After a hard winter, a fabulous late spring and the lazy days of summer in the offing, the last thing most people want to read about is the fall season. However, since this column is the last thing most people want to read anyway, I'm going to discuss fall, specifically the fall vegetable garden. So, chill out.
Now is the time to begin planning and planting for fall. Many of the cold, hardy crops planted in early spring are the very same ones that can be planted for fall harvests. Here is a brief list of latest dates to sow seeds for fall harvest:
n Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower -- end of June
n Carrots, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi -- mid-July
n Beets, parsnips, peas, radicchio, rutabagas, Swiss chard, turnips -- end of July
n Arugula, lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, spinach -- end of August
The planting times and harvest period can be further extended for root crops and leafy greens by growing them in cold frames and grow tunnels or under row covers and cloches.
Now that you are totally depressed thinking about cold fall weather, let's move on to some current warm weather "to do" items:
n Forgot Father's Day? Give dad a day off by taking care of his normal Sunday tasks, i.e. mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, pruning the shrubs, watching the ballgame, playing golf ... OK, maybe not the latter two items.
n Mow lawns during the cooler parts of the day, i.e. evening or early morning. Don't worry about waking the neighbors; think of yourself as their alarm clock. Avoid mowing during the hottest parts of the day since this is when grass is most stressed.
n Begin applying fungicides to tomatoes to protect them from early and late blight and various leaf spot diseases. Options for organic gardeners include products containing copper, potassium bicarbonate, or the bacterium, Bacillus subtilis. All of these materials are sold under various trade names and are available at retail nurseries and garden centers. These fungicides are used as preventatives. Therefore they must be applied at regular intervals. Be sure to read and follow label directions of the product you select, whether organic or non-organic.
n Put on your pith helmet and khakis -- it's time for bug patrol! Landscapes and gardens are under attack by an assortment of critters. The vegetable garden is our top priority. Pests to scout for now are: flea beetles and slugs on everything; Colorado potato beetles on potatoes and eggplant; cucumber beetles on cucumbers, melons and squash; cabbage worms on broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower; and Mexican bean beetles on beans.
n Begin harvesting snow peas while the pods are still flat and thin, and before the seeds within the pods begin to fill out. On the other hand, sugar snap peas are picked when the pods are plump and tender. Peas ripen quickly, so be vigilant. If you keep picking, they'll keep coming for quite a while. Save any leftover pea seed from the spring sowing and use to sow a fall crop in early August.
n Make the last harvest of asparagus and rhubarb this weekend. Then, apply composted manure or other nitrogen fertilizer around the plants.
n Don't be alarmed if your apple trees are dropping some of their fruit now. This is a normal occurrence for apples with a heavy fruit load. Fruit growers refer to this as "June drop." In fact, it's a good idea to hand-thin some fruit from apple trees if you see a heavy fruit load. Otherwise, next year's fruit crop may be greatly reduced.
n Mark the date: Friday, July 25, 5 to 7 p.m. This is when Project Native (342 North Plain Road, Route 41, Housatonic) has its Butterfly Open House and Reception. For more information about this and other events at Project Native, go to www.projectnative.org.