Hands in the Dirt: MLT Gardening Tips for August

It feels like summer just started, but the days are starting to get shorter and the plants will soon be showing signs of the coming of fall.

Hopefully you are reaping what you sowed back in spring and your garden is producing like crazy. To keep it going for a bit longer, make sure to harvest regularly. Harvesting fruits and deadheading flowers can trigger the plant to produce more flowers since it hasn’t been able to reach the goal of an annual plant — to produce more seeds for the next round. This goes for leafy herbs, as well — pinching out basil blossoms can not only prevent the taste from changing, but can also encourage new growth from side shoots. If I have enough plants, I like to allow one to flower because the bees really seem to love basil flowers.

Many of the heat lovers — like tomatoes, beans, eggplants, pepper, cucumbers, and both summer and winter squashes — can also use a dose of fertilizer about now if you want them to keep producing until frost.

If they haven’t yet, most leafy greens will be bolting, or sending up a central stalk to flower. When that happens, the flavor often turns bitter and tough. For better eating, pull the whole thing when they start to elongate and plant more seeds. We should have plenty of time to get another round of greens in before winter. Or, take a risk like me — chop off the flowering stem from your arugula and let it get bushy, like a pinched basil plant. I happen to like the hot spice I get from my arugula on a sandwich or added to a salad. It does require regular “logging” of my old-growth arugula stems, but it keeps me in spicy arugula for about 10 months out of the year and anything my family can’t eat, the neighbors’ chickens happily enjoy!

As you pull spent plants, consider the next round — kale, chard, cauliflower, and cabbage can all be planted now, and so can the next round of root vegetables like beets, carrots, and radishes. I can’t be trusted to keep seeds moist enough to germinate in the August heat, so I tend to start my last round of lettuce, kale, and fall peas in self-watering trays on the deck to transplant. Don’t have enough seeds, or the crows and squirrels help themselves to your seedlings? Nurseries should also carry starts for the fall garden by now.

As the end of August draws near, large tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and winter squash plants may continue to flower, but there may not be enough time in the season for these fruits to ripen. Pinching off these flowers can tell the plant to focus on ripening the existing fruit, rather than sending energy to producing more. Unless you like green tomatoes – then leave the flowers for the bees!

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About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden (BOG) is a volunteer-led effort to develop a community garden at Ballinger Park.  The BOG, in partnership with MLT Recreation & Parks and the MLT Senior Center and funded by a grant from the MLT Community Foundation, is currently in “Phase 0” while larger construction activities (creek restoration and trail installation) are completed. Phase 0 includes maintenance of the existing raised beds and a garden plot on the south side of the MLT Senior Center in Ballinger Park. Phase 1 will involve installation of a larger garden with plots available for community members to maintain. Want to volunteer, or have an idea of what you want to see in the future garden? Please let us know.

To stay up to date on what is happening at the BOG, including what’s growing, work parties, and events, follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

— By Robyn Rice

Robyn Rice grew up in Eastern Washington, pulling weeds and picking up rotten fruit as dreaded chores assigned by her Master Gardener father. Today, Robyn is a fisheries biologist for an environmental consulting firm, and has been gardening in the Seattle area since 2010. Her science background leads to endless research about the “correct” way to do things, but her enthusiasm and sense of adventure leads her to garden fearlessly because hey, what’s the worst that could happen?



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