Late August in the garden: Harvest, changing irrigation and fall planting
August 23, 2013
An August visit from my family was perfectly timed for the peach and wild blackberry harvests.
Seeing two of my grandchildren, both teenagers (15 and 17), enjoy the fruits of my labors was deeply satisfying. When my son arrived a few days into their stay, he, too, headed for the edible garden.
At this time of the year, the harvest is in full swing. Last week I canned a load of heritage tomatoes in pints, the gold, yellow and reds creating an artistic result. This is a good time to prune the tomatoes to encourage ripening of the green fruits in fall.
Pears are almost ready for harvest. As smoky skies allow, I check regularly. The fruit is larger this year because of deep irrigation I did a few weeks ago as fruit was growing.
I lift a pear with a very slight twisting motion. When the fruit is ready,. it will separate easily, its stem disconnecting from the fruit spur.
Pears are then held indoors, separated from each other, in a cool location. They will ripen fully within a couple of weeks.
Other fruits ripen on the tree. The first fig harvest of the season is past, and the next will occur in a few weeks.
The fruit is left on the tree until it has reached the desired ripeness. For me, the softer fruit has the deeper flavor.
My Golden Delicious apples are providing a nice harvest. I start on the south side of the tree then move to the east and west sides. The north side is picked last.
This harvest continues over the next few weeks. Other cultivars are almost ready. I decide on the flavor I want to determine peak picking time for each variety (cultivar).
While the fruits may need deep summer irrigation for the best fruit, it does not need to be often. A mulch of straw will hold the moisture in the soil for weeks.
Years ago, when I was teaching orchard management for Sierra College, I took the class on a field trip to an organic apple farm (3,000-foot elevation) that did no irrigation.
When one of my students asked the farmer if he had given the young trees water, he replied, "Nope, didn't want to teach them any bad habits!"
This no-irrigation approach worked on his farm because the soils were deep and fertile.
With the smoke we have been experiencing, light is reduced in our gardens. This will affect growth, bloom and ripening. In 2008, I saw the effect on the tomato harvest especially. It may be time to reduce your irrigation.
The ornamental garden can also be adversely affected by too much water when there is smoke. Reduce the frequency of watering, applying water only when plants really need it.
Become familiar with the moisture content of your soil. Watch your plants for signs of stress. For most plants, wilting is an obvious sign of too little water.
Minor wilting during the heat of the day occurs with some leaves. Observe plants in early morning. Signs of too much water include yellowing of foliage, especially lower leaves.
Late August is time for another sowing of greens and dill for my garden. This past week I visited an organic farm where dill was sown thickly in a raised bed. Organic bulk seed is available online from Johnny's Selected Seed for a fall into winter harvest of this favorite herb.
Dill sown now may even give you seed for your own seed bank. Dill grows quickly, giving you an ample supply of fresh green leaves, leaves to dry, and even seed heads for dill crocks and next year's garden.
Seed saving is an important rhythm of the edible garden. Store seed where it is cool and dry. I use paper envelopes for storage.
I am selecting other seeds for fall vegetables from the offerings in our local nurseries. It's time to be ready for the fall edible garden! With the smoke, there may be no need to shade young seedlings from the hot summer sun.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom," and two volumes of "Deer in My Garden" (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.