by Peter Heffelfinger
posted August 17, 2020
The arrival of full-blown summer brings a rush of chores: watering early in the morning, keeping up with the waves of beans and the ripening tomatoes, or dealing with all the cucumbers and cabbages. But even amidst all the mid-summer harvest duties, little signs of the coming fall are creeping in.
The leaves on the pumpkin and winter squash plants are beginning to turn yellow and die off at the outer edges. It’s a signal to snip off the terminal buds and flowers of the vines, in order to concentrate all the remaining growth on the ripening globes. So too, for the standard tomato plants, now hung with the weight of ripe fruit: clip off any flowers at top of the vine, which will die off in the heat by the roof of a hoop house, or not have time to make fruit by autumn if they are grown outside. Note: cherry tomatoes, due to their small size and short maturing time, may continue to make ripe fruit at the ends of the vines as long as the blossoms are shielded from high heat (above 90F). And cucumbers, if given regular watering, will also continue to successfully generate small fruit at the end of the vines. The cukes may not be full-size, but they can always be used for quick, marinated pickle slices.
Mid-August is also when the aphids first show up on the terminal buds of the Brussels sprouts, which they did this year right on cue. Carefully folding back the tight leaves around the inner core, I doused the entire area with a mild detergent and water solution, using a small hand sprayer. After several follow-up checks, the first wave of infestation seems to have been halted. But the rule is always to keep on checking. The aphids will be back soon enough, particularly on the side-sprouts as they start to develop. And again, keep the plants watered in the heat. It’s a long way to the first chilling frost of fall, the point at which the Brussels sprouts start to turn sweet. It’s difficult to think of the traditional Thanksgiving vegetable side dish in the middle of August, but that’s part of the regimen for four-season gardening: your inner clock is always a season ahead.
Plants for Fall
While my recent transplants of cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and collards have survived the heat so far, I still am looking to fill in garden spaces that open up. At the tail end of the local nursery offerings of transplants for fall, I found bok choy, Napa cabbage, and some more cauliflower to put in once the current heat wave eases. They may bolt early, or only offer small heads, but they will still be useful even if just as mini-greens. And the garden space will be under cultivation instead of going to weeds.
As for direct seeding, I sow snow peas in late August for a quick fall crop in cool weather; as nitrogen-fixing legumes, they are an important part of the overall garden rotation plan. I will also put in some turnip seed, mostly for fall/winter greens rather than bulbs; turnips do better in the cool weather and will be past the root maggot fly season. Finally, some mustard greens will go in for a snappy addition to a salad or stir-fry.
Sometimes vegetable gardening can be seen as a horticultural chess game, thinking a few moves ahead, avoiding dangers, and working out how to get to the ultimate goal of a harvest. Except that as the chess pieces are removed from the garden squares each day, you get to eat them.