July in the vegetable garden is when the real harvest begins.
Neighbors are competing for the first ripe tomato of the season. Zucchini is running rampant and local gardeners are locking their car doors in their own driveways, not out fear of car thieves, but to keep friends from leaving boxes of zucchini in their back seats. Green peppers are beginning to fill out and the last of the peas have been harvested.
"If he brings one more pea into the house, he's outta here," said Florence Peterson jokingly of her husband and certified Master Gardener Nelson Peterson.
"I've steamed, creamed and frozen enough peas for this year," she said.
Nelson Peterson, known for his elaborate vegetable garden, admits the garden is quickly being overtaken each year with more flowers. In addition to an ever-expanding daylily collection, Peterson has won several flower-show awards with his daffodils, which fill the garden in early spring.
But it is the vegetable garden that is producing big in mid-summer. Peterson attributes his successful vegetable garden to the huge pile of fresh compost that he produces each year at the back of the property.
Weed of the Week
Goutweed, Aegopodium podagraria, also known as Bishop's Weed, is a plant gardeners either love or hate. Very invasive, the plant is an excellent groundcover for those who don't mind if it takes over a location. For others, it can be difficult to get rid of when planning a new garden. A variegated form of the weed is often admired in many landscapes, but natural reseeding of the plant can produce solid green leaves, which are more aggressive and can choke out the variegated form in just a few growing seasons.
"You have to chop everything small so it will break down quickly," Peterson said.
By mid-July, the northeast Ohio vegetable garden has already produced large numbers of lettuce, peas, spinach and radishes. Asparagus plants should resemble tall ferny trees that wave in the summer breezes. Early raspberries have seen their first harvest and are preparing for a second go-round. Mid-season raspberries should be protected from hungry birds with netting. And onions are beginning to lift themselves out of the ground, a sure sign that the harvest is ready.
Sweet corn ear maturation is in full swing with some late tassels still dropping pollen while others are finished the fertilization process. Corn ears on the tall stalks are swelling with their maturing kernels. Sweet corn harvest is determined by the variety of corn, but you'll know when the ears are ready if the kernels are tightly packed within the ear. When punctured with a fingernail, the kernels should burst with juice. The silk at the top of the ear should be browned and wilted.
Early varieties, such as Silver Sweet and Sugar Buns are usually ready for harvest in approximately 65 days from germination. Later varieties include Bodacious hybrid and Honey and Pearl, both ready for harvest approximately 75 days from germination.
Also being harvested from the garden in July are bush beans. Although these heat-lovers aren't planted until all danger of frost has passed in northeast Ohio, which usually means late May to early June, bush beans usually begin their harvest as early as 55 days from germination. Varieties such as Bush Kentucky Blue Wonder, Derby and Blue Lake 274 are favorites and should be picked from the plants when the pods are fully grown in length, but before the seeds inside begin to swell. If the beans mature while you are on vacation or before you have a chance to pick the young pods, mature beans can still be harvested as shelling beans.
Pole beans take a little longer to mature and can be expected in early to mid-August. Varieties of pole beans include Kentucky Blue, Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake.
Also ready for harvest by mid-July are eggplant, early potatoes, cherry and grape tomatoes and all herbs, including basil, summer savory, oregano, marjoram and flat-leaf Italian parsley.
When gardeners are asked when to plant vegetables, the answer will likely be, it depends on what you are planting. Cool season crops can have a resurgence by mid-summer with sowings of broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, kale and most varieties of lettuce and salad greens. Many cool weather crops can not only withstand a light frost, but the brassica plants will benefit from a few cool nights when brussels sprouts and cauliflower become sweeter.
As you harvest those mid-summer vegetables, don't forget to toss the peelings and leftover stalks and stems onto the compost heap. Nothing needs to be wasted in the garden. Garden waste will quickly break down if you take Peterson's advice and chop everything small. Decomposed organic matter not only amends the soil to make it more friable, but will add nutrients as well.
Areas of the garden that will not be replanted this season can be top-dressed with fresh compost in preparation for next season.
And of course, there is always weeding to be done. Even the most conscientious gardener has a difficult time keeping up with the weeds. Weeds not only compete with the plants for water and nutrients, they can quickly overtake a garden in mid-summer when most garden weeds are either actively growing or already setting seed. Keeping the weeds under control and ridding the garden of their presence before they go to seed can help eliminate a large majority for future growing seasons.
Mulching heavily between rows and around plants also helps retain moisture and keeps weeds from seeing the light of day.
July and August are likely the two busiest months in the vegetable garden. This is the time of the season when not only is the harvest beginning to explode, but more planting can be accomplished for fall. We'll talk about what to do before the season ends next month, but in the meantime, there is still plenty to do.
For more information on vegetable gardening, contact The Ohio State University Extension Trumbull County Master Gardeners at 330-638-6783 or e-mail email@example.com.