid-June, they are likely ready to be transplanted out by the end of this month. If your garden isn’t ready for the transplants yet, you can usually keep them going just fine in 4″ pots for another couple weeks. Try to have the leeks you started last month in their final spot by the end of July.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Sprouting broccoli
Um….the whole garden, A-to-Z, pretty much.
- Bulb Onions
- Salad greens
There’s a lot to keep harvested, healthy and happy right now! It can feel overwhelming.
- Weed, weed, weed. This isn’t so bad in the areas where crops are growing so fast they are shading out the soil, but in the areas with small crops, or the rare patch waiting for Fall crops, the weeds grow fast.
- Water, water water! As discussed, your plants need you! Pay particular attention to seedlings.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Seriously, you know this already.
- Harvest, harvest, harvest. Shockingly often, the harvest is where it all falls apart and lots of hard work in spring goes to waste. If this is you, don’t feel bad! Just stop treating your garden like a grocery store. Get out there and pick for a few minutes every morning – ten minutes with the beans and summer squash will do a lot to keep the task manageable. The garden at this time needs you to harvest even if you don’t need more fresh veg right now.
- Cure garlic – a dark-ish, dry place at room-ish temperature with good air-flow is all you need to cure garlic. Don’t overcomplicate it. Find the right spot, lay the garlic out so it gets good airflow, and leave it there for a month.
- Pinch out climbing beans. A good thing to do that I never do. Take that as you will.
- Pinch out tomato shoots. A good thing to do with indeterminate ‘maters that I generally do keep up on.
- Train cucumbers. I just weave them in and out of trellis when they try to wander. Their little tendrils hold fast like curlicue hands once they are pointed in the right direction.
- Side dress heavy feeders. I recommend pee. Yeah, I know. But seriously: pee.
- Hill up potatoes.
- Summer prune espalier trees, stone fruits, grape vines, and anything else that’s getting out of hand.
- Prune summer raspberries
- Tie in blackberries
- Thin apples and pears if you didn’t do this two months ago (ahem – me – ahem)
- Trap, snip, or apply Sluggo regularly if necessary for control of slugs and snails
- Apply copper fungicide or homemade baking soda controls for fungal diseases if necessary
- Handpick cabbage caterpillars or apply BT for cabbage moth control if necessary
- Foliar feed with fish emulsion if necessary to give heavy-feeders a quick boost
- Preserve, freeze and dry what you cannot eat fresh. Remember, eat fresh when possible!
Phew! Are we having fun yet?
How’s your garden growing?