It’s hard to believe it’s August, but here we are. The garden is mature now, a young mature still but mature. The days have begun to shorten, today we have 14 hours and 19 minutes of daylight, by the end of the month we will have lost another hour and 9 minutes. Ah, well, maybe it’s best that this year hurries along.
We have had plenty of rain this week, it comes and goes in bursts, with the sun sneaking out here and there. The plants are loving it. There are plenty of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden and the corn has nice ears started. I’m thinking about starting a new crop of lettuce, if I can find the seeds I bought in the spring for just this purpose.
I still have some oriental lilies blooming, a few day lilies and some tiger lilies. The black-eyed Susan’s and shasta daisies are going strong. The quill mum is blooming too. Lots of hosta are in bloom. Zinnias, cosmos, nasturtium, cleome, canna and some Icelandic poppies are in bloom now. Woodland nicotiana is playing a starring role here and there. I lost the battle with morning glories and some I missed are opening their deep blue flowers.
The golden glow- (Rudbeckia laciniata) has flopped over as it usually does. It’s so cheerful when it blooms but it’s a mess. I’ve tried staking it and I’ve tried pinching it back. Nothing seems to work. I got it at a plant swap- a place where you tend to get most of those spreading, messy plants other gardeners want gone. Someone asked me the name of the plant, I didn’t know, so I took one of the many plants there home to identify it. Now I have this huge clump of it.
I got rid of my Maximilian (perennial) sunflowers for the same reason, they get so tall and then fall over and they spread like crazy. Pinching those back and staking didn’t help there either. The golden glow may meet the same fate.
I have been busy this week with indoor work and between that and the rain I haven’t been in my garden as much as I would like. I’m hoping that this week I will have some time for deep weeding and rearranging things here and there. There’s still two months of garden time, at least.
The Great Lakes Native Americans called this month’s full moon (August 3rd) Sturgeon moon, because that was when these large tasty fish were easily caught in the Great Lakes. In other places this month’s full moon is known as the Green Corn moon or the blueberry moon. The moon perigee is the 21st and the apogee is the 9th. Today is the 217th day of the year.
If you want to see or catch a falling star this is the month to do it. The Perseid Meteor showers peak will be the nights of August 11-12th and the 12-13th. At the peak you should be able to see 60-75 “falling stars” an hour, about one a minute. The meteors are the dust and debris in the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle. You won’t see the comet, but you may see Mars and Saturn. The meteor showers continue to be visible until August 26th. Go out after midnight, look north and give your eyes a chance to adjust to the dark when watching for meteors. This year the moon will be in the last quarter, which will interfere a little, but you should be able to see the brighter meteors.
The August birth flower is the gladiolus. When glads are given to someone they signify remembrance and integrity, perhaps that is why gladiolus are frequently found in funeral arrangements. The August birthstone is the peridot- a beautiful green gem.
August is National Peach month, National Picnic month, Family Fun month and National Catfish month. The 9th is National Book Lovers day and the 10th is National Lazy Day. The 13th is Left Handers day, the 14th is Creamsicle day, the 21st is national Seniors day, and the 26th is National Dog day. The 29th is More Herbs day. August 31st is International Bacon day.
Things to do in the garden in August
Harvest and preserve those fruits and veggies. It’s prime canning, pickling and freezing time.
Divide bearded iris- see article below. Hold off on dividing other perennials until its cooler.
Remove and destroy any ragweed and giant ragweed plants before they start shedding that pollen that will make you miserable. Also remove and destroy the burdock “burrs”. Don’t leave them lying around as the “burrs” continue to ripen and make viable seeds even after cutting. Remove stick tights and bur grass too. Your pets will thank you.
Start shopping for spring bulbs. They are planted in the fall and if you shop early, you’ll get the best selection and prices. The bulbs are shipped when it’s time for you to plant them. I always avoid bulbs in big box stores. They are shipped too early to the stores and sit around in poor conditions. Plus they are generally lesser quality than you get when mail ordering from a good bulb company.
Fertilize containers and baskets of annuals.
Repot houseplants that need it. They may have grown over summer, whether inside or out. Remember not to use too large of a pot for the plant. Go 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the pot the plant is in now. You can divide houseplants at this time too, if they are a species that reproduces well by division.
Collect ripe seedpods of anything you want to save the seeds from. Let seeds ripen on the plants for as long as possible.
It’s a good time to dry flowers and seed heads for dry flower arrangements. It’s also a good time to dry herbs. Your car sitting in the sun makes a good herb/ flower dryer. Put herbs/flowers loosely in brown paper bags and let them sit them in the car until dried. It makes the car smell good too.
August is a good month to divide your bearded iris. As iris grow, they make huge clumps of plants and as they get crowded, they don’t bloom as well. Iris should be divided every 3-5 years to improve blooming and keep the spot from getting too crowded. You may also want to divide iris to give some to friends or make another garden bed. If you need to move iris to another location in the garden August is also a good time to do it.
