For the northern New England gardener, August brings the end of some vegetable crops and the start of others. The garlic crop is lifted and cured, the beds it occupied since October planted to carrots, the last of which will be pulled just before the ground freezes in late November. Pea vines withering under the summer sun are pulled up and their space readied for early September sowings of arugula, tatsoi, and other cool season greens. And while the pumpkin plants have been opening male blossoms to the delight of bumblebees since the middle of July, August brings female flowers and the promise of maturing a pumpkin or two before frost.
Two monarch butterflies visited Marjorie’s Garden in mid-July. They floated back and forth over the deer fence for two days, then moved on. We were disappointed that they paid so little attention to the table we had set for them, plantings of the annual tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, some in the ground and some in pots, and we assumed their lack of interest was because these plants had yet to open their bright orange-red flower buds. But two weeks later we are counting monarch caterpillars on these milkweeds as well as on plants of the swamp milkweed, A. incarnata, a perennial growing in a bed along the fence. As the black-and yellow-banded larvae become more conspicuous, the count goes up, standing now at 19 caterpillars, each about an inch long. The garden is doing good work!
The Garlic Harvest
I stop watering the garlic when the leaves start to turn yellow. A dry spell prior to harvest will aid the curing process.
Some veteran garlic growers insist that the bulbs should be harvested when a third to half of the leaves have turned yellow. Wait longer, they say, and the cloves within each bulb may start to separate, a condition that reduces the storage life of the bulbs. Other experts suggest waiting until the lower portions of the leaves start to turn brown. The only way to know for sure is to harvest a bulb when half the leaves have yellowed and cut it in half; if the cloves fill out the skin, it’s ready.
Gently lift each bulb with a digging fork rather than pulling them up; they are too deep and too well-rooted for pulling. Any damaged bulbs will not store well and should be used right away.
After digging the garlic bulbs and brushing off the clinging soil, allow them to cure for three or four weeks in an airy location out of direct sunlight. We cure our garlic bulbs on the porch, tying them in bunches labeled by variety and hanging them from the rafters close to the inside wall, out of blowing rain.
Store the cured bulbs 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. The closest we can come to these ideal conditions is hanging our garlic in bunches from a rafter in the basement. The temperature range is higher than ideal, but we can keep the humidity in line with a dehumidifier placed directly below the hanging bulbs. This keeps the bulbs in good condition through winter.
The Fall Carrot Crop
Early August carrot plantings mature quickly in the cool weather of early autumn, producing tender, sweet carrots that are delicious. We recently learned from a good friend that the best late fall to early winter crop of carrots begins with sowing seeds of the variety Napoli on the first of August. Johnny’s sells this variety, describing it as “ a specialized variety with a sweet taste when sown in fall for winter harvest.” We’re going to give it a try this year.
Summer squash is one of my favorite summer vegetables and I can’t wait to transplant seedlings in the middle of June, as soon as the soil temperature settles above 60º F. I also direct-sow summer squash seeds on the first of August for a fall crop. The resulting plants begin flowering before the month is out and I pick squash two to three times a week through September.
My favorite summer squash variety is Magda, a Middle Eastern cousa-type squash with a sweet, nutty flavor. The fruits are blocky, pale-green, and tapered with a smooth shiny skin. For slicing into salad or stir fries, they are best picked small, 3 to 4 inches long. Larger fruits can be shredded for your favorite squash bread recipes.
A year or so ago, on August 6, I determined that there were only 60 days remaining until October 5, the middle of the date range (October 1–October 10) for the average first frost in Marjorie’s Garden (USDA Zone 5a). This is sobering information for the gardener who loves home-grown tomatoes, for if the first frost arrives on schedule, tomato flowers formed after the middle of August are unlikely to bear ripe fruits.
Under the best of conditions, it takes about 60 days for tomatoes to go from blossoms to fully ripe fruits. In late summer, as days get shorter, it takes even longer. It takes 40 to 50 days, depending on variety, for a tomato fruit to grow to the “mature green” stage, the point at which the green tomato can be ripened indoors. Understanding these facts, it is not surprising that gardeners in northern New England have yet to ripen a tomato by mid-August, other than Sungold and other cherry tomatoes that seem to play by other rules. Yet there is little the gardener can do except wait and hope.
By late August, I will be removing any new flowers that form on tomato plants, knowing that they are unlikely to produce even mature green tomatoes that can be ripened indoors. With their removal, the plant will divert more of its energy to ripening the fruits already formed.
Heavy fruit set late in the season can work against the gardener. Ripening many fruits at once takes a lot of energy from the plant and delays the entire crop from turning red. If only a few weeks remain until the first frost and fruits are not ripening, try removing some of the mature green fruits to ripen what is left on the vine. You can readily identify the mature green tomatoes by their pale green, almost translucent appearance, perhaps with a blush of pink at the blossom end. These removed fruits can be ripened indoors. (I will have more on ripening mature green tomatoes in an upcoming column.)
The Pole Bean Harvest
By the first of August, pole beans are at the peak of harvest in Marjorie’s Garden, eight different varieties, two plants of each variety twining up a stout birch branch recycled from the Christmas ice storm. Four such poles make a tepee and so there are two tepees. Every variety is flowering now and so at least one meal a week includes generous servings of “Sesame Romano Beans.”
I described this pole bean trial in an earlier column (available at http://gardeningintunewithnature.bangordailynews.com/2014/05/20/vegetables/looking-ahead-to-june-growing-pole-beans/) along with our favorite recipe for Romano pole beans. For those of you who are also suddenly inundated with beans, or can get them at the local farmer’s market, I repeat the recipe below.
As far as variety comparisons go, at present I can report that the variety Northeaster was the earliest to produce beans and continues to set the pace for the number of harvested beans each week. Makes sense for a garden on the coast of Maine.
Sesame Romano Beans
1 tablespoon canola oil
1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 pound fresh pole beans, washed
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Warm a large skillet or wok over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in canola and sesame oils, then place whole pole beans into the skillet. Stir the beans to coat with oil. Cook until the beans are bright green and slightly browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in soy sauce; cover, and let sit about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately!