Author’s Note: Much of the following information was gleaned from THE NEW ENGLAND GARDENER’S YEAR by Reeser Manley and Marjorie Peronto (Cadent Publishing, Thomaston, Maine, 2013). No gardening season goes by, however, without new insights and new ideas, and these are presented as well.
August is a busy month in our USDA Zone 5 vegetable garden. It is harvest month for onions and garlic, their beds replanted for fall crops of carrots, bush beans, peas, and lettuce. (See my June 11 column, “The Vegetable Garden’s Second Season: Planning and Planting for Fall”, for a more complete list of August-sown fall crops.)
August is the beginning of our tomato harvest and the peak month for daily harvests of pole beans, cucumbers, and summer squash. Basil plants cut back in late July for dried leaves will yield a second harvest of leaves in August for making pesto.
August is the peak of raspberry picking and the beginning of the highbush blueberry harvest. Many of these berries never make it to the kitchen.
August is a month of simple meals prepared with fresh vegetables, a month of oven-roasted vegetables, vegetable stir-fries, sauteed beans sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds, summer squash bread, blueberry muffins, cucumber sandwiches, and fresh tomatoes.
Harvesting and Storing Garlic
Ron Kujawski, a friend who has been growing garlic for years, suggests harvesting garlic bulbs when a third of the leaves have turned yellow. Waiting longer increases the risk of the cloves within the bulb starting to separate, a condition that reduces the storage life of the bulb.
During the last week of July, many leaves on our garlic plants had turned noticeably yellow and I stopped watering, allowing the bulbs to dry in the soil before digging, a process which aids curing of the harvested bulbs. With typical gardener’s luck, the rains came and I delayed the garlic harvest, waiting for a few days of dry weather. I finally dug them on the first day of August.
Garlic bulbs are too deep and too well-rooted for pulling and I always dig them with a spade or fork, lifting the bulbs and brushing off any clinging soil before tying them together by their leaves in bunches of five or six and hanging these bunches from the porch rafters where the bulbs will have plenty of air circulation and be out of direct sunlight and blowing rain. Any bulbs that are damaged are set aside for immediate use as they will not store well. This “curing” process is essential to prolong the storage life of the bulbs. Once the roots and tops have dried (2 to 4 weeks), they can be cut off or the bulbs can be braided together.
Cured garlic bulbs must be stored in a cool (32 to 40º F), dry (60 to 70% relative humidity), dark place with some air circulation – not in a brightly lit kitchen.
We always set aside a few of top-quality bulbs of each variety for the next planting season, storing them at room temperature with fairly high humidity to prevent desiccation.
Harvesting and Storing Onions
Onions should be pulled from the ground as soon as the tops start to die back, well before the plants start sending up flowering stalks. The harvested bulbs should be cured by spreading them out in a warm, dry, airy location, out of direct sun, until the tops and outer skins are completely dry and brittle.
Once cured, the bulbs can be stored in a well-ventilated, dry, cool (but not cold) location. A ventilated attic works well. We’ve tried storing the entire crop in the kitchen but found that the warm temperature shortened the storage life.
Store the onions in mesh bags by variety so that air can circulate around the bulbs. Or braid the dry tops together, always keeping one bunch of braided onions hanging in the kitchen for the soup pot.
Removing Flowers on Tomato Plants
Starting in late August, I will remove new flowers that form on our tomato plants, knowing that these late flowers are unlikely to produce even mature green tomatoes that can be ripened indoors. With the removal of the flowers, the plants will divert more energy to ripening the fruits already formed.
Direct-sow Summer Squash
Summer squash of all kinds, including yellow crookneck, zucchini, and patty pan varieties, is one of my favorite summer vegetables. To extend the harvest, I direct sow seeds of summer squash on the first of August for a fall crop. The plants start producing before the month is out, and I pick squash two or three times a week through September.
A Fall Crop of Carrots
For a fall crop of carrots, sow seeds of a short-rooted variety in early August. Midsummer plantings mature quickly in cool autumn weather, producing tender, sweet carrots that are delicious. Suggested varieties include Touchon, Baby Spike, Little Finger, Minicor, Short’n Sweet, and Parisienne.
Bush Beans until Frost
An early August sowing of bush beans will produce a fall crop of beans until frost. This year I am growing the variety “Calima” (available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, RareSeeds.com). Calima produces dark green French filet-type pods in 50 to 55 days from sowing. Pick the pods when they are no thicker than a pencil.
A quick and delicious way to prepare fresh beans is to stir fry them in a wok with a mix of canola oil and sesame oil (2:1 ratio) until they are bright green with a a few slightly browned spots (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the beans with roasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.