Things to Do in August: Homestead and Gardens

I attempt this column with caution. Not everyone may want to read what amounts to me suggesting there is still much to do and pay attention to? You are probably stressed enough trying to fit into your social calendar all of the perks of summer here in paradise.

Some of what I suggest are perks, of a sort, too. We are minimally at the 70th day of the (frost-free) harvest period and perhaps well past that depending on the crop being raised. Depending too, on the area and the microclimates. I certainly hope you have joined in enjoying the fresh fruits and vegetables available from the local farms and farmers markets and your own garden. I've been enjoying armloads of fresh greens, lettuces, and mesclun mixes. Some early sweet corn just days ago that was out of this world. It's one of the summer joys I wait for and I can't imagine anything better. Local, just from the garden, and energized by nature's vitality.

If you have extra produce, remember to share it with neighbors and those in need. You could even form a small collective with neighbors who have a surplus and donate to a local hunger or homeless center.

If you have a garden bed out of production or expect to in a few weeks, plant it with cover crops. Oats, annual or perennial or winter rye, winter wheat, and hairy vetch are all fine. The deep roots they send down, the nitrogen they fix in the soil, the increase in microbial soil life all benefit the soil when the top growth is tilled into the top three inches in the spring. In addition, weeds are suppressed, soil erosion is controlled, and the green manure does a good job of adding nutrients.

You have a week or two to prepare for dealing with cluster flies if they've been a problem in the past. They want to get into your structure for the winter not knowing it is not a desirable place for you to have them. Outside vertical surfaces need to be treated by a professional pesticide applicator. You can call Cornell Cooperative Extension, a local pesticide company, or live with it. They are only flies, after all, and they don't bite. Timing is critical, however. If you're short on patience, pick up the phone.

You are probably thinking, by now, that I have a lot of nerve. In essence, however, I'm on your side all the time. I'm just trying my best to break the complacency that lulls us into the torpor of warm summer weather that sets us behind. We want and have a right to luxuriate and be carefree. That's what summer in the Catskills is all about. And, we (you and I) want to do our best, and be responsible, and grow.

If you are ready to bite the bullet, here are a few things to consider for the remainder of the month. None of these is strenuous activity. Rather, activity that if ignored might lead to anxiety. Who of us needs this?

Fertilize you roses for the last time this year. Continue to dead head for prolonged blooming. Mulch and weed whenever you can. Turn the compost at least weekly. Divide spring flowering perennials. During dry periods water gardens and lawn areas with an inch of water per week.

If you are plagued with any of the three major weed pests: poison ivy, quack grass, or Japanese knotweed, mid-August is the best time to attack them because they are beginning to take in stores for the coming short days and prepare for winter. Glyphosate is one of the products of choice to spray. Thorough coverage when the plants are in bloom or shortly before or after will provide good results. Repeat in the spring and subsequent fall, and you just might be rid of these stubborn weeds forever.

A more organic option, which seems much more violent in the face of things, is to cook them with a flame-thrower either while it is raining or just after a good downpour. This pretty much guarantees there won't be any fires started. This can be done anytime you see growth. The roots will eventually starve to death.

Mow lawns high (3 to 3 and 1/2 inches) and often. Mid-August to mid-September is the best time to apply grub controls to lawn areas. The grubs are small and young and most vulnerable. Since we're talking about lawns, the best time to renovate lawns by over-seeding or reseeding existing areas is within the next thirty to forty days. The night temperatures are a bit cooler, the moisture is a bit more uniform, and there are no annual weed seeds germinating.

Any mums not cut back in mid-July can be cut back now and fertilized. You'll have taller and more blooms coming up. It's too late to fertilize or prune any trees and shrubs now. New growth stimulated might not harden off in time before killing frosts.

Raspberry and blackberry canes that have fruited can be cut back close to the ground.

It's okay to lightly thin apple trees to allow fruit more light and better air drainage.

Into the garden: Continue to hill up soil around potatoes for better production.

Keep tomatoes and peppers evenly moist and well mulched to prevent blossom end rot.

Harvest onions two weeks after tops fall over if dry. Sooner, if not. Cure for ten days in well ventilated shade.

Remove any diseased vegetable plants and destroy them. Do not compost these. Throw them in the trash.

Map your garden now so you can plan next year's layout and rotation.

So, as the torpor slides away like scales from the eyes do, what do you think now of an August with a few extra things to look after to make the future more comfortable and productive?


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on August 1, 2007

© 2007 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.