The fourth week of August is a good time to take cuttings of your favorite shrubs, to continue to dead head annuals, perennials and roses and to pull and compost weeds and other garden debris. Stop fertilizing roses and other tender plants now as you don’t want to encourage new growth this late in the season. A hard frost can hit in six to eight weeks and new shoots that sprout now will not be tough enough to survive the cold.
In the vegetable garden you should continue to harvest tomatoes, herbs, corn, cucumbers and zucchini to keep the crop coming. If you’ve had a successful summer bounty, remember that the local food banks are always in need of fresh garden produce. Vegetables that store well are especially valued, so harvest and clean your carrots, cabbages, potatoes, squash and even your tree fruits like apples and pears to ease the grocery bills of your neighbors in need. Getting rid of extra zucchini by donating them to a food bank is a lot nicer than leaving giant zukes on the porch of unsuspecting neighbors. A fun way to celebrate the end of the summer season is to enjoy a meal made from only fruits and vegetables that you’ve grown yourself. Okay, a little cheating is okay if you need to add eggs to your grated veggies to make a frittata or omelets, or pasta to your tomatoes, basil and zucchini for a stir fry, but when the majority of the food on your plate comes from your own garden, you get to call yourself a happy farmer.
How do I know when my corn is ready to harvest? Sometimes I wait too long and the corn is tough – but when I pick the ears too early, the kernels are small and not yet sweet. There must be some secret. – S.C., Buckley
The answer is milk. You don’t add milk to the corn, you pierce the kernel and see if the liquid that comes out looks like milk. Corn that is too young will bleed a clear juice. Corn past its prime will ooze a thick and creamy liquid when a kernel is sliced open with a fingernail. You’ll know the corn is just right when the juice is milky white.
I have been growing basil all summer and love the fresh leaves. The variety I have has purple-tinged leaves and beautiful spikes of purple flowers. Is it true that I need to cut of the flowers on my basil plants? – Anonymous, e-mail
Yes, start picking those posies because basil, like most herbs, will stop producing such tasty foliage if you let the plants flower and go to seed. If it breaks your heart to cut the blooms from your plants, then harvest them as cut flowers and enjoy the aromatic blooms of sage, oregano, basil and even lavender in a vase of water that sits on the kitchen counter. This will also remind you to use more fresh herbs in your cooking. Freshly cut herbal bouquets are the traditional kitchen bouquet of chefs all over Europe. Then all it takes is a few snips with the scissors to add the gourmet touch of fresh herbs to everything from sandwiches to frozen pizzas.
My bush beans grew fast, flowered and then gave me a nice crop of green beans. They grew larger than last year, and some plants made it to almost 4 feet tall! My only complaint is that the plants stopped producing beans a few weeks ago, and it looks like they are done for the summer. Is there anyway to make bush beans keep producing a crop? – B.S., Maple Valley
Your beans are just bushed and too tired. Pole beans might grow taller and need staking and start producing a crop later in the summer but pole beans go on to yield a harvest up until fall, while your shorter bush beans produce for a much shorter time. Next year try planting both bush and pole beans and you’ll be harvesting all summer and into the fall. You can also allow beans to mature and dry on the vine for easy-to-store dry beans. If you’re looking for something pretty as well as practical, plant the ornamental-edible bean called “Scarlet Runner.” This bean has lovely red flowers, will climb a fence or cover an arbor and produces edible bean pods as well. If you love fresh beans, Scarlet Runner may be just the bean you need for inspiration so you can rip out a diseased, thorny and demanding climbing rose plant and replace it with something incredible and edible.