Good afternoon gardeners!
We are in the last week of spring and a few short days from the official first day of summer. June 21st is the Summer Solstice. The Earth has reached her midpoint on her journey around the sun. This solstice marks the sun's maximum height in the sky. It is the longest day of the year and from this time on, the daylight hours will begin to shorten again. In Portland the summer is just beginning. In years past I remember drowning in rain all the way until July 4th. 2015 in Portland has been such a mild winter and warm spring I would imagine we won't see any rain again until the autumn.
Our evergreen jasmine sweetly scents the warm garden air. Clematis continues to put on an outrageous show of color. Two of my dahlias have bloomed. This is the earliest I remember dahlias blooming.
In this warm weather I enjoy strolling through our garden first thing in the morning while the temperatures are still cool and refreshing. While I water I make a mental checklist of what to harvest, weeds to pull and other garden tasks. The best time to water your summer garden in Portland is in the morning before 10am. With early morning watering you will maximize water absorption rather than losing it to evaporation.
As I water and observe the garden I love harvesting fresh sugar snap peas and raspberries to pop directly into my mouth. I try to harvest both of these crops each day so they are picked at the peak of their freshness. The same rule follows for pole beans later in the summer. Frequent harvesting yields the best product. I placed a pot of delicious fragrant pineapple sage next to one of the raised beds. Whenever I harvest peas or kale I brush against the pungent fuzzy leaves of pineapple sage unleashing the unique fragrance. Plus our tiny Anna's hummingbird loves to suck nectar from the bold red flowers.
This week in our garden I am harvesting: basil, calendula, chamomile, chard, chives, garlic, kale, mesclun mix, mints, nasturtium, onions, peas, raspberries, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme. It is a beautiful abundant time in the garden as spring turns to summer. Every day I see the bursting growth of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans.
I would take a break from planting at this point in mid-June. July will be the time to begin thinking about planning and planting your fall & winter garden. I know, it seems crazy! If you did not plant earlier you could still plant now in mid-June:
beans, pole & bush-seed or starts
cucumbers-seed or starts
dill-seed or starts
summer squash & zucchini-seed or starts
tomatoes & tomatillos-starts
Nurseries should have a good selection of gallon sized summer veggie starts. The bigger the better for planting at this point in the season. I would hold off on planting crops that are sensitive to bolting in hot weather such as spinach, lettuce, salad greens, cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower. I find that kale tends to get bitter tasting in hot weather, so summer is a good time to switch over to collard greens and swiss chard. Hot weather is also a challenging time to keep new seed beds moist enough for successful germination of carrots and beets. Early September is an excellent time to start all of these crops that prefer cooler weather.
Garden tasks for mid-June-
Basil: Your basil will benefit from pinching off the flowers and harvesting from the top growth. This will promote a bushier growth habit with better leaf production.
Beans: If you have planted pole beans, make sure they are supported by sturdy stakes or trellis. Newly sprouted bean plants are a favorite tender meal for slugs. Monitor slug activity and hunt for them in the early morning. Consider using an organic slug bait like sluggo.
Broccoli: Monitor growth daily and harvest when the heads are tight and not yet sprouted into flowers. Watch the temperatures and harvest heads before temperatures reach 90. Many varieties will continue to produce delicious side shoots after the main head is harvested.
Brussels sprouts: If you are growing these delicious treats for a winter/fall harvest, monitor them closely for aphids, especially in the new sprout development. Attract aphid predator lady bugs to your garden by surrounding your veggies with companion plants like dill and cosmos.
Carrots: Now is the time to thin out your carrot seedlings to make sure they do not crowd each other out.
Cilantro: If your cilantro has bolted, no problem! You won't get leaf production anymore, however, the flowers are a favorite of tiny beneficial bugs. And after the flowers follow delicious coriander seeds for you to harvest.
Cucumbers: Provide your vining cucumber plants with plenty of room to sprawl, direct sun all day and plenty of water. Cucumber plants need at least 3 feet in between plants. When cucumber plants experience spikes in temperatures above 90 degrees, they are not watered enough or they do not receive proper nutrients they become stressed and develop a bitter flavor. If you did not fertilize your cucumber plants at planting time, now would be a great time to apply an organic granular fertilizer to slow release over the next month. You could also apply a liquid organic fertilizer for immediate release like fish emulsion or liquid kelp. To prevent the spread of powdery mildew, water the soil not the plant foliage. Using a watering wand works great!
Dill: Continue to plant dill every 2-3 weeks throughout the summer for a succession of plants to harvest for seed and foliage.
Garlic: Bulbs are ready to be harvested when at least half of the leaves have turned yellow. Our fall planted garlic was all ready to be harvested a few weeks ago.
