By Master Gardener Nancy Dowling
If you enjoy growing vegetables, it’s probably due to the months of July and August – months when your garden starts to give back way more than you give it. At the Master Gardeners’ Organic Vegetable Garden (OVG), in beautiful Potomac Overlook Regional Park, we just harvested all of our garlic – plenty for both our volunteers and Arlington Food Assistance Center, which provides food for needy families. We also pulled the balance of our peas and our lettuce because once the heat came, they just said, “Goodbye!” Lettuce bolts (goes to seed) in the heat, so we just pull it so it doesn’t turn bitter. See our big haul?
In late summer, we will plant peas and lettuce, kale, Asian greens like bok choy, and other leafy greens again, simply because our mid-Atlantic climate allows for two seasons of nice, cool weather. And in the fall, before Halloween, we will plant garlic for next year.
So you might wonder what we do in the garlic and leafy green beds while the heat soars. We do what any good organic gardener or farmer does: We plant a cover crop! This time of year, only buckwheat will grow, so stop by and take a look at our newly planted buckwheat beds. You may notice that we’ve left our Swiss chard to grow all summer and fall, and put buckwheat only in the part of the bed that was dedicated to garlic and lettuce, so we still have part of the bed in production. Buckwheat not only acts as green manure but its flowers will attract pollinators and beneficial insects to our entire garden for the rest of the summer, until we cut it down and let it compost. We do the cutting just before it sets seed. This is how we keep our soil in tip-top shape and return nutrients to our soil for the next crop.
What else are we harvesting? In July, we’ve been cutting pole beans (Monte Cristo is a favorite of ours), beets, lots of Swiss chard in every color, bunching onions, and even a few potatoes. We continue to plant beets in succession throughout the summer to keep them coming through late fall. And speaking of potatoes, I have to confess that our potato bags didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped this year. We used a bag made of plastic that drained poorly but heated up extremely well in hot weather. The stems dried out early, at the end of June, normally a sign harvesting is near. The result was only six small potatoes and many mushy ones. Next year, we plan on using a felt bag that drains well and doesn’t heat up as much in the sun. And we will have to do better about watering the bags. I’m afraid it was drought or flood for the poor bags this year. (Just for information, potatoes are normally harvested in August in our area, after the stems die back, not as early as July).
We are anticipating the harvesting of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers very soon. Don’t they look wonderful? We covered the eggplants with fabric this year to protect them from the flea beetles and it does seem to have worked – see the photo. Our bush beans are covered with blossoms, so the beans will be here shortly. We’ve also planted Christmas lima beans and Crowder peas. There’s a lot to look forward to in the OVG garden!