Early August was the peak of the gardening season in northern New York. In spite of the challenging start to summer we had with the endless days of rain and cool temperatures, many gardens were able to put on a huge spurt of growth in mid-July when the sun finally appeared. Most crops are later than usual and production is down but plants that survived the first half of the summer are making up for lost time now.
Tomatoes are the most popular crop in home vegetable gardens and this has been a particularly difficult year for them. I was just about to call my eight plants a total loss in early July when the sun came out and they finally put out some new, vigorous growth. My plants still aren’t much to look at but they are setting fruit. The lower leaves are spotted and turning yellow from a common disease, Septoria leaf spot, which is widespread this year. It weakens the plant but usually does not kill it and you can still get a decent harvest.
Late blight, the dreaded disease of tomatoes and potatoes, is getting closer but as of August 9th it still had not been seen in Clinton or Essex Counties. There are a couple of sprays home gardeners can use to try to protect their plants if they choose. Copper-based products are considered organic but they must still be used with care. They are very caustic to your skin and can cause blindness if they get into your eyes so just because they are organic, does not mean they are not hazardous. There is a conventional fungicide for home gardeners as well that contains chlorothalonil as the active ingredient. It is sold under various brand names including Fungonil and Daconil. As with any pesticide, organic or conventional, read the entire label and follow the directions exactly.
My cucumbers are producing at full speed now and are piling up on our kitchen counter. If you can’t eat them right away they will keep for just a few days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but not much longer than that. I’m trying out various refrigerator pickle recipes this week in an effort to find more ways to keep them longer.
Cucumbers can be finicky plants, so don’t despair if yours have already faded. Cucumber beetles, those slender yellow and black striped bugs, spread bacterial wilt, and powdery mildew can be a problem as well.
Next year look for varieties of cucumbers and squash that are powdery mildew resistant. Read the descriptions carefully; if a variety is resistant it will say so. If no mention is made it’s probably susceptible. New varieties come out every year so the list is constantly changing.
I’m growing kale for the first time this year, and I enjoy its resiliency. Instead of the familiar super-curly type or the flat-leaved Red Russian type I’m growing Toscano which is described as a dinosaur or lacinato type. I used to think it was ugly, with its long, narrow, very dark green leaves. But those leaves are more tender and meaty and I’ve come to love it.
To harvest any kind of kale it’s easiest to just pull off the lower leaves. Keep harvesting up the stem and compost any leaves that have yellowed or been damaged. You’ll end up with rather odd looking tree-like plants but they’ll keep producing through the fall. They actually get sweeter after being frosted so this is a crop you can plant once and get a summer through fall harvest.
Photo: A garden salad (by Shannon Houlihan).