Having reached an age which some would call “ancient,” it does take me much longer to accomplish some basic tasks. Keeping up with weeds in the vegetable garden is one example. They have really gotten away from me this year.
In one area of the garden left vacant after an earlier harvest, the weeds have moved in. They are not only tall but are also fast approaching the time when they’ll be setting seeds. As such, removing these weeds is a top priority. My strategy is to mow down the weeds with my string trimmer and then rake up and remove them. Since they have not yet produced mature seeds, the debris will be tossed onto the compost pile. The vacated area can then be tilled and planted with buckwheat, a great cover crop that will suppress the development of weeds.
While on the subject of seeds, this is the time of year when many plants besides weeds are producing seeds. Dill is one example. We use dill frequently for canning pickles and for seasoning certain dishes. Yet, I can’t recall the last time I sowed seeds of dill in the garden. The plant itself takes care of that. Most dill plants in our garden have now reached maturity and are dropping seeds on the ground. These will give rise to next year’s plants. Yes, the plants will be scattered about the garden and some will need to be pulled up if competing with other vegetables, but it is still worth letting the dill take care of itself.
Here are some tasks that will not take care of themselves:
- Snip off the spent flowers and any seed pods on annual and perennial flowers. Removing seed pods will extend the flowering period of those plants.
- Reseed thinned areas of the lawn now that cooler weather has arrived. To begin with, mow the existing grass at 2 inches. Rake off the grass clippings and continue to scratch the soil with a garden rake to loosen the soil surface. Scatter the new grass seed and water deeply initially. Continue to water daily but lightly, just enough to keep the soil surface moist until the grass has germinated. Typically, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks for bluegrass varieties to germinate and a week or a little more for ryegrass and fine fescue to sprout.
- Try trench composting if you're not moved to build a compost bin. To begin, simply dig a 12-18 inch deep and equally wide trench in a vacant area of the garden. Add kitchen scraps and non-seedy garden debris to fill the trench to half its depth and backfill as you go along with the dug soil. It’s a very effective way to not only dispose of organic wastes but also to enrich garden soils.
- Pinch a tomato. Um, I think that needs a little explanation. By pinching, I mean the removal of new flower buds on tomato plants. Depending upon the temperature and type of tomato, it can take 45 or more days from flower to mature fruit; the larger the tomato, the longer the maturation time. If my math skills don’t fail me, that puts us near the end of September. According to Massachusetts Freeze/Frost Occurrence Data from the UMass Extension Center for Agriculture, there is a 50 percent probability of frost in Stockbridge by September 23 and 90 percent by October 6. Of course, given the range of geographic characteristics in Berkshire County, those dates will vary from one end of the county to another.
- Stay in the pinching mode; pinch off new blossoms on pumpkins and winter squash. This will encourage faster development and larger size of the existing fruit on the pumpkin and squash vines. It is not likely that many, if any, of the fruit developing from these new blossoms will mature before hard freezes this fall.
- Leave the plants intact after harvesting a head of cabbage. Smaller heads will develop at the base of the plant. For a larger head, cut out all but one of these smaller heads. The same holds true for cauliflower and broccoli. They’ll produce numerous but small heads well into fall.
- Don't peel carrots when preparing them for eating. A lot of the carrot's nutrients are stored just under the skin. It's better to give them a good scrubbing under running water.
- Stop watering muskmelons when they are about half their mature size, or about two weeks before planning to harvest. Too much water will dilute the sweetness of the melons, not to mention that excessive water may also cause the melons to split open.
- Harvest summer squash and eggplants frequently to keep them productive until frosty weather arrives. Surplus summer squash and eggplant may be frozen. After slicing or dicing, blanch the vegetables for 2 minutes (a little more or less depending upon the thickness of the slice or dice) in boiling water. With a slotted spoon, remove the squash or eggplant and dump into a bowl of ice water until they have cooled. Pour off the water, pat dry the vegetables, and spread them onto cookie sheets which are then placed in the freezer for an hour or so for a flash freeze. Finally, transfer the frozen pieces to freezer bags for storage in the freezer. I think my brain just froze.