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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of July 27, 2023

I followed my own directions from last week: I dug up garlic and cut back the peas. Garlic is drying beautifully (thank you dry, warm days!), and the bulbs are huge after this past month of frequent rains.

And I’m back … still catching beetles. They are definitely slower in the early morning, but they really show up strong in the midday sun like we had last weekend. Luckily, they don’t seem too fond of the brown-eyed Susan flower that is beginning to open up now.

More beetles have caught my eye. The cucumber beetle—only about a quarter of an inch long and yellow with black stripes—can be a serious downer. Catch these if you can. They move fast—hence no photo included here. Cucumber and the larger squash beetles suck the plant juices and can spread bacterial wilt or squash mosaic virus. If you have severe infestations, you can use Neem or other botanical sprays, but you need to hit the beetle to be effective and the spray will kill other beneficial insects. Follow the directions (it’s the law) and spray early or late in the day to minimize the danger to bees and ladybeetles. So far, my plants haven’t seen many beetles. Shiny plastic mulch is said to disorient them and that might be why I don’t have an infestation—yet.

Squash and cucumber can spread far and wide or you can send them up a simple trellis to save space.

I will be checking my cucumber plants carefully; they have so many flowers! All can be dead in a flash. I learned my lesson with the pea vines. I’ve trained the cucumbers up a simple garden obelisk to keep the leaves and fruits up in the sunshine—hopefully deterring those beetles and bugs.

I followed my own directions from last week: I dug up garlic and cut back the peas. Garlic is drying beautifully (thank you dry, warm days!), and the bulbs are huge after this past month of frequent rains. I cut back the peas but left the roots. Peas are legumes, and their roots have nitrogen nodules on them that will release nitrogen back into the soil. I’ll over-seed the pea areas with lettuce for late-summer and early-fall eating. Where the garlic grew, this summer will be home to peas and beans next year.

I also cut back all the pod-laden arugula stems to dry. New leaves will sprout from the plants.

Stems of arugula lay in one direction to make tying the stems easier. They hang down into a brown paper bag to dry for a few months. Then, the seeds can be winnowed out easily and stored in empty spice jars for next year’s planting.

Lettuce grows fast and we eat it all but maybe you would rather plant different fall crops like spinach, kale, broccoli, beets or Brussels sprouts. These will start quickly in the warm soil and grow fast but don’t mind light frost come September. In fact, Brussels sprouts taste better after a light frost.

If I don’t plant mesclun lettuce in the vacated garlic section, I might just plant buckwheat seed as a green cover crop. It grows fine and dies from frost, so I can turn it in as organic matter to replenish the soil for the peas.

I have perennial strawberries growing between the peas’ and garlic’s locations in that raised bed as well. I will renovate the strawberries by letting the stolons root, and I will dig out the older “mother” plants. That task can wait a month, although I need to do it before November. Otherwise, the strawberry bed will be overcrowded and not productive next spring.

The rain has launched my cosmos plants to gargantuan status. They are huge and just coming into flower. Unfortunately, they can get knocked around by summer thunderstorms. To prevent stems from breaking, I’ll use bamboo or other narrow stakes to support the stems.

To stake, insert the stake next to the stem. Tie a loose loop around the stem with twine, and then take the ends of the knot to tie a twin loose loop around the stake. The loops should be held up by leaf nodes on the plant but loose enough to slide a bit up and down the stake as well as the stem.

The simple stems of dogwood in my containers that propped up the salvia still do their job. In one pot, the dogwood has rooted and started to bloom! The heavy rains have kept these pots growing nicely, but I can’t be complacent. The forecast calls for hot sunny days with only occasional showers. Containers and hanging baskets are meant to drain so those will need watering in the hot days to come.

Back to that annual container you’ve seen before. Pansies are still going strong along with the salvia, coleus, petunias, million bells and marguerite daisies. Thank nature’s watering for now! This container doesn’t need to be turned because shade tolerant annuals are on the shaded side of the group. But any hanging baskets of the same flower type that you suspend from porch roofs benefit from a weekly rotation to expose all sides to sunlight and get more even bloom.

Favorite, long-blooming perennials take center stage in our July flower beds. Coneflower (Echinacea), brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), and daylilies (Hemerocallis) can be blooming now through August if you have a mix of varieties and repeat bloomers. Clumps that are three to five years old and aren’t blooming like you expect this season should be divided this fall and replanted to get a better show next year. Make a note on your October to-do calendar.

Berkshire lawns have not suffered the usual summer brown-out where they go dormant from too little rain, but that can still happen in August. Don’t worry. Rain will perk those lawns right up. If your lawn is too soggy to mow, take the week off and sharpen those mower blades. When you do attack the growth, mow at the highest setting first then do a second pass at the three-inch height. Your mower’s motor will be more efficient and grass won’t develop that ripped appearance. And, you can push the mower more easily—another plus for the lazy gardener.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.