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.

blueberries

Harvest blueberries and raspberries early in the morning. This is when the berries are sweetest and the pickin’ is easy.

“Waste not, want not!” This proverbial phrase has many connotations, including with respect to vegetable gardening. As a case in point, I have been picking peas since late June and have just about picked the last of this spring planted crop. Now what? Well, for one, there is now plenty of open space in the garden which I’d not like to see going to waste. Therefore, I want to use that space.

One of the first options is to dig a trench in which to deposit some organic wastes. These wastes include the spent pea vines, prunings, kitchen scraps, and any weeds that do not have seed stems or rhizomes. The trench is about 18 inches wide and a foot deep. As each section of the trench is filled to half its depth, it is then backfilled with the dug soil. This is an easy way to get rid of organic waste materials while also improving the quality of the soil.

Another option is to till the soil and plant a cover crop, a.k.a. green manure. At this time of year my cover crop is either buckwheat or sorghum-sudangrass, also simply called sudex. Both are very effective at suppressing weeds and contribute much organic matter to garden soil when turned under.

I particularly like buckwheat because it germinates quickly (3-5 days) and matures in about 40-45 days. I’ll use my string trimmer to mow down the buckwheat just as it begins to flower. Though the flowers attract beneficial insects and pollinators, I don’t want the plants to produce seeds which can ultimately become a weed problem. Because buckwheat matures so quickly, a second sowing can be made after turning under the first planting. I allow the second planting to be frost killed and remain on the soil surface through the winter. In spring, the remnants will either be tilled under or simply raked aside just enough to make room for rows of spring planted vegetable crops. At that point, those old buckwheat stems act as mulch.

While buckwheat suppresses weeds by shading them out, sudex combats weeds by releasing natural chemicals from its roots and leaves. As such, tilling under sudex and planting a late season vegetable crop is not an option. The best way to grow sudex as a summer cover crop is to cut back the plants to a height of 6 inches, using a string trimmer or scythe, each time they reach a height of 2-3 feet. Do not attempt to use the cut shoots to mulch vegetable crops this growing season since the chemicals released will stunt vegetable growth. As sudex is not hardy, the plants will be winter killed. By next spring, the growth-inhibiting chemicals will have broken down and the sudex remnants can be tilled under.

A third option for that vacated spot in the garden is to plant other crops. Some of these were mentioned in last week’s Garden Journal. However, for those who used those sheets of newsprint to line the bird cage, frost-tolerant vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and leafy greens including kale, arugula, and lettuce can be planted. I’ll also plant root crops, including radishes, carrots, turnips, and beets.

So, waste not, and you’ll want not, and you’ll not want to waste not too much time before getting on with these other gardening tasks:

  • Harvest blueberries and raspberries early in the morning. This is when the berries are sweetest and the pickin’ is easy.
  • Renovate beds of June-bearing strawberries by mowing the foliage with a string trimmer or other cutting device, but do it soon. Also, thin out dense beds by removing the oldest plants but conserving the youngest. If the beds have become too wide, making it difficult to traverse the bed without stomping on some plants, narrow the beds to a width of about one foot. Finally, apply fertilizer to the beds.
  • Prevent blossom end rot of tomatoes by maintaining a constant level of soil moisture by watering and applying mulches. Symptoms of blossom end rot are large, dark, sunken, leathery spots at the blossom end of the tomato fruit.
  • Tie stems of pepper plants to steaks. Peppers, have a tendency to get top heavy, and are easily blown over by gusty winds.
  • Dry culinary herbs in shaded locations as opposed to drying in the sun. Not only do the herbs retain their color better but the essential oils that give herbs their particular flavor are better preserved.
  • Sharpen mower blades if lawns take on a tan or grayish color soon after mowing. This occurs because a dull mower blade tends to shred leaf blades of grass rather than cut them cleanly.
  • Remove old flowers from annuals to encourage continued bloom. This works well with ageratum, calendula, cosmos, marigold, pansy, rudbeckia, scabiosa and zinnia.
  • Look over houseplants for grooming, watering, and feeding needs. It's easy to overlook indoor plants with all the outdoor gardening chores on the daily agenda.

Waste not any more time reviewing this list of tasks as you’ll want not to miss out on reading the comics pages.