It’s the height of summer. In our garden, things are doing surprisingly well, despite the severe drought and Stage 3 watering restrictions Vancouver currently faces. I credit our rich soil for that. It soaks up water like a sponge with just the minimal hand-watering we’ve been doing every few days. Yesterday, I tried giving a drink to some sad-looking chives in the one neglected corner of our garden that has poor soil, and the water just rolled away. It was a testament to the importance of adding organic matter.
It’s amazing how quickly we humans adapt to bizarre situations such as having a drought in the middle of a rainforest. I’m simply powering through and learning how to make the most of what we have, because there’s so little I can actually control.
Our zucchini plants have been reacting to the drought in a strange way. During the first half of July, they put out a ridiculous amount of fruit, and then… took a break. We have a bunch of new fruits forming, but I haven’t harvested in a couple of weeks. My guess? They’re reacting to our drastically reduced watering. It makes sense when you consider that zucchinis are probably at least 90% water. Still, other than a bit of the inevitable powdery mildew, the plants are healthy and are still producing.
Our cucumbers, meanwhile, are hard to keep up with. We have eight industrial-sized jars of pickles in the fridge right now, not counting the ones we gave to friends and the bin of fresh cukes waiting in the fridge. In all honesty, our cucumber leaves have spots that I think might be caused by the alternaria virus, but the fruits are fine, and that’s all I care about.
August is the month when crop diseases can really start to appear. By this time, plants are often stressed from heat and lack of water, and some main crops are getting to be past their prime. Growth can slow down considerably. By comparison, September and October, with their cooler temperatures, and actually be easier and more productive in the garden.
Many things are doing beautifully for us. This is probably our best-ever year for tomatoes and basil. The biggest surprise for me has been the good results we’re having with growing lettuce and mesclun greens in this heat. Each week, I plant a few seedling pots with West Coast Market Mix and Olga Romaine, and transplant them as soon as their second leaves have formed. With just a bit of mulch, we’ve been picking perfect salads.
Most of our big winter crops, like kale, cauliflower, leeks, parsnips and parsley, are already well-established. I have some full-sized carrots and beets that, with some luck, will hold until the fall. In many ways, our summer garden simply rolls into our winter garden, with more seeds planted each week.
WHAT TO PLANT IN AUGUST
August is all about monitoring crops closely for stress-related disease, and continuing to plant your winter garden. Here are my crucial tasks for August — your list might be different, depending on your location.
- Keep planting seeds. There are plenty of seeds that can be planted in August in the Pacific Northwest, including arugula, carrots, lettuce, scallions, spinach and chard. Germination can be challenging in August heat, so it’s crucial to plant your seeds in small pots, rather than directly in the ground, and transplant them once their first true leaves appear. This makes it easier to give them the water they need to sprout.
- Monitor plants closely for signs of stress. I’m keeping an eye on my summer kale, which is susceptible to powdery mildew, aphids and cabbage moths at this time of year. Because of our reduced watering during the drought, I’m harvesting our kale regularly to keep the plants small and healthy. The goal is for them to keep producing until late fall.
- Pickle it. Homemade pickles aren’t just a good way to get more out of a big harvest. They’re an amazing source of probiotic bacteria that play a crucial role in human health. Once our cucumbers are done, I’ll find other things to pickle, like carrots, beets, cauliflower and even zucchini. I haven’t met a vegetable I can’t pickle, and all you need is some salt. Here’s a great universal fermented pickle recipe.