Upper South

August, 2009
Regional Report

Eat Lots of Tomatoes

Notwithstanding the wet, cool weather that some of us have had, while others have had to deal with extreme heat, there are still those wonderful, juicy tomatoes to be had, so enjoy them while they're at their peak. If you pick tomatoes before they're fully ripen, let them sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, with the stem end up. Once fully ripe, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator, although they'll lose some flavor. If you want to peel tomatoes, put them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately plunge into cold water, drain, and slip off the skin.

How to Pick a Ripe Melon

Muskmelons, or what many of us refer to as cantaloupes, are easy to identify when to harvest. As the melon ripens, a layer of cells around the stem softens and the melon easily detaches from the vine, leaving a dish-shaped scar. When shopping for a cantaloupe, look for a clean scar. Also, scratch the scar and sniff for that classic musky aroma. With watermelons, look for the tendril that attaches at the same point as the melon to dry and turn brown. Also, the "belly" changes from white to a yellow color, and, sometimes, the surface becomes rough near the base of the fruit.

Continue to Care for the Strawberry Patch

Flower buds for next year's crop of berries are developing now, so this is a critical time for keeping strawberry plants healthy. Hand pull weeds or cultivate shallowly with a hoe or tiller. Apply a balanced garden fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, at a rate of 5 pounds per 100 feel of row in a band alongside the crowns. Scratch it into the soil with a rake or hoe, then water in well. Finally, apply an organic mulch to prevent new weeds from getting started.

Save Flower Seeds for Next Year

Many of the old-fashioned annual flowers, like cleome, cosmos, love-in-a-mist, four-o-clocks, calendula, morning glory, cypress vine, larkspur, and others, will return year after year from seed that drops to the ground. For a more controlled approach, clip off browning seed heads and place in brown paper bags. Label each bag, of course, fold over the top and close with a paper clip, and put in a warm dry place. Over the next several weeks, the seeds will ripen and fall to the bottom. When thoroughly dry and loosened, discard the seed heads and store the seed in a clean, labeled envelope.

Rescue Bedraggled Beds

Perennial flower beds can become a bit bedraggled by this time of summer. With just a little work, they can sail into fall looking great and full of color. Keep removing weeds, then spend some time clipping spent flowers and any foliage that is not healthy. Cut plants back that become floppy, like spiderwort. Buy ready-to-bloom asters and chrysanthemums and plant them throughout the bed. Finally, add or renew mulch to make everything look neat and finished.

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