End of the line for the cool crops of spring
Sorry, salad lovers, but the arrival of serious summer heat means the end of the line for spring-planted crops such as peas, pansies, spinach and lettuce.
- Pick and use your remaining peas promptly. Then pull out the toasted vines and put them in your compost pile.
- Harvest the last of your pansy flowers in the early morning (before the sun hits the plants), store the edible blooms in a heavy-lidded plastic container in the fridge and use them to decorate the last of your homegrown summer salads.
- Yes, it really is time to harvest the last of your spinach leaves and lettuce crop. If you’ve been growing head lettuce, pull the plants up early in the morning, wash the dirt off the roots and store them, roots and all, in sealed plastic bags in the fridge and enjoy them over the coming weeks. Put each head into its own bag, blow air into the bag, close it quickly and tightly with a twist tie and store the bags like balloons.
- If you’ve been growing “cut and come again”-style (snipping off the tops of leaves and letting them regrow), make a last pass — again, early in the morning, when their taste will be the best — and store the cut leaves in a heavy-lidded plastic container in the fridge.
Don’t delay. From this point on the plants will either brown out or turn too bitter too eat. And don’t make these final harvests in the heat of the day; that lettuce will be wilted before you can make it to your front door.
Summer is just as stressful for your sod
If you have a cool-season lawn (bluegrass, fescue and/or rye) we are entering the time of year when summer heat is really going to stress your turf. These grasses are originally from cool-weather areas of Europe and have never been able to adapt to D.C.-area summers.
- Do not cut your lawn during a dry heat wave. Wait until right before rain or cooler weather is predicted.
- Do NOT cut your lawn below three inches. It needs all the green it can have up top to keep things a little cooler at the soil line. Scalping a cool-season lawn is never a good idea, but cutting it lower than three inches at this time of year ensures weeds and bare spots — maybe even death. And death would be bad.
- Do not feed your lawn between now and the end of August. Summer feedings burn up cool-season lawns. (If you’re on a four-step program, get yourself on a 12-step program.)
- Return your clippings to the turf when you cut; they’re mostly water and will help keep things cool.
- If we go a week without an inch of rain, do water, but only water deeply. That means a soaking of several hours, preferably ending in the early morning. Do not water your lawn more often than twice a week or for short periods of time. You need your lawn’s roots to reach down deep to survive summer heat, and short, frequent watering encourages those roots to stay as shallow as possible.
- But if you have zoysia, Bermuda or any of the other warm-season grasses (the ones that go tan and dormant in the winter), you can cut your lawn a little lower; and summer is the preferred time to feed these very different turfs.
Garlic harvest time!
Garlic alert! If you planted cloves last fall, it’s now time to check your work.
Wait for a dry stretch. Then, when the bottom third of most of your plants have turned brown, pull up a sample bulb. If it looks like a big leek, wash it off, chop it up and use it to season Tonight’s dinner. But if you get a nice big bulb covered with a paper wrapper, pull it all up and let the plants air dry for about a week in a cool breezy spot, turning your harvest daily.
Don’t delay. If you let garlic sit in the ground too long, the wrappers will split and the garlic will be ruined.
Sow some fast-maturing bush bean seeds where this year’s garlic grew; there’s still time to get several nice runs of green snap (“string”) beans. Same with zucchini and other fast-growing summer squash — use that space to grow plants that like it hot!
Handling your heady harvest
After your garlic has “cured” by air drying out of the sun for a week, brush the dirt off of each head gently. Don’t wash your garlic!
Then inspect each head carefully. If any heads are damaged or split, pull them apart and use any salvageable cloves (or even portions thereof) right away.
Then begin sorting through the undamaged ones. Big, perfect-looking heads can be set aside for now; store them out in the open in a light, airy place out of the sun and use them last.
Then start gently removing the cloves from the smaller heads. I know it’s tempting to use the biggest ones for cooking, but save really big cloves for replanting this September. Planting only big cloves will deliver the biggest, fullest heads at harvest time. But plan to do that planting in a different spot than this year, to avoid disease.
Use the smaller cloves for cooking, and have a special container at the ready to save your biggest cloves. But only save cloves with a full paper wrapper around them; if the wrapper or sections of it are missing, use those cloves promptly.
Leave these planting cloves out uncovered in an airy spot at room temperature; don’t refrigerate them or expose them to direct sunlight.
Treat hardnecks different from softnecks
Softneck varieties are the white “California-style” garlic that doesn’t produce a seed head at the top of the plants during the growing season. It doesn’t have the fine flavors and colors of the hardneck varieties, but the bulbs can be stored for close to a year without sprouting.
As with all garlic, harvest softnecks when the heads are full and the wrappers tight. Air dry the plants out of the sun for a week and then inspect them. Use any damaged bulbs promptly and then hang the rest, either braided or tied together, out in the open in a cool, dry, airy spot — not in direct sun.
Hardneck garlics are the ones with the often colorful wrappers of purple and red. They do produce a seed head, called a scape, at the top of their stalks about a month before they’re due to be harvested. Always remove this bulge to prevent the (essentially useless) seed head from developing and thus direct more of the plant’s energy into making bigger cloves underground.
Hardnecks have vastly superior flavor but don’t store well, generally sprouting (which ruins the flavor) by Thanksgiving. So use these tasty treats promptly.
Or, if you have a really big harvest, consider making your own garlic powder from the extras. It’s easy to do; just chop the cloves up, dry them in a food dehydrator, grind them into powder and store the powder in tightly lidded glass shaker jars — like the outdated ones in your spice rack.
Homemade garlic powder tastes immensely better than anything you can buy in a jar in the supermarket. It’s also the only way to keep enjoying your homegrown hardnecks until harvest time next year.