The end of the season is almost here

By Jennie Hagen, For The Observer September 02, 2013 09:31 am

If our weather patterns were “normal” we could expect our first killing frost in most areas of our tri-county region in September.  To anticipate this is normal, but to hope it doesn’t happen is at the heart of every true gardener’s soul.

Yet this is, unfortunately, the time of year when our growing season and shorter days tell us that before too long the gardens of 2013 will be just another day of playing in the dirt on a calendar past, fresh eating of everything from fast-growing lettuce to long-growing pumpkins will be gone, and we’ll see the seed catalogs for 2014 arriving. It’s gone much too fast.

If you have tomatoes still blooming, the first week of September, as a good gardening rule-of-thumb, is when you start trimming the blooming ends of stems so the tomato plant puts its remaining energy into ripening the tomatoes on the vine. In our area any tomato blossom visible on the plant after the first of September will rarely, if ever, have enough time to set fruit that will ripen. I learned this from a wise gardening friend who, at almost 90, still tends her garden daily and keeps an experienced eye on her plants.  I think it’s good advice.

It isn’t too late to plant fast-growing crops for fall harvest, though, and we’ve just seeded another patch of lettuce and sugar snap peas. I prefer growing leaf or even romaine lettuce in the fall; head lettuce will not have enough days left prior to hard freezing to form a good-sized head. For color and contrast in fall salads, sow beet seeds with your spinach and harvest both when young.

If you haven’t pulled or dug your garlic to dry, you should do it now.

Cure it for at least a week, hanging it upside-down is best but if that’s not practical for your particular situation, at least lay it in the shade on a tarp and cover it with burlap or other air-permeable material if you’re worried about pest or insect damage. 

Many of us have to contend with deer meandering about in our yards at night and although they might not eat (they will sample!) your garlic laying out to cure, they can trample it or leave their droppings on it. What works well for us is to make screens to lay the garlic between.

Just purchase window screening material or even small mesh chicken wire, use 2-by-2-inch wood for framing and lay the garlic between two screens. This allows air to circulate for the curing process which is essential for long-term storage. 

Garlic not properly cured simply won’t last long. Even refrigerated garlic that was never properly cured will begin to rot after two months.

All garlic needs to be fall-planted, but if you plant it too late and don’t give it enough time to establish feeder roots, you’ve wasted your time and money. The garlic you plant this fall needs to be in the ground by the end of September. 

Even if the ground hasn’t frozen solid and you plant it as late as November, chances are it will rot where it was planted when it hasn’t had time to get those roots down.

Until next time, enjoy what’s left of the season, plant some fall crops and enjoy all the fresh produce you can!