growing, eating, sharing

Hot and cold; getting through late summer

Hot and cold; getting through late summer

September first – how did that happen? While we and our gardens were waiting for heat this summer, time seemed to slow down. But now it appears that we’re in to the late summer heat waves interspersed with some chillier mornings, which herald the coming of fall. Unfortunately, the extreme heat last week cooked much of the summer produce that was finally ripening. I made some fresh salsa out of slightly mushy tomatoes that still tasted good, and those sunburned peppers can still be used after cutting out the soft spots. Peppers are so much better when fully ripe at their mature color, so I sometimes leave the ones that are exposed to the sun and already burnt to protect those underneath. But some crops did get completely toasted and baby seedlings of fall crops could be lost on these hot afternoons.


There are a couple of tricks to getting cool season crops established in late summer heat. We love a cool shower and so do the plants when they are too warm. If you can’t be home to sprinkle your plants sometime from mid day to late afternoon on a hot day, set up a sprinkler on a timer to go off for 1 minute on your young plants during that time span.  Make sure there is adequate water in the ground going into hot days too. Since my whole little garden is on one drip line, I do some additional hand watering for the seeds and seedlings when it’s hot. It’s also important to prepare the soil well for fall crops by loosening the soil deeply and adding plenty organic material like compost. This will moderate soil temperature, hold more water, feed your crops for their long stay in the garden, and help protect the soil against the rains that will come again eventually. Some people rig up shadecloth, put boards on bricks above freshly planted crops, or other means of shading new plantings. Just remember that the plants need enough sun so they don’t get leggy and weak, so having the shade only cover during the hottest hours is best.


Watering – how often and how long – is always a challenge for California gardeners. Too much water is not only wasteful, (which we cannot afford to do), but does not allow roots to breathe and leaches important nutrients from the soil. But too little and plants will be stunted.  Many people have trouble trusting that drip irrigation is really watering adequately because they don’t see large wet areas on the soil surface. But a well designed drip system is putting water at the root zone, where it is belongs, and a combination of digging around and careful observation of plant growth will tell you if it is watering adequately. That said, by late August or early September, many perennials that have been on drip all summer could use an extra deep watering. By now, (or earlier some years), areas that have not been watered are really dry and can wick water away from irrigated soils. Fruit trees and other perennial plantings – even drought tolerant ornamentals – can benefit from a deep watering now if they have not had one in a month or more. Most fruit trees are now storing reserves for next year’s crop and a good irrigation just after harvest will help with this. In many situations, running drip lines for twice as long as normal about once a month in August and September on perennials such as these will provide the deep water to benefit these plants.


Late summer is a time of abundance and has always been my busiest time when farming. Between harvesting the current bounty and getting fall crops established, then cooking and preserving, it’s takes some energy to keep up with this last burst of summer. But it’s a wonderful time to be immersed in the garden and it’s cycle of change, knowing the quiet winter garden and long nights of rest will come in their turn.


Don’t forget that the clock is ticking on getting crops for fall and winter in the ground. In most locations, beets and carrots should be going in by now, but you can transplant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and onions through the rest of this month.


Enjoy your garden, but stay out of the mid day sun!