Wanders by, heavy with odors
Of corn and wheat and melon vines;
The trees tremble with delirious joy as the breeze
Greets them, one by one-now the oak
Now the great sycamore, now the elm.
– Hamlin Garland
– from “In August”
August is deep summer. Fire-flies are at their peak, and I find myself wishing it were evening so I could watch them from the deck with a glass of wine, instead of gardening under a punishing sun. My water barrels run dry a little more frequently this month – and so does my patience – but when I’m feeling snarky, I can always call my sister in California and hear how she’s had to replace all her roses with cacti…or dig their third well.
There is so much to harvest, and so few hours in which to process it, that the vegetable gardener can be forgiven for leaving garbage bags of anonymous vegetables on the doorsteps of enemies.
- CLEARANCE SALES! Yep. It’s the month for it. By this time in the big box retail world, it is time to cut losses and start thinking about shelving for Christmas bling. It’s fairly disgusting, but the silver lining is that the clearance racks in the back of the nursery sections are starting to fill up. I could warn you of the need to take your time, research the plants and not spend excessive amounts, but the hypocrisy present in that statement would make me blush.
- It’s not the ideal time to move shrubs and perennials, but I subscribe to the late Christopher Lloyd’s philosophy that the time to move something is when you have time. If you need something moved, and the available time is right now, you can do it – but you will have to take extra care to keep it watered.
- Time to plant the last of the seedlings for cool-season crops. Broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower should go in now and must be faithfully watered. By the middle of the month, it’s time to put in seeds of lettuce, spinach, arugula and other quick growing cool season greens.
- Much like July, you don’t want to be gardening between the hours of 11-6 unless you really have to. This schedule, and the long evenings, work well for those who work outside the home. By the time dinner is eaten and washed up, there is still time and light to connect with your outside space without exhausting you.
- The edible garden is really producing now. Cucumbers, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant….you might be up to your neck in veg. Two points:
1) Make sure you get things harvested quickly, or you will lose future harvesting potential from the plant; and,
2) Don’t hoard veg you are not going to deal with, thinking you will. Give it to a friend, give it to the food bank – make it count for something. And don’t worry, there will be plenty more where that came from so if you didn’t get to it now, you can make up for it later.
- Keep a close eye on the state of your edibles and ornamentals, as bugs can get the upper hand quickly. In my world, it’s the squash bug and the harlequin bug that do the most damage in August, and I am handpicking every single day. Feel like spraying instead? Kaolin is a terrific organic barrier made of white clay, but will need some washing off, which can be difficult with some crops like chard and kale.
- It’s easy to get overwhelmed. The heat and humidity can exacerbate a difficult day, and before you know it you are looking at the garden as a onerous chore, not a quiet connection. Time yourself out and get back to it tomorrow, and try to realize that anything thing you do out there – any vegetable you harvest, compost you top-up or perennial you put into the ground – is a great thing. Just because you can’t get to seventy other things on the list doesn’t make you a gardening drop-out, it makes you totally human. Gardening is a process, with surprising flashes of result thrown in to keep us moving forward.
- In August, we are tempted to spend more of the daylight hours indoors than out, so take advantage of that feeling and start to tidy up spaces for the migration next month of tender pot plants.
- If you haven’t already learned your lesson re: tender pot plants, this month is usually the month you can find great clearance deals on larger indoor plants. Many of these can populate your deck next summer too.