It’s pretty easy to divide iris and any gardener should feel competent to do it. You’ll need a good sharp knife to help divide rhizomes, some scissors to cut the iris leaves and something to put your divided rhizomes in. You may also want some common household bleach for disinfecting rhizomes.
Start by deciding what you will do with the divided plants. If you need to prepare a new site, you should get that done first. Iris will “hold” outside of the soil for a few weeks but it’s best to get them planted as quickly as possible.
Next dig the whole clump of iris up. Irises have shallow roots, and this is easy to do. If the clumps are packed together in a bed you may cut through some with your spade as you lift them, but you will generally have plenty of good rhizomes left. Cut the iris leaves back to about 3-4 inches; it doesn’t matter if they are cut on a slant or straight across.
Put the clump of iris on a tarp, a board, or on cement and gently wash all the soil off the rhizomes with a garden hose so you can see what you have. Rhizomes are tan, knotty looking and can branch off in unusual ways. There should be roots on the bottom of younger rhizomes. Rhizomes are actually underground stems and you will see joints or nodes along the rhizome with leaves (or fans in iris terms), popping up along each node.
Examine the clump you lifted carefully. You’ll want to divide iris between joints, leaving each section with one or two sets of leaves and a healthy section of rhizome consisting of 2 or more joints. You can start new plants from a single node or section, but they will be smaller and may not bloom for 2 years. Sometimes you can snap the joints apart with your fingers but cutting is more precise.
After a rhizome section blooms it will never bloom again. To determine which rhizomes sections are old you can look for the flower stem. Old rhizomes may also be devoid of roots and have tiny holes on the underside where the roots fell off. In a clump, old rhizomes are generally in the center.
If the old rhizomes have new small sections of rhizomes with very small leaves on them you can save the old rhizome and replant it with the young daughter plants. It will provide food for them until they grow more leaves. Otherwise discard old rhizomes that have bloomed.
Examine the rhizomes you are keeping looking for mushy areas or large holes in the top side of the rhizome. Large holes may indicate iris borers and there may be a large pink worm inside the hole. Those pieces should be discarded in the trash, not the compost pile. Soft, mushy areas indicate bacterial rot and should also be discarded.
Next add one cup of common household bleach, without scent added, to a gallon of water and soak the good rhizomes for 10 minutes. Remove and allow them to dry in a sunny place for a few hours. This removes disease organisms. You can re-use the bleach solution for several batches on the same day.
If you know the name or color of the iris you are dividing you can write that on the leaves of the divided pieces with a marker or add a label held on with a rubber band to the piece.
Replant the divided sections of rhizome shallowly, root side down, leaves up, with the surface of the rhizome just under the soil. Plant 1 foot apart. Iris bloom best in full sun positions. If the weather is dry water the replanted rhizomes once a week. Larger rhizomes sections will probably bloom in the spring. Smaller sections may take two years to bloom.
If you buy iris to plant, try to get them into the ground by mid-September. This will make it more likely that they will grow well for you and bloom the first spring.
Technically that may be so – but the cross pollination happened the year before and the odd plant grew from seeds resulting from plant sex last year, not this year. It did not happen in the gardeners plot this year. With one exception common garden plants do not show a change in their fruit due to cross pollination in the year the cross pollination occurs.
If two types of tomatoes are next to each other in your garden and they happen to cross pollinate, let’s say a cherry tomato and a beef steak type, the fruit the plants produce this year (the part of the tomato we eat is a fruit) will look like cherry tomatoes on one plant and beefsteak on the other, they won’t change the looks of their fruit because they had sex. But if you planted the seeds from one of those tomatoes having crazy sex this year, let’s say from the cherry tomato, the fruit that grows on those plants next year could be very different from the typical cherry tomato.
So, unless you are going to be saving seeds for planting next year it doesn’t matter if you plant various types of tomatoes, peppers, squash and so on next to each other. This year’s fruit should look exactly like the variety you planted and if it doesn’t something besides cross pollination occurred. We’ll get to that in a minute. Cross pollination does not affect leafy plant parts or roots either, in the current year plants.
The one exception to what happens in the current year from plant sex is in sweet corn. If you plant yellow kernel corn varieties next to white kernel corn varieties this year’s corn ears may have both colors of corn kernels on each cob. Cross pollination in corn may also affect the flavor of this year’s corn. Field corn, popcorn, or ornamental corn varieties pollinating sweet corn will leave the sweet corn tougher and tasting less sweet.
So what does happen when you get a deformed or odd looking fruit?
A number of things can cause changes in fruit as it develops. Sometimes weather conditions, mechanical injury, insects feeding, plant diseases, or pesticide exposure can result in fruits looking odd. There may have been a true mutation in the genes of the seed that produced the plant. There may have been undetected cross breeding the previous year, resulting in seeds that were hybrid and the fruit from plants grown from those seeds have mixed genetic traits.
Sometimes insufficient pollination will cause deformed fruit. Some plants require a certain number of pollen grains to land on the female stigma and be successful in fertilizing eggs in the ovary before fruit begins developing. When only 4 pollen grains land on the stigma instead of the optimum 5 grains as an example, fruit may sometimes begin developing but will be lopsided or not formed perfectly.
