Garden Chores for July

J

uly officially marks the “Dog Days” of summer, notoriously a hot and muggy time of year. The ancient Greeks correlated the heliacal rise of Sirius, the Dog Star, with drought and plague, deriving the name of this star from their word for “scorching.” But the ancient Egyptians looked forward to the return of this brightest of all visible stars in the night sky. For the Egyptians, “Sothis” (their name for Sirius) reappeared around the same time as the annual flooding of the Nile and the fertilization of farm fields with the Nile's displaced silt. The official start and end to the Dog Days varies within different cultural contexts, but they tend to correspond with summer heat waves, beginning in early July and lasting 30-60 days. In North American folklore, the Dog Days bring good or bad fortune depending on the corresponding weather, as this old saying suggests:

Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a good year;
But when accompanied by rain,
We hope for better times in vain.

Whether you welcome the Dog Days like the Egyptians or curse them like the Greeks, they do tend to bring heat, humidity, and garden pests, which can stress plants and make sowing fall crops a bit more challenging. Help your garden beat the heat by following the tips below.

Plan for Fall.

Although it’s hot outside, now’s the time to begin planning for fall harvests. After the summer solstice in June, daylight hours slowly begin to wane—which means many fall crops sown now will take up to two weeks longer to mature than crops planted in springtime. To give your crops enough time to mature, locate the “days to maturity” information provided on your seed pack (or look it up online), then add 14 days to this number (plus the time it takes for the seeds to germinate). This will give you a more realistic time frame for growing.

Because of the heat, some varieties are easier to start in indoor conditions first, such as:  Broccoli, storage Cabbage, Collards, Cucumbers, Chard, Lettuce, Rutabaga, Fennel, and Kale. After three weeks, transplant your seedlings outdoors. Other seeds to direct sow in July include: Arugula, Asian Greens, Beans, Beets, Carrots, Peas, Scallions, Summer Squash.

When planning your fall garden, leave space for sowing garlic in September. If you planted garlic last fall, then it could be ready for harvest in July. Garlic is sown in the fall by individual cloves and stays in the ground over the winter and into the following summer. When the lower leaves of your garlic plants begin to brown, dig a bulb up to see if the cloves are filled out. If the cloves are too small, give them another couple of weeks.

For a visual guide to fall sowing, check out our new Late Season Planting Guide designed by Cynthia Cliff.

Water.

Watering continues to be a priority this month, as July is usually dry and hot. Mature plants are hardier in drought than tender seedlings, but both will need additional irrigation. Germinating seeds should be kept in moist soil at all times. For more on watering in summer, read this post.

Ward off pests and disease.

Increased humidity and a big overlap in activity of pest life cycles means July is prime for attacks from both bugs and diseases. Monitor your plants closely and regularly to prevent large outbreaks. Diseased parts of plants or whole plants can be pulled out and discarded in a separate compost pile, although it’s always best to know what issue you are dealing with before taking action. Usually, doing an online search for the name of the plant and description of its condition reveals the problem and a number of organic solutions.

Our short-term approach to pest control is simple and unpleasant: squish them by hand, ideally while they are still in their egg phase (the long-term goal is to help the garden become a balanced ecosystem where good bugs eat bad bugs, for example). The alternative, most often, is either a lost harvest or a garden full of chemicals.

Weed.

Keep weeding! This is the time of year when many weeds are beginning to set seed. It’s ideal to pull unwanted plants out when they are young, but if you need to buy more time before weeding thoroughly, snip off or weed-whack just the flower or seed heads of the weeds to keep them from self-sowing. Also, remember that weeds outside your garden’s perimeter are affecting your garden, even if they are separated by a fence. When those plants set seed, the seeds can cross the border and make a new home in the garden. To prevent this, consider mowing a wide band around the perimeter of your garden.

Add soil amendments.

The middle of the growing season is a great time to help out our hard-working soils. Side dress existing plants with a little compost, mulch, or foliar feed to help crops beat the stress of heat and keep your soil healthy. When replacing spring/summer crops with fall plantings, keep soil in mind when planning where to place your new crops. For example, following peas or beans, which release nitrogen into the soil, with heavy feeders such as carrots or beets will help maintain the mineral balance in your soil. Another option is to sow a cover crop like Buckwheat which will attract pollinators with its pretty white blooms later in the season.

Harvest!

It’s important to poke around your garden daily to see what it’s offering up for harvest. Pinch back flowering basil, pluck a zucchini, and snip some flowers. For harvesting tips on specific varieties, visit this post.

Preserve the flavors of summer.

The Dog Days of summer will not last forever and neither will our steady harvests. As the season slowly (very slowly!) starts moving toward fallow times, it's a good opportunity to start preserving parts of the harvest for winter. To brush up on canning, dehydrating, picking, and fermenting, read our post on preservation tips.

And if it is just too hot in the garden, take a siesta, put your feet up and read this poem.

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