August is a time to enjoy all the benefits of growing a vegetable garden with many things to harvest, but it’s also a good time to assess challenges, as well as plan for fall and next season. Read on to learn ways to expand on your successes, address problems, and how to extend the growing season to get the most out of your vegetable garden.
Celebrate Your Successes
Summer veggies are in full production mode, which means you can enjoy the fruits of your labor with bountiful harvests. Knowing what to harvest and when will greatly impact taste and yield.
The key to optimal flavor is harvesting at the right maturity. Giant zucchini can be impressive to see, but allowing them to grow too large will sacrifice taste. Zucchini and other vegetables, such as cucumbers and beans often have the best flavor when harvested young. However, tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn and melons are best when picked fully ripe. Tomatoes can ripen off the plant at room temperature, but this is best achieved if it has reached maturity and has at least a hint of color change on the fruit.
Plants grown for their fruits will produce higher yields if picked frequently. When the fruit load gets too high, the plant will stop producing new blooms. Inspecting your plants often is the best way to ensure you are harvesting at the right time and with enough frequency. Keeping a journal of your best tasting, most productive plants will provide a record that you can refer to next year.
Every vegetable garden comes with its challenges. August’s hot, dry weather can be hard on our plants. A stressed plant will be more susceptible to pests and diseases, so it’s important to assess issues early to prevent further damage.
Watering is vital this time of year. Often our water-sensitive tomatoes are the first to show signs of stress. Cracks and Blossom End Rot can develop on fruiting tomatoes when the plant is not receiving consistent moisture. It’s always best to water in the morning thoroughly at the base of the plant. Watering in the afternoon when it is the hottest part of the day can result in water evaporating into the air before being absorbed by the plant’s roots. Mulching around the base of your plants will keep help moisture in the soil during these hot summer months.
Pruning your vegetable plants is a good way to prevent disease and pests as well as improve yields. Promptly removing any damaged fruits, leaves and branches can keep pests and disease at bay. Pruning can also improve air circulation. Overcrowded leaves can be an invitation for disease to develop and spread quickly. Many plants will produce more fruits and flowers when thinned back, so this is a great way to revive tired looking plants.
Keeping pests out of the garden is another challenge every gardener faces. You can protect your garden from larger animals, like birds, squirrels, and rabbits, with bird netting and chicken wire fencing. Row covers work well to keep out smaller pests and insects. Checking the underside of leaves is a proactive approach to keeping pests, such as cabbage worms, hornworms, and squash bugs under control. Eggs can be smashed with your fingers and larvae can be hand-picked to prevent damage from becoming too extensive. Aphids are another garden pest that can quickly multiply. Their eggs are often too small to see so the first line of defense is spraying them with a hose when you see them to knock them off the plant. Adding dish soap to the water can also deter them from coming back to the plant but they could return if not reapplied. Smashing aphids with a damp paper towel or your fingers is another effective way to prevent further damage to your plants.
Planting a Fall Garden
August is a great time to start a fall garden. With temperatures cooling down as we head into fall, the conditions are perfect to bring back those early spring crops that fizzled out in June. Fill empty spots in your garden by sowing seeds of peas, lettuce, arugula, radishes and spinach. These fast growing, cool weather crops will be ready for harvest by the time the tomatoes and peppers are coming to an end.
Extending the season even further into winter is possible with the use of cold frames. These are simple, removable structures that protect your cool weather crops from frost and snow while still allowing light in. Build a small hoop house structure using PVC pipes and soft, translucent plastic sheeting; or create walls around your crops using straw bales and place an old window on top. Cold frames are an easy way to extend the life of your garden and provide you with access to fresh veggies all winter long.
Cooking and preserving zucchini and tomatoes this weekend!
Chef Veronica Porter of Ask Aunt V will show you how to use your bountiful harvest in your cooking and preserving. Take home recipes and techniques that you can easily do at home. Talks will be at 11am for zucchini & 1pm for tomatoes. Saturday, August 13, 2022 in Naperville & Sunday, August 14, 2022 in Aurora.