Beware of Chiggers
Chiggers are the larval stage of the harvest mite. They live mainly in tall grass and weeds, and are at their worst this time of year. The microscopic red larvae inject digestive enzymes into the skin that then liquefy the cells. Other than avoiding chigger-prone areas, the most effective way of preventing the itchy bites is to use insect repellent and to immediately take a hot shower and wash clothing in hot water when you come inside. Once the red welts have appeared, treat with ointments of benzocaine, hydrocortisone, or calamine lotion to relieve itching. For further information on chiggers, go to the Wikipedia encyclopedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvest_mite or Ohio State University's fact sheet at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2100.html.
Usually included in lists of "super foods" because of their high antioxidant levels, blueberries are not only good for you, they are great to eat and easy to preserve. Depending on the variety, blueberries are beginning to ripen and will continue to do so over the next six to eight weeks. If you don't have blueberry plants in your own yard (shame on you!), then locate a U-pick farm in your area and purchase them in quantity. Rinse and dry thoroughly, then place in quart or gallon freezer bags and freeze. A half-cup serving can be removed and quickly thawed under running water for adding to your breakfast cereal throughout the year. Of course, pancakes, muffins, coffee cakes, and other treats are ways to use the frozen berries, too.
Wait Till Fall to Plant Trees and Shrubs
Didn't get all the trees, shrubs, and perennials planted that you bought this spring? Although container-grown plants can theoretically be planted throughout the growing season, the dog days of July and August can put a definite strain on newly transplanted plants. Another option is to transplant them into larger pots until the cooler days of autumn, when they can be more safely put into the ground. Use a high-quality potting soil and fertilize regularly. The best location is an area with high, open shade, such as beneath a high-limbed tree. One caveat: you'll still have to keep up with watering chores.
Although it's quite satisfying to have small new potatoes from an early planting to eat with your fresh peas in spring, a midsummer planting has advantages. Potato beetles seem to be somewhat less of a problem, and the potatoes often store better. Even long-season potatoes (varieties requiring at least 100 days to mature) usually are ready to harvest before the first fall frost. To get the most production, either plant in a 12-inch-deep trench, covering with 3 inches of soil, and fill in the trench with soil as the plants grow; or plant 3 inches deep and pull up soil around the plants two or three times, always leaving 4 inches of potato plant above the soil line.
Monitor Container Plantings
As the summer heats up and plants get larger, containers dry out more and more quickly, so it's important to check plants every day. If you didn't use a moisture-retaining gel in your potting mix this year, be sure to consider it next year. Check into watering systems to use when you're on vacation. Also, remember to fertilize regularly, as well as to check and treat for pests.