Well, is it hot enough for ya? The sweet corn ain’t so sweet anymore, the spider mites have set up camp on the underside of my green beans, the squash vine borer has mutilated my zucchini and the mockingbirds keep beating me to the tomatoes. It’s a jungle out there and usually by late June or early July I’m ready to pull out these weary spring plantings and give most of the garden (and the gardener) a well deserved rest. Take advantage of the summer ‘dormant season’ to dream, plan and prepare for the upcoming fall season.
If you are not the type to hibernate in air-conditioned comfort for the next few months there is still plenty to do in the vegetable garden. Summer tasks might include removing spent crops, planting a cover crop of cowpeas or buckwheat or mulching fallow beds with leaves, hay, dried grass or compost. Organic matter burns up quickly in hot weather and a layer of mulch or compost will help add and/or conserve organic matter in the soil so it will be ready to receive your plants in the fall. Red Ripper or Iron & Clay cowpeas make vigorous summer cover crops – I get mine from Heavenly Seed (www.heavenlyseed.net). Johnny’s (www.johnnyseed.com) also carries Iron & Clay, buckwheat and a wide selection of green manures.
Be sure to keep your compost pile going through the summer, and if you don’t have one why not start now? Composting has many benefits for the soil and is an excellent way to reduce, reuse and recycle waste from your garden, yard and kitchen. Most compost guides suggest placing the compost in an inconspicuous corner of your yard, but over the years my compost piles (yes, I have more than one) seem to inch closer and closer to the garden where they will eventually be used. Sometimes they inch so close that they end up IN the garden – I place a square or round compost bin, made of chicken wire or fencing material, right in an empty garden bed or in the row. Over the summer I fill it with kitchen scraps, grass clippings and garden trimmings, keeping it moist to encourage microbial activity (if it’s in full sun cover with an umbrella, tarp or shade cloth to help hold some of that moisture). Come fall I’ll loosen the bin and remove it, freeing up the contents for incorporation into the soil or for mulching crops.
Another task that is well-suited to our hot days and warm nights is solarizing nematode infested soil with plastic. Use clear plastic that is 2-4 ml thick and anchor it in place with bricks, U-pins or bury the edges with soil. Before putting the plastic in place, turn or till the soil, rake it smooth and water well. The moist soil covered with clear plastic will create a greenhouse effect that will elevate the soil temperature enough to kill nematodes. Leave the plastic in place for 4-6 weeks during the hottest part of the summer. It may get too hot for soil microbes under that plastic so after solarizing be sure to amend the area with 2-3 inches of compost, turn it under and you’ll be ready to plant for fall. To discourage nematodes even further, I’ll usually follow solarization with a nematode resistant crop, such as onions, garlic or corn.
I know you know this, but it is worth repeating: if you do work in the garden this summer, wear sunscreen, take breaks and drink plenty of fluids. It is easy to fall victim to heat exhaustion this time of year. If you are going to spend some time working outside, try this tip – wet some wash cloths, roll them up and put them in a cooler with ice or a couple of ice packs. Then when you take a break, you’ll have a nice, cold cloth to wipe down your face and neck or drape over your head. Ahhhh, sweet relief.