I suspect that July 2021 will turn out to be a month gardeners and many farmers won’t forget for some time. We’ve had more days of rain than sun, but who’s counting ... well, maybe Eagle weather tracker Clarence Fanto, is. All I know is that gardens have been soggy throughout the month. Constantly saturated soils have low oxygen levels as water replaced air in soil pores. This, in turn, leads to poor root development or root rot and slow plant development. That may explain why it wasn’t until this week that serious harvests began. However, my greatest concern now is the appearance of diseases on several crops in the vegetable garden.

Tomatoes seem to be leading the pack as early blight and leaf spot diseases are rapidly infecting my plants despite weekly applications of a biofungicide. The effectiveness of the fungicide is likely reduced as frequent rains wash it off the plant leaves. So, the question now is: “Since the tomato plants are infected, will further applications destroy the fungus?” Sadly, the answer is: “Not likely!”

Most fungicides, especially organic products such as the one I use, are preventative. That is, they must be applied before disease infections occur. Once the fungus infects the plant, about the only option is to remove the affected plant parts. This is best done by pruning off those stems and leaves when the plants are dry. It is also important that the pruning tool be sterilized after working with an infected plant and before moving onto the next plant. This is done by dipping, wiping or spraying the pruner blades with a disinfectant. Effective disinfectants are ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, and household cleaners, such Listerine, Lysol or Pine-Sol, but not bleach since it may corrode the pruner blades with repeated applications.

I still have vivid memories of July 2009. I had planted 70 tomato plants earlier that year. Yes, that’s a lot of tomatoes for a home garden and I admit to getting carried away at times. Since my wife, Pat, cans as many as 50 to 60 quarts of tomatoes as diced tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce, having a few extra tomatoes in the garden isn’t a bad thing.

Unfortunately, before any tomatoes could be harvested, all 70 plants were destroyed by a fungus known as late blight. That blight disease also had devastating results for commercial growers. Why I mention this bit of history is that July 2009 was at that time, the second wettest July on record. We have now surpassed that record. I doubt we’ll have a repeat of late blight to that level, but disease management is an important part of gardening.

THIS WEEK'S GARDENING TASKS

Here are some tasks to manage this week:

  • If you have more than enough fresh cilantro to meet your needs, allow some of the plants go to full maturity. That is, let some plants flower and set seeds. The ripe seeds are called coriander seeds. When dry, the seeds may be ground to create coriander powder, a popular spice often used to season soups, rice dishes, and sauces.
  • Where soil has been tilled and where there is bare soil in low spots, a fine, shiny layer of clay sits atop the soil. These clay patches should be broken up and mixed in with the soil below, along with some compost. Otherwise, the clay will harden to an impervious layer.
  • Keep sowing seeds of these vegetables: beets, carrots, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, bibb and leaf lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. All of these crops have some cold tolerance and are unlikely to be harmed by early frosts. However, given climate change, I’m taking a chance on an additional planting of bush beans, which have a short “Days to Harvest” rating. The variety I’m planting should yield harvestable beans in 50 to 55 days after germination. Setting up grow tunnels, which are simply hoops of metal, bamboo or flexible PVC pipe covered with a sheet of floating row cover or clear plastic, is a way of extending the growing season for many crops. Some garden centers may still have seed packets for sale. Otherwise use your unused seed or beg, borrow, or ste ..., never mind that last option.
  • Don’t slack off on daily inspections of vegetable plants. Early detection is the best way to get quick control of pests. Insect pests to look for now include cabbage worms, potato beetles, cucumber beetle and squash bugs. Japanese beetles are also still quite active and seem to favor bean plants.
  • Harvest floral stems of lavender, as well as the leafy stems of culinary herbs. Ties these in bundles and hang them in a dry, airy location. Another option is to spread the stems on screened racks.
  • Sow seed of basil and parsley in pots for winter use. For those who include many low-fat pasta dishes in their diet, these two herbs are essential. You could dig up some parsley and basil plants from the herb garden for potting, but I find this does not work as well as plants started from seed at this time.
  • Begin planning for fall bulb planting. Bulb catalogs are arriving in the mail almost daily and are a good place to start when considering what species and varieties to plant. Keep in mind that spring flowering bulbs, especially the minor bulbs, are among the first plants to bloom after our often interminably long winters. What better way to break winter's spell!

And what better way to break the spell of reading this column than to stop here?