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!



Hi you two - love your

Hi you two - love your column! Help!

-My Japanese and green striped Armenian cucumber plants's plants are seriously and mostly permanently wilting 'though they still produce some healthy fruit and there is some new healthy green growth. They are getting enough water in a raised gopher-prove bed in full sun. Is it weather related or???

-My zucchini plant is big and healthy looking and produces mostly female flowers. Does that happen during cold summers such as we have had? Or???

-My 'Minnesota Midget' melon plant [from local Sweetwater] is totally covered with mildew and looks pretty dead yet grew quite a few melons almost to the indicated size which are still very hard. Should I just cross my fingers and let them ripen or pick them and put them on the windowsill? Again, is the cool weather responsible?

My soil is mostly compost from Sonoma Compost with a little sandy garden soil mixed in.

Any suggestions from you or othr bloggers?

Thanks -




hard summer for the cucurbit family

Hi Barbara

Always hard to diagnose without actually seeing all the variables where you are growing.  The powdery mildew on the melon is just part and parcel to a wet and cool growing season unfortunately.  My squash has had pretty bad mildew for a while though it keeps producing. Not much you can do for it, I had always thought pulling back on overhead water helped but in some research I did and wrote about I found that is not proven true and that overhead water can wash it off some.

Usually squash start producing lots of male flowers early in the season to attract bees before the females start blooming.  I have had people be worried about that, I have not heard of almost all female flowers, are they not getting pollinated because you have to few males?  I don't have an explanation for that.

As for the wilting, cucumbers can wilt alot when the sun is hot, not much of a problem this summer.  Wilt can also be a symptom of problems in the root zone- something preventing the plant from taking up the moisture it needs.  But it also sounds like your soil is out of balance.  Garden soil should be mostly soil with some compost mixed in not the opposite.  This is probably causing some of your problems as it is too rich and out of balance.  I find that Sonoma Compost does not hold moisture well also so that might be part of the problem.  Without actually seeing it and looking at all the possible problems all I can do is suggest some possible causes.  at this point in the growing season there is not much you can do.