The Late Summer Garden

by Scott Duncan

The last two months have been hard for Delmarva gardeners and especially hard for farmers. The lack of any meaningful amount of rain and the extreme heat have combined to stress many crops just as they were beginning to produce, reduced the germination percentage of newly sown seeds, and made any extended work in the fields difficult and even risky except in the early morning hours.

All of this has been true in my garden as well. For example, in the middle of June, I planted a third crop of beets, lettuce and carrots that started off well, but a month and a half later exactly one beet and one head of lettuce survive. My third planting of Provider bush beans had about a 50% germination rate. A first crop of patty pan and butternut squash and a second planting of Jenny Lind melons have fared somewhat better, although in the heat of the day you would think they were dead.

The encouraging news is that despite the heat and lack of rainfall the tomato plants are bearing well, the early Jenny Lind melons have been delicious, the pole lima beans are beginning to set their pods, and the second planting of beets and broccoli managed to produce a satisfactory harvest. The remaining Norland potatoes, which I dug up in mid-July, yielded a good quantity that is holding up well in the pantry. The corn harvest has been a bit spotty; fewer ears matured than I had planned for from the first section, but oh my, fresh corn right from the garden is such a treat. However, it's been a struggle to keep everything well-watered and stay ahead of the weeds that always seem to thrive no matter what the weather!

Covering new planting areas with burlap helps keep the seeds moist until they germinate, as does liberal applications of mulch. But, invariably, high temperatures reduce the survival rate of the seedlings. In past seasons, I have also experimented with the use of shade cloth draped over wire frames to keep direct sunlight off the plants but without much success. One needs to be very disciplined about rolling up the sides of the shade cloth every morning, otherwise the heat just gets trapped inside the tunnel and the plants bake.

It might mean we simply can't plant a number of vegetables during the hottest part of the year, but perhaps some readers have had a better experience this year than I have. If so, I'd be interested to hear of mid-summer planting tips and success stories that we could share with "Gardening on Delmarva" readers.

Topping off the mid-summer challenges, this is usually the time when many new pests appear and flourish. The squash bug arrived in mid-August on the patty pan squash. Inspecting the squash leaves, the neat rows of eggs and even numerous gray nymphs were clearly visible. I try to remove as many of the infected leaves as I can, but it's almost impossible to catch them all, so I apply a spray of Pyola, available through the "Gardens Alive!" catalog, thoroughly wetting the leaves and stems. A second application a week later is usually necessary.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of opportunities to grow fresh vegetables as the weather moderates and the days grow shorter. On August 21, I planted four rows of carrots and my fourth batch of bush beans directly into the garden. Seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, beets and lettuce sowed in flats took only a few days to sprout. They'll be transplanted soon, so there's still much to look forward to.

imageTIP: Here's a method I use to grow melons and cucumbers that is especially useful to cut down on the extensive sprawl of these vegetables if you have limited growing space.
  • Cut four pieces of 1"x 3" lumber (cedar is best because it resists rotting) 72" in length and join each pair together at the top with a hinge.

  • Stabilize them with four cross pieces of 1"x 2" x 24" lumber on each side.

  • Staple chicken wire to both sides so the vines can climb up the trellis, then push the four legs of the frame firmly into the ground straddling the growing melon or cucumber or squash plants.

  • To support the weight of the melon I attach a length of netting to the trellis as a "cradle".