The Fall and Winter Garden
It’s hard to turn our attention elsewhere when there are cucumbers to pickle, tomatoes to can, eggplants to sauté and peppers to liven up our cuisine. But, August is just around the corner which means that it is time to rise to the challenge of deciding what we want to eat this fall and winter, and, then, figuring out where in the summer garden to start our cool-weather veggies. The Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialists have answers to your questions and provide free fall and winter food gardening workshops. Learn more.
In the Garden
Compost and Mulch
If you attend a workshop given by the Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialists, you will hear our mantra: "Compost, compost, compost! Mulch, mulch, mulch!." Compost feeds your soil which, in turn, feeds your plants. You can add compost this summer to help your warm-weather crops achieve their peak production. This is accomplished by side-dressing. Side-dressing is a method of adding an amendment (in this case, compost) 4-inches away from the plant but not before seedlings are 3- to 4-inches tall or 2- to 4-weeks after transplant. Then, you can side-dress at 3- to 4-week intervals until harvest. To side-dress, create parallel furrows two-inches deep on each side of your row-planted crops, or create a circular furrow around the crop; then, fill furrows with good quality compost. It is also important to mulch in order to retain moisture in the soil during our long, hot summer. Three to four inches will help suppress weeds that compete with our crops for sunlight, nutrients and water. Some weeds also harbor pests.
Basil is a staple in the Sonoma County summer vegetable garden bed. It also grows well in outdoor containers or on a sunny indoor window sill. Don't forget to keep it pinched back to encourage new tender growth and to discourage it from flowering. Harvest basil in the morning when it is most flavorful and use it the same day. Master Gardener Stephen Hightower shares more about selecting varieties as well as planting, maintaining and harvesting basil.
Say, "No!" to cucumber beetles.
If you have recurring problems with cucumber beetles, sow cucumber, pumpkin and squash seeds in 3-week intervals. These beetles can produce a number of generations during the summer depending on your microclimate (typically, once in June and once in July). If the adults burrow out of the soil when when plants are small seedlings, they will devour them. If that happens and you practice interval planting, it is likely that subsequent seeding(s) will germinate after the current feeding frenzy. These beetles are slow in the early morning — you can catch them and satisfyingly squish them (or, if you're squeamish, drown them in a bucket of soapy water). You may find a hand-held vacuum efficient in collecting them. Some gardeners use yellow sticky traps — but if your community garden neighbors aren't using them, you may be attracting beetles from outside your perimeter. You can use row covers for protection, but monitor your plants often so as not to trap beetles inside. Plus, when your plants flower, you must remove the cover to allow for pollination. See the University California's IPM page for more information about cucumber beetles.
Sonoma County is Heating Up
Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to deliver water to our home and community vegetable gardens. Plus, drip irrigation will reduce splash, thus, reducing fungal diseases. Learn more by checking out our "Conserve Water" article that provides links to helpful guides. One of the links is Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialist Electra de Peyster's step-by-step instruction for installing drip irrigation in your food garden — including a handy hardware supply shopping list.
On hot summer days, soil moisture evaporates and leaves transpire at a higher rate. Don't forget to adjust your irrigation to return this moisture loss to the soil — during a typical summer week, that's about two inches of water per square foot per week (but portioned out throughout the week). Water early in the morning and avoid fluctuations in soil moisture. The soil near the roots should remain evenly moist, not soggy, to avoid problems such as fruit cracking and blossom end rot in tomatoes and other fruiting crops in the Solanaceae family.
Food Garden Specialists
Food Garden Specialists (FGS) are volunteers in the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. They have a passion for and extra training in sustainable food gardening. In addition to offering food gardening workshops, they provide free advice and consultation services to community gardens throughout Sonoma County. Read more.
Food Garden Tips
July Food Garden Tasks and Tips
For what to grow this month, click here.
- Weeds are easiest to control when they are small. They will grow large rapidly in a garden bed that is irrigated, and it is important not to let them flower and go to seed. Hand pull or hoe weeds. If you haven’t installed drip in your veggie bed and your water quality permits using drip — do it! It’s the most efficient delivery of water to your veggies in a drought year AND you won’t be watering weeds inadvertently.
- As the summer heats up and soil moisture evaporates at a higher rate, adjust your irrigation. Ideally, water between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Avoid fluctuations in soil moisture. The soil near the roots should remain evenly moist, not soggy to avoid problems such as fruit cracking and blossom end rot in tomatoes. Keep the active root zone (usually 6 to 12 inches) moist by watering daily, if possible. The AVERAGE summer evapotranspiration rate requires 1” of water per square foot — about 2/3 gallon per square foot. Divide that into daily applications (or do the best you can if you can't water daily). Many gardeners do not water their tomatoes after they start to set fruit. By then, they will have developed deep roots which will find enough water.
- If you are container gardening, add a complete slow-release fertilizer but consider adding half of the manufacturer’s recommendation. A second half dose can always be applied later if the plant seems to need it.
- Follow-up feedings may be required periodically through the growing season for heavy feeders and long-season crops if a controlled-release fertilizer was not applied at planting. Side dressing your plants with 2 inches of compost will do the trick. Fruiting plants benefit especially from phosphorus and potassium; if using an organic fertilizer, use half of the manufacturer’s recommended amount.
- Keep herbs pinched back to control their size, to encourage new tender growth and to discourage them from bolting. Let a few plants flower to attract beneficials but be mindful of free-seeding plants such as cilantro.
- Fertilize fruit trees with a half application of nitrogen in July or August if mature fruit trees have not put out sufficient shoot growth and/or good fruit set. However, if your trees are stressed for any reason — such as low water availability — avoid fertilizing them as overuse of fertilizer increases growth and water demands. If water is unavailable, do not fertilize at all because trees will be unable to absorb the nutrients. If the tree is developing fruit, this is a critical watering period. Add a three- to four-inch mulch layer to retain moisture, but keep it 12 inches away from the trunk.
- If you haven’t already added flowering herbs or ornamentals in or near your food garden, do so now to attract beneficial insects. Low-water options such as Achillea (yarrow), Coreopsis, rosemary, thyme, chives and Salvia (sage), add a colorful touch.
- Remember to look at your planting calendar, annotated with days to maturity, so that you harvest your crops at their peak of flavor.
- Is the summer garden infested? An insecticidal soap spray or a horticultural oil will smother many soft-bodied pests including aphids, mites, thrips and whiteflies without harming many beneficial insects and bees. Also, watch for codling moth larvae on pears and apples (tell-tale red-brown droppings), referring to UC IPM for infestation control. Larger pests such as hornworms and squash bugs can be handpicked and dropped into a container of soapy water or cut worms in half with garden shears.
- Click here for ongoing monthly tasks.