By the way it doesn’t matter if the pollen grains came from different plants or even a different variety as long as they could fertilize egg cells. All the peas in the pod could have different daddies.
In the vast majority of cases, with the exception of pesticide exposure or possibly radiation exposure, the odd fruits would be edible. (Remember anything with seeds is a fruit.) In many cases not all the fruit on a plant will be affected, and the problem is a temporary one. Enjoy the oddball, take pictures but don’t worry too much.
So how come my eggplants are white?
Most of the time when a gardener gets a fruit, he or she wasn’t expecting it’s because the seed variety or seedling wasn’t properly labeled. How many times have you seen people shopping in greenhouses removing plant tags from the cell packs seedlings are growing in? Or even switching plants from cell pack to cell pack? Sometimes the greenhouse/nursery accidentally mislabeled the plants also.
Sometimes a stray seed from one variety gets mixed in with another variety. If you saved the seed yourself, you may have mixed up the varieties, or back to cross pollination- your plants last year may have bred with other plants and the seeds have a combination of the traits.
People don’t always read the description of seeds or plants they are choosing carefully. I remember a gentleman bringing in a white colored eggplant fruit to my office and he was so excited to have found a new variety. But when I explained to him that there were varieties of white eggplant on the market and we discussed it, we figured out that he had planted a variety with white fruit, not the typical purple. He was unaware that eggplant fruits came in various colors.
It’s easy for gardeners and nursery employees to mix up plants with similar leaves, like squash, gourds, and pumpkins. Inexperienced gardeners who aren’t familiar with plants can even mix up things like beans and cucumbers or tomatoes and peppers, by forgetting where they planted what or by buying mislabeled plants and not recognizing it.
Sometimes the plant is performing exactly as the variety should, but the gardener has harvested the fruit at the wrong time. I have had many people complaining to me that their “green” pepper was actually red or purple. Bell peppers are generally picked when they are young and still green. When they mature the fruit color changes to red, yellow, orange, purple or other colors depending on variety. And if you want red bell peppers and are only seeing green, just be patient, the color will change, hopefully to red.
Generally, cucumbers turn yellow or reddish when they are completely mature, which is not when most people prefer to eat them and not what you see in the grocery. Muskmelon starts out with smooth green fruit that develops the brown netting near maturity. Pumpkins start out green and mature to orange, (or other colors).
What about flowers that are a different color this year?
When it comes to flowers, a change in color may be caused by weather conditions, soil conditions, flower age or plant age. Some plants have slightly different looking flowers the first year they bloom from what the flowers will look like in following years. Other types of plants also have flower color changes as flowers, (not plants), age. If the soil pH changed for some reason, some plants like hydrangea have flowers that are different colors with different soil pH numbers.
Usually cross pollination does not affect flowers, although in some plants any form of pollination may cause a subtle color change in the flowers. Pink apple blossoms turn very pale pink or white after pollination for example. White is less attractive to bees, keeping them focused on the pink ones that still need pollination.
Most of the time when someone thinks a flower has changed color from the previous year or even from earlier in the season it’s because the flower is from a different plant. Many plants reseed in the same location and the seeds can produce plants with different colored flowers. Gardeners often don’t realize the plant blooming this year is not the same plant that bloomed there last year.
When a rose or other grafted plant seems to have a flower color change it’s often because the grafted part has died, and the plant is producing flowers from the root portion. And then of course, there’s always memory problems of the gardener, that’s why I take pictures and keep records. There are times when I would swear a certain rose should be pink, but my pictures tell me it was actually a yellow rose there, exactly what is blooming now.
In short- the type of fruit, flowers, roots or vegetative parts a plant has this year (with the exception of corn and maybe a few other uncommon plants), has nothing to do with who it is sharing pollen with. What a plants fruit looks like this year has nothing to do with the pollination taking place this year.
One of the things often mentioned for pest animal control is using mylar balloons or other helium filled balloons. Sometimes these balloons get loose and float away. And it’s the season for outside birthday parties and weddings. One of the things that’s sometimes done at these parties is to release balloons. But balloons are dangerous for wildlife and bad for the environment and should be kept indoors.
Helium filled balloons can travel miles on the wind, and end up in wilderness areas, lakes, or the ocean. They tangle in trees, float in the water, and litter the ground. They are not only ugly litter, but they endanger wildlife. Wildlife caretakers can tell you tales of birds getting their legs or necks wrapped in balloon strings and dying or birds and other animals swallowing balloons and dying from obstructed digestive systems.
Balloons are considered to be the most deadly form of plastic litter for seabirds, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports. A study done by University of Texas Marine Science Institute found that 5% of marine turtles found dead in the Gulf of Mexico had ingested balloons. Bighorn sheep in the mountains are known to eat balloons that land there and often die from ingesting them or from strangling on ribbons.
Wildlife protectors tell of birds tethered to trees by balloon strings until they die of starvation and animals dying of starvation because their digestive systems are full of undigestible balloon fragments. I read about a little screech owl that had one wing tangled in a balloon ribbon dangