Gardening Tips: July 27, 2011

Hot Gardening
The record breaking heat that had descended on most of Middle America for the past few weeks finally arrived here in the Northeast last week as temperatures hit the upper 90s and even topped 100 in some places. Even the mountaintop towns in Greene County had temperatures in the upper 90s. The most important thing to remember when temperatures reach these levels is to avoid getting heatstroke by limiting or curtailing outdoor activities, including gardening! I was at Cornell University last week and was amazed to see some students jogging on campus. Yet when I returned home, I found myself weeding my vegetable garden, which is equally dumb!

For the most part, our gardens are enjoying the heat wave much more than us! Many of our common garden vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, sweet corn and squash grow prolifically in the heat, being of somewhat tropical origins. Of course our cool season crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, cabbage and all of its relatives prefer temperatures in the 60s and 70s.

Time to plant
Right now is a good time to plant these fall, cool season, crops for September through October harvest but some of their seeds will not germinate at very high temperatures. Preparing a row of seed bed, sowing lettuce or some other type of seed and then covering the seed with a board until the seed sprouts will help the process.

Most prolific crops like zucchini, cucumbers and peas will quit producing flowers if the fruits are not harvested. If you are already oversupplied with these vegetables, simply let them grow. This is the time of year when you can grow truly monstrous zucchini, which are fun to look at even if they are not particularly palatable at this stage. Pumpkins should be starting to set fruit now but we need rain for them to grow.

If you have not done so already, set out some rain barrels to collect runoff water from the thunderstorms that always seem to accompany extreme heat. I rigged up a gutter and down sprout on just one side of an eight- by 10-foot shed and found that less than a half inch of rain fills up the 35 gallon barrel. For an investment of less than $30 I have free water to use in this heat wave to water my containerized plants thus sparing my well and saving the electricity to run the submersible pump.

Less than a month ago I lost crops to root rot brought on by too much rain and cool soil but now the heavy clay soil is carrying me through this drought without the need to water at all. Conserve water for the rest of the season by mulching after the next significant rainfall.