The August Garden
Here, the garden has only thrived for the very heat loving and heat tolerant – gardeners included. The months between May and August blur together with very little to distinguish them, in the south. Heat, excessive heat, and very few rain days make the summer season string on forever and ever. And that was everso the case this year. Midway through August, we are celebrating our second rainstorm since early May, and the break in thirty plus 100 degree days. (We celebrated with “Thundercake” by Patricia Polacco; see more here!) That being said, July will be remembered by the inability to weed the garden or harvest cucumbers simply because of the size of my pregnant stomach. But August is here, and the heat and the stomach have begun to subside. Here’s what’s left behind:
Our front garden had a burst of fervor in early summer with surprise perennials leaping in growth and multiplying throughout the space. Yarrow sprouted and bloomed, additional gomphrena survived the transplant, and an echinacea abandoned, (note: I placed on top of where it was planted) flourished. I trimmed back baskets of oregano, cilantro, thyme, mint, sage, and basil to dry and store. My singular huckleberry plant educated me on how LARGE they actually grow, and in future would do much better in the ground rather than a pot. My three yellow rose bushes gave wave after wave of beautifully scented flowers. Zinnias fed bee and hummingbird, and glass jars for friends.
Then the heat and third trimester with a toddler came. All the herbs became leggy, and flowered. The yarrow retreated. The marigold fried. The bean tower came down in early July. While things did not totally fry, thanks to daily watering, the space is leggy and lackluster. Not a veggie in sight.
Our four plot vegetable garden came and went in waves. I was beyond excited to see how well pumpkins, squash and gourds grew in the heat. Large green leaves, long trails of vines, abundant flowers attracting hoards of bees. But, the vine borers found them…
Cucumbers planted in May, post peas, have absolutely flourished. Aside from cherry tomatoes, these have been our most abundant and productive vegetable midsummer. With daily drip watering, the heat became a nonfactor. We harvested more banana peppers than I knew what to do with, and our hot peppers are just now beginning to load. Okra would be small in the morning and too big to eat come evening.
Losses in the garden
This was NOT the year for Roma tomatoes or green beans, both I was hoping to have in surplus. We have yet to identify a particular issue. There were healthy plants setting flowers. Universally, it appears to be an off year…
- Miniature Delicata squash
- Stunted Feverfew
- Little germination of Buckwheat
- Short sunflowers in garden beds, abundant in self seeded areas
- Four Sungold tomatoes
- Rye grass in walkways
- Ants, ants, ants
- Small sweet potatoes
We were so grateful to see growth in these gardens. It is often difficult to have the perspective of time – that these gardens are very new and the land is adjusting. The potager was entirely rye grass just two summers ago, and only five yards of dirt support the vegetable garden above the claggy clay. Things will become abundant, in time.
How to treat vine borers
Note – we did apply a spray of Thuricide BT at the base of each plant and along the vine where the damage was visible. We also sliced open the vines and killed each borer that we could find. Then, we would leave this line of drip off for a day to prevent the spray from washing away. After three applications across 6 days, we did not notice additional damage and saw continued growth from these plants! Then we had our baby, abandoned the cause and harvested what we could – four delicata squash, 8 baby butternut squash and three pumpkin pie pumpkins. Call it future baby food.
Changes for 2023
This is our ultimate goal for these spaces: abundance. Enough to eat fresh, and more to can. Still, even more to share with those around us. Abundance to create with and to sell, to reinvest in the space.
Change produces progress! Here’s what we plan to change in 2023:
- More peas: peas were one of the most enjoyable crops to grow. They are the garden snack, and so fun for toddler helpers. However, their optimal growing season is a short three-four weeks. Peas are nitrogen fixers, so it makes sense for us to plant just for the garden’s sake. But with how many pods it takes to make a serving of peas, more is more. We’ll plan to plant peas in all of our beds, and interplant other crops as needed.
- Direct sow zinnias: I’ve started zinnias for transplant every year I’ve grown them. I’ve always started them too early. They grow quickly, often germinating in two days. Zinnias will be one of the first blooming flowers as the weather warms. Some sanity will be saved by direct sowing once the soil has come to temperature.
- Carrots like water: Carrots CAN be grown in raised beds here in zone 8a! During the first few weeks, including the period of germination, they need lots of water. LOTS. Once our tops were tall and we entered harvest month, I noticed that companion plants had shaded out the carrots. This prevented water access and our carrots were present but small.
- Lettuce succession: We grew lettuce for leaf picking this year. I started a combination of mizuna, romaine and some butterhead varieties. However, the excitement of the harvest made me forget to plant a few weeks later. It bolted, it became bitter and we did not have lettuce the rest of the summer. I use Charles Dowding’s method of pre-planting lettuce seeds in a flat tray. After one week, you can “prick” out the seedlings and transfer them to a seed cell. Three weeks later, these seedlings can be transplanted into rich topsoil.
- Pepper-ducation: I learned the most about peppers this year. It seemed like there would be no harvest for our jalapenos, cayenne, pepperoncinis or serranos. I found that our peppers did not appreciate the same amount of water we were giving my cut flowers… They shared a row, and ample fish emulsion, but yellowed quickly. I thought the heat of the drought would help, but it was mid-August before a harvest began whatsoever. Turns out, peppers will use the entire growing season to mature and produce when days are hot and nights are cool. Now we know!
New & Noted for Zone 8a
Here are our top five most abundant crops from this year:
- Dixondale Farms Texas Super Sweet Onions
- Territorial Seeds Alaska Early Shelling Peas
- Japanese Pink Mizuna by Baker Creek Seeds
- Boston Pickling Cucumber by Baker Creek Seeds
- Tigger Melon by Baker Creek Seeds
Here are five new crops we plan to add next year:
- Baker Creek Seeds May Queen Lettuce – heat tolerant, 50 days, full heads
- Baker Creek Seeds Mini Bell Pepper – smaller, quick growing
- Urban Farmer Georgia Jet Sweet Potatoes – May planting for October harvest, great for seasonal turnover
- Johnny’s QIC Apricot Statice – for cut flowers and dried bouquets in the Fall
- True Leaf Market Jarrahdale Pumpkins – a green pumpkin for decoration, edible
On to Fall
Summer is now well behind us and the seedlings for fall have sprouted. Send us a note and let us know your wins and losses in the summer garden! For what we are planting this fall, read on HERE.