Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

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A morning's harvest from the vegetable garden.

One thing leads to another. Now that is an idiom that certainly applies to gardening, especially vegetable gardening.

Advice from a compulsive plant buyer: Plan ahead before you purchase your next plant

With the arrival of August, most vegetables have reached maturity and the pace of harvesting has literally picked up. I am out in the garden soon after and sometimes just before sunrise. Not only is it more comfortable, temperature wise for me, but fruiting crops, e.g., sweet corn, summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, etc., are at their peak of crispness and flavor in the early morning hours. With this frequent harvesting, that leads many of these same crops to continue producing more of their fruit.

Whether eaten the day of harvest or within a few days afterward, fresh picked vegetables are best stored in the refrigerator. Of course, with frequent harvests or with high yield crops, there will often be more vegetables than can be consumed in a short time. That leads to implementing a strategy for preserving these vegetables. My wife, Pat, is skilled at many of the various methods of food preservation, including freezing, canning, fermenting, pickling, and dehydrating. As such, this family will be enjoying the fruits of our labor for many months after harvest. For those not familiar with these methods, a great source of information is the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation website or the book "So Easy to Preserve," published by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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Not quite a peck of pickled peppers but, rather, a jar of cucumbers being pickled.

There are several crops whose harvests have already been completed or will be shortly. That leaves empty space and, as per another idiom, nature abhors a vacuum. Left to Mother Nature, that space will most likely quickly fill with weeds. That leads gardeners to fill those spaces. One obvious way is to simply plant more vegetables. These should be crops with a short growing season, such as radishes and leafy greens, or those of a longer growing season but can withstand a light frost. The latter include carrots and beets as wells as members of the Crucifer family, i.e. cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and turnips. These can be direct seeded now. It is also worth a gamble to sow peas and bush-type green beans.

As an alternative, fill those empty spaces by sowing seeds of a cover crop. Cover crops not only choke out weeds, but they take up mineral nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil. When tilled under, cover crops enrich soil by contributing significant amounts of organic matter as they decompose. My favorites to plant now are buckwheat, oats and sudex (sorghum-sudangrass). These are not hardy and will winter-kill leaving a layer of dead plants on the soil surface, thus reducing soil erosion through winter. The debris is tilled under in spring about 2 weeks before any vegetable crops are planted. Mustard is another cover crop I plant now, specifically in areas of the garden where garlic is to be planted this fall. The reason being that mustard acts as a bio-fumigant, that is, it releases organic chemicals called glucosinolates that suppress soil-borne diseases, including nematodes, a major problem of garlic in recent years. Again, this cover crop must be tilled under about two weeks before planning garlic.

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Gobs of homemade pesto on a cookie sheet ready for freezing.

  • Harvest basil by cutting off the shoots but leaving a section of leafy stem on each plant to allow for further growth. Besides using basil leaves to season various foods, make a big batch of pesto. The pesto may be frozen in ice cube trays or, as our daughter does, place small gobs onto cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Once frozen, the cubes or gobs are placed is sealable plastic bags.
  • Hang old CD discs or other reflective materials from tall stakes in the corn patch to deter crows from dining on the corn. Hanging a couple of metallic items, e.g. small tin cans or bells, together to create a noise maker may also work as a deterrent.
  • Cut off at the base the canes of raspberries and blackberries once the harvest is completed.
  • Avoid following the same path when traversing the lawn to visit the neighbors, vegetable garden, clothes line, garage, toolshed, or outhouse. Grass is drought stressed and can easily be injured with repeated foot traffic.
  • Set the cutting height of the lawn mower at no less than 3 inches, and preferably at 4 inches, during these dry times. This will reduce the stress on the grass. If grass has browned, stop mowing. Drought-stressed grass will often go dormant and appear brown and dry. Once moist weather returns, the grass will green up again.
  • Direct water onto the soil of container grown plants rather than onto the leaves of the plants. This reduces the chance of powdery mildew and other foliar diseases.
  • Pinch (Ouch!) back elongated shoots of house plants that spent the summer outdoors. This will result in well-branched, bushier plants when ready to be brought indoors.
  • Don’t break off flower stems when collecting blooms for the house. Instead, cut them with a sharp knife. Breaking the stems reduces the vase life of flowers. Cut flowers early in the day while it’s still cool, and trim away excess foliage. As flowers in arrangements begin to wilt, remove them because they produce ethylene gas which will hasten death of the remaining flowers.
  • Review the performance of annuals and perennials in flower gardens. Not all plants are suited to every garden site. Make note of those that have done poorly and rip the plants out. It is not worth nursing along plants that are not doing well when there are so many other plants that might do better.

If I add one more thing to this list of tasks, it will surely lead one to abandon gardening in favor of another activity such as lollygagging.