If you garden in an area not affected by drought, you may wonder why I’m obsessing.
#1: High temperatures magnify drought’s effect and watering or irrigating doesn’t provide plants what rainfall does. #2: Droughts many times persist; two to three years duration is not unusual. So I’m gardening defensively.
Vegetables and what fruit survived are maturing faster than normal, almost a month early. The tomato and pepper crop is ripening rapidly; all should be picked by Labor Day. Potato and winter squash foliage is browning now, signaling that I will be harvesting for storage shortly. When stems wither, cut squash and pumpkins off the vine, let them dry in the shade a couple of days and then wipe the fruits down with a solution of household bleach and water. A half cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water will kill fungal spores that cause rot on fruit rinds. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. Dig potatoes, wash dirt off them and let the spuds dry in a dark, airy place. Then store for winter.
Pumpkin and Winter squash store easily in your basement or a cold, dark closet, if you prepare them properly after harvest. Photos by Doreen G. Howard
Carrots can be pulled for eating and storage now, too. Homegrown ones are sweeter and juicier than those at the grocery store. But, straight out of the ground, they lack the nutrition of store-bought carrots. It takes two weeks of chilling for carrots to develop their maximum vitamin C content. Cut off tops (they pull moisture out of the carrot), and store in zipper-type plastic bags to retain the crunch and flavor. For long-term storage, layer carrots and damp sand in boxes. Store in a dark, cold area such as a basement.
Be sure to cut off the green, leafy tops of carrots, even if you plan to eat them soon. Doing so and refrigerating two weeks insures a tasty, vitamin-laden carrot.
The two dozen apples that came through April’s killing frost are dropping when you brush them. Only one tree out of eight in my mini-orchard set this fruit, and they’re smaller than normal. But, the flavor is fabulous! Plenty of fruit sugars and nuances concentrated in the diminutive apples.
Save yourself the work of fall cleanup and leave garden beds messy for an annual garden you won’t have to plant. Let marigolds, poppies, morning glories, forget-me-nots, cleomes, zinnias, cosmos, larkspur, snapdragons, alyssum and cornflowers go to seed. Some annual and bi-annual herbs will self-sow, too—chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley and savory. Add wildflowers to the mix, also. Freeze seeds for two day, let them thaw overnight and then scatter over the ground. Seed germination rates are increased.
Shop now for spring bulbs that will reliably put on a fabulous show in the spring. This is my favorite tulip, Zoomerschoen, a Dutch antique that is almost 200 years old.
Plant more than daffodils, tulips and other bulbs this fall. They’ll bloom next spring and thrive in dry soil if the drought persists. If deer are a problem in your area, as they are in mine, surround your tulip bulbs with daffodils. They repel deer. There are plenty of interesting and colorful spring-flowering bulbs in stores and catalogs now. Order or shop soon so you’ll have a fabulous drought-proof flower display next spring.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.