Herbs: Harvest herbs regularly during the active growing season to keep plants in shape. For fresh use, harvest as needed. Morning is the best time to harvest herbs, as that's when they have the most flavor. Leaves have the highest level of oils when the blooms just begin to appear. To dry your herbs hang small bunches of herbs from the ceiling in a dry, dark location with good ventilation. Drying usually takes 1-2 weeks. Store dried herbs in a clean sealed glass jar in a cool dark place.
Kale: Monitor for aphids, flea beetles and cabbage moth caterpillars. Hand pick and squish aphids and caterpillars or apply a homemade garlic spray as a deterrent. Harvest kale while leaves are young to avoid bitterness during summer heat. If your kale flowers at the time, those blossoms are edible so add them to your stir fry or salad.
Lettuce: Harvest regularly to avoid bitter tasting leaves and bolting. Plant heat tolerant summer varieties during the summer.
Peas: Cool season peas are not a fan of hot summer weather. By now your sugar snap, snow and shelling pea plants should be bursting! Keep them harvested daily for the freshest sweetest peas. The longer fresh eating peas mature the more starchy and hard they become. In my experience pea plants start to wither and finish by July. The good news is that in late August you can plant seeds for a new pea crop in the autumn.
Potatoes: Early varieties should be nearing maturity. When the foliage has died down this signals potatoes have reached their mature size. After the foliage dies down, let the tubers remain in the ground for about two weeks before harvesting. This allows the skins to set and increase their storage life.
Spinach: I harvested all of our spinach 2 weeks ago at the beginning of the 90 degree weather. Spinach prefers cool weather and is prone to bolting in hot temperatures. If you are continuing to grow spinach into summer, plant a more heat tolerant variety, plant in a slightly shady spot, keep it well watered and harvest regularly.
Shallots: Fall planted shallots are ready to harvest when leaves have turned yellow and fall over. You can harvest shallot greens and use like green onions or chives.
Summer Squash & Zucchini: Give plants these large bushy plants plenty of room, at least 3 feet in between plants. If you did not fertilize your squash plants at planting time, now would be a great time to apply an organic granular fertilizer to slow release over the next month. You could also apply a liquid organic fertilizer for immediate release like fish emulsion or liquid kelp. To prevent the spread of powdery mildew, water the soil not the plant foliage. Using a watering wand works great!
Swiss Chard: monitor for leaf miners. Pull off and dispose of infected leaves. Harvest regularly to promote new leaf growth. Younger leaves taste better and are more tender.
Tomatoes: If you waited to plant your tomato plants until the warm weather of late May, by now your plants should be developing nicely. If you planted them too early back during one of the warm spurts in April or early May your plants may be stunted and stressed and needed to be replaced. If you did not supply a calcium source at planting time, it is crucial you now top dress the soil surrounding your tomato plants with a handful of bonemeal or rock phosphate and lime. Calcium will help prevent blossom end rot. This is also an excellent time to apply an organic granular fertilizer to slow release over the growing season. This early in the season we are aiming for growth of your tomato plant. Later on as the fruit begins to set you will want to apply a liquid organic fertilizer that promotes bloom & fruit at 2-3 week intervals. I really like fox farm brand big bloom liquid fertilizer. Tomato plants grow very large and need sturdy support in form of a tomato cage or trellis at planting time. If you did not do this at planting time, you can now carefully try to get a cage around your growing plant. Tomato plants benefit from pruning to open the plant up for better air circulation and the prevention of fungal disease. You can pinch off suckers that develop where the branches meet the main stem. I frequently tend to my tomato plants to pinch off suckers, cut off branches too close to the soil line, and gently place their branches in the suppot of their cages. Tomatoes do not require a lot of watering, but the do require consistent watering. Inconsistent watering promotes blossom end rot and cracked split tomato fruit. A general rule of watering is to stick your finger all the way into the soil and if it is dry it is time to water. In my garden I water tomatoes in raised beds about every 3 days and tomatoes in containers more frequently about 1-2 days. This frequency is totally dependent upon the weather.
SPECIAL NOTE for Cucumbers, Melons, Pumpkins, Summer Squash, Winter Squash and Zucchini: All of the plants in this family have separate female and male flowers on the same plant. The female flowers produce a small fruit at their base. If the female flower is not pollinated from the male flower, her fruit will fall off and you will not have good production. Pollinators do this vital job for us by buzzing from flower to flower. You can attract pollinators to your garden by the planting of attractive companion flowers and native plants. You can keep your pollinators alive and healthy by gardening organically and not employing any chemical pesticides or fungicides-even organically improved.
Gardening friends, I truly hope you are enjoying this season of growth and abundance. The hard work of planning and planting is over and we have moved into a more leisurely time of maintenance and harvest. Keep yourself and your plants hydrated. Grab an glass of iced tea brewed from your fresh garden herbs and enjoy all the color, fragrance, taste and texture the bountiful garden has to offer at the end of spring.