Corn being picked

Harvest sweet corn just before planning to cook it. Otherwise, harvest early in the morning and store it in the refrigerator but no longer than for a day.

I don’t like to be pinched, nor do I like being in a pinch. On the other hand, I have no qualms about giving a pinch. Lest you think this is aggressive behavior, the pinching I do actually has some benefits. Hopefully, you have concluded that the pinching I am referencing has only to do with plants. After all, this is a gardening column and not a thesis on human behavior.

My pinching activity focuses on several key plants in the vegetable garden, as well as some in the herb garden. Vegetables whose flowers I will be pinching include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, winter squash, and melons. As days get shorter and nights cooler in late August and September, the growth of the fruit on these plants slows considerably. As such, it is unlikely that any fruit that is set over the next 10 days will have enough time to reach maturity before being damaged by frost. For example, the time from flower to mature fruit on tomatoes ranges from 5 to 8 weeks, for peppers and eggplant it is about 50 days. Winter squash and melons will need approximately 50 to 85 days. The actual time will vary depending upon variety as well as weather conditions. By removing new blossoms, energy that would have been directed to development of new fruit will now be directed to the development of existing fruit.

Of course, I don’t know when a damaging frost will occur, but according to the University of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture’s weather station in Stockbridge, there is a 50 percent probability of frost by Sept. 12 and 90 percent probability by Sept. 27. On the other hand, the Old Farmer’s Almanac reports a 30 percent probability of first frost on Sept. 30 at the Pittsfield Airport and on Oct. 1 at Harriman Airport in North Adams. There certainly seems to be a lot of variability, but that is to be expected when we live in an area of hills and valleys. In any case, I tend to play it safe and begin pinching flowers of these vegetables now.

While my fingers are warmed up from pinching tomatoes and squash, I will also pinch the flowering shoots from basil and a few other herbs. This will keep them producing more leafy shoots, which can be harvested for using fresh or for drying. Two herbs that I will not pinch, but will allow to flower and set seed, are cilantro and dill. The seeds of cilantro are called coriander and those of dill are ... uh, dill seed. So, why spend money buying coriander and dill seed when all you have to do is let the plants go to seed? This is what we call penny-pinching.

Hopefully, we won’t be pinching ourselves for not getting on with the gardening tasks:

  • Deter crows from feeding on maturing ears of sweet corn by suspending old CD discs from poles set up around and in the corn patch. Light reflected off the shiny disks scares away the birds. However, despite having bird brains, crows are quite smart and will eventually adapt to the presence of the discs. Therefore, move the poles and discs around the patch every seven days. Also, alternating the discs with other repellent devices, such as balloons with reflective ribbons attached, will help keep the birds away.
  • From plot to pot! Harvest sweet corn just before planning to cook it. Otherwise, harvest early in the morning and store it in the refrigerator, but no longer than for a day. An ear of sweet corn will lose as much as 25 percent of its sugar content within 24 hours after harvest.
  • Look at the “days to maturity” on vegetable seed packets to see if there is time to sow and harvest a crop. Some vegetables to try include spinach, leaf lettuce, radishes, kale, mustard, beets, and carrots. All of these crops can tolerate at least some frost. As such, that will allow some leeway when deciding if there is enough time to grow these particular vegetables.
  • Harvest bush beans and pole beans at least every other day to get tender, nutrient-rich beans. If allowed to remain on the plants too long the beans become tough and leathery.
  • Plant a cover crop of oats, buckwheat, or mustard in areas of the garden vacated by the harvest of onions, potatoes, and other crops. Mustard is a cover crop I always plant now in the area of the garden where garlic will be planted in late October. The reason being that mustard has bio-fumigation properties. That is, it produces natural chemicals that will kill nematodes and certain diseases when plowed under about two weeks before the garlic is to be planted.
  • Prune the spent flowers of butterfly bushes. This will not only make the plant and remaining blossoms look more attractive, but will also encourage additional blooms.
  • Remove annual flowers that have completed their bloom and replace these with fall-blooming chrysanthemums. This is a great way to add some jaw-dropping color to the late-season garden. However, despite being perennial, chrysanthemums planted this late in the season are not likely to survive the winter and are treated as annuals. For truly perennial chrysanthemums, buy and plant them in spring.