Order Garlic and Shallots
Order garlic and shallot sets for planting later this fall just before the ground freezes, for harvesting next summer. When planting, place individual cloves 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep, then cover with at least 3 inches of mulch. There are dozens of varieties of garlic, with varying degrees of heat. One of my favorites is a soft neck variety called 'Inchelium Red', which is a national taste-test winner. It has a mild flavor that is great when roasted and blended with mashed potatoes, plus it stores well for six to nine months.
Continue Planting Fall Crops
Late July/early August is the traditional time to plant fall crops, but fast-growing crops can still be planted, particularly if you plan for some protection with a cold frame, plastic-covered hoops, or frost-protective fabric. Especially consider the hardier varieties of lettuce (seed catalogs often list winter-hardy mixes), radishes, quick-maturing varieties of turnips, such as 'Tokyo Cross' or 'Shogoin', and kale. One of the hardiest varieties of spinach is 'Viroflay'.
Maximize Fall Decorations
Flowering asters and chrysanthemums, as well as fall wreaths and other decorations, are available at stores and garden centers now. Use the mums and asters to refurbish fading containers of annuals or set them in ornamental pots among bales of straw and purchased decorations. Add pumpkins and dried corn as they become available. Have fun with this, adding them to porches, around lamp posts, or as other focal points in the yard. Add, enhance, or change as the season progresses.
Basil has a provocative scent and flavor that immediately brings up memories of the wonderful, abundant days of summer. Unfortunately, basil does not dry well, but there are other ways to preserve basil for winter use. Harvest stems of basil, wash and dry, then remove the best leaves. One option is to blend equal parts basil leaves and water in a blender, then freeze the mixture in an ice cube tray. Then store the frozen cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer. Another option is to make a paste by pureeing 2 cups of basil leaves with 1 cup of olive oil in a food processor, then once again freezing in ice cube trays and storing individual cubes in freezer bags.
Check Before Killing Caterpillars
Don't automatically reach for the pesticide sprayer when you see a caterpillar devouring a plant. It might grow up to be a butterfly or moth that is not only beautiful but an important addition to the ecosystem. Use the Internet or a book, such as Butterflies and Moths (St. Martins Press, 2002; $6.95), to identify the caterpillar. Among the ones to especially make allowances for are the Eastern black swallowtail, which feeds on dill, fennel, parsley, and yarrow; and the monarch, which feeds on milkweed. The giant cecropia moth is one of my annual visitors, plus the various night-flying sphinx moths bring delight to the evening garden.