Black From Tula isn't quite soft enough to harvest yet. Note split in skin from having to absorb more irrigation water that the flesh cells could expand but the skin cells couldn't grow fast enough. I may have to harvest it tomorrow before mold develops in the split - but it's easy to cut out when I serve it.
Whew! We managed to get through July without a recurrence of our 116-degree days from 2018. Of course, we still have the rest of our hot season to come.
Like memorable days throughout the year for each of us, we look forward with delight or dread to some of the good and bad things that’ve marked our past lives. When I was younger and undergoing what felt like catastrophic happenings, I’d wished that I’d had some warning so I could emotionally prepare myself for what was to come. As I’ve grown older, I’ve been thankful that I didn’t know of ahead of time of the stresses to come, so I didn’t have to suffer ahead of time as well.
The gardening year is the same way – we never know how it will play out -- hot or cold, wet or dry, with great success or abject failure. Of course, it always turns out to be a mixture of all possibilities. So we figuratively plow on, exploring new techniques and plants as well as repeating our favorites. Now is a great time to start considering what needs improvement and what magic already works as we begin thinking about our cool-season garden.
In the meantime, let’s move back out into the garden with some timely tasks and harvesting highlights.
Some Timely Tasks
Lift melons off the soil surface to get them away from moist soil and crawling pests. Boards, cans, or plastic baskets from strawberries or cherry tomatoes serve well. Stop watering plants the week before they're ripe to allow the sweetness to concentrate and to minimize fruit-cracking problems.
Zucchini are the blessing and the bane of gardeners and their neighbors. They’re usually more productive than we expect, especially if we’ve planted more than one plant, and they keep coming. I prefer yellow crookneck squash, which taste already buttered when merely steamed.
Continue to keep vine vegetables (especially beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes) picked, whether or not you will use the harvest that day. If many fruits are allowed to overmature on the plant, the plant “thinks” it’s done its reproductive job, and it stops producing more blossoms.
If your vegetables and fruits won’t be eaten that day, or if you’ll refrigerate them for use later, harvest them as early in the day as possible. Research at the University of California, Davis, found that the six hours before sunrise is the best time to harvest because the edibles have been thoroughly cooled overnight. As soon as the sun hits the fruits or vegetables, the pulp temperature begins to rise, and even shading them will not delay the temperature rise for long. Each five degrees lower temperature when the fruit is picked will extend shelf-life for another three days. Tomatoes, in particular, develop more chilling injury -- that telltale graininess and mushiness -- when they are cooled after being harvested when thoroughly warm because the cell structure breaks down.
If you have kept plants well-picked, but fruit set has stopped, suspect hot weather. Fruit set will begin again about ten to fourteen days after the temperature stays below 85 to 90 degrees. This is why we want to get plants established as early in the spring as possible, so they’ve set a lot of fruit by the time it heats up now.
To keep veggies producing well, continue to fertilize and keep root zones thoroughly moistened. Plants appreciate this extra boost in nutrition to use immediately in setting more blossoms and maturing their fruits.
But during our extra-hot weather now, be sure to water the plants well before applying fertilizer, to fully hydrate the full root systems so the fertilizer won't "burn" dry roots.
To re-energize vegetable plants, prune off their leaves that have become ragged from age, disease, or insect attacks. Then water the plants well. Healthy new leaves and blossoms will hopefully appear again once the weather cools a bit, and fruit set will begin again. This technique is especially effective with beans, cucumbers, and squash.
As vine crops reach the tops of their trellises, pinch off the lead vine; the side shoots will take over the major growth and food production.
Toward the end of the month, pinch off the last blossoms of eggplants, peppers, melons, squashes, and tomatoes. Plant energy will then be concentrated in maturing fruit that's already set, instead of setting more fruit that won't ripen sufficiently before fall’s cooler weather (yes, it's coming!).
My Tomato Tally So Far: 305 fruits
237 Cherry-size -- Sungold, Chocolate Sprinkles,
Flamme, Chocolate Cherry, Isis Candy, volunteer
68 Large size -- Celebrity, Black Krim, Black Zebra,
Chocolate Stripes, Cherokee Purple, Cherokee
Green, Big Rainbow
For more garden task possibilities, see August.