In the Garden:
New England
July, 2006
Regional Report

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Cut herbs in the morning to preserve the essential oils, and dry some for later use by hanging them upside down in bunches.

Tending the Midsummer Garden

Summer heat is upon us, and it's not only the gardeners that are wilting in midday. Our plants may go limp as well, and more than ever they need our TLC to keep them healthy and productive, especially if they are expending energy producing food for our tables. It may mean readjusting our schedules a bit, even getting up earlier to pluck those ripe tomatoes before we head off to work. Or setting the sprinkler before we sit down to dinner. By making the most of our time during the cool of the morning or early evening, we can keep both the garden and the gardener at peak performance.

Watering
At the top of my garden project list is to install a soaker hose system, but in the meantime I'm watering with a hose and sprinkler. On my deck I have a coiled hose for watering containers that hangs on a wire rack attached to the side of the house when not in use. I love this hose. It makes watering a breeze -- much faster than with a watering can. I check the containers every day -- sometimes twice.

In the absence of rain, I use a sprinkler to water the vegetable and perennial gardens, moving it around every day to cover a new area. I set the sprinkler to run for 45 minutes while I get ready for work. Then I water a different area in the early evening. I just don't have the time or patience to stand there with a hose and apply enough water to soak down to the root zone.

For newly planted trees and shrubs and perennials, the best way to apply water is with a dripping hose, so once a week I lay a hose at the base of each plant and let it drip for as long as it takes to soak the root zone. After accidentally leaving the hose dripping overnight, I now always use a timer to remind me!) Frequent brief sprinkling with a hose does more harm than good because the water doesn't reach deep enough.

Weeding
By this time of the summer, most of the soil surface is mulched (the slugs are cheering), but those opportunistic weeds still pop up, hugging plant stems as if they are hoping we won't notice them. Hand pulling is the only safe way to get them, at least for me. I've sliced off too many plant stems accidentally with the sharp edge of my swan neck hoe to trust myself with it anywhere near a desirable plant.

Before I go on vacation I'll lay down some more newspapers in the walkways in the veggie garden and top them with straw. If walkway weeds get ahead of you, cut them with a mower or trimmer before laying down the newspaper. They will decompose underneath.

Bug Patrol
I don't believe in a striving for a pest-free garden. My strategy is mainly to plant flowers that attract beneficial insects, tolerate some chewed leaves, and target the ones that cause the most damage. The slug damage for some reason has tapered off, perhaps due to all the repellent coffee grounds I've spread around (free from local Starbucks).

The main beetle pests have been Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles. Picking off the bean beetles and squishing their yellow eggs on the undersides of the leaves has kept them from eating too much. But the Japanese beetles would decimate the rose flowers if I let them. I visit the plants in the cool early mornings and evenings when the beetles are sluggish and knock them into a can of soapy water.

I used to give the dead bugs a spin in an old blender with water and spray the liquid on plants as a deterrent (an old home remedy), but I'm in a non-spraying phase this summer. Besides, the search and seizure method keeps me visiting my plants often to check on their needs and catch any problems.

Harvesting
Fruits and veggies tend to lose texture and flavor when they are harvested during warm temperatures, so early morning is the ideal time to pick. Then keep them cool in the refrigerator -- except for tomatoes, which lose flavor when refrigerated.

Herbs also are best picked in the morning after the dew has dried but before the essential oils begin dissipating in the heat. If you are pulling up entire plants, hose off the leaves the day before. Harvest herbs before they flower or go to seed, unless you are growing them for the seeds, such as dill and cumin. In that case, allow the pods to turn from green to brown to gray before harvesting. Keep pinching the stems of herbs you're growing for the leaves, such as basil, to keep them bushy and delay flowering.

Deciding when root crops -- beets, carrots, turnips -- are ready to eat can be a guessing game. The biggest roots will have the darkest tops and the fattest stems. So pull what appears to be one of the largest ones and see if it's the size you want. Remember that they tend to get tougher as they get larger, so don't wait too long.

The key to making the most of a midsummer garden is to visit often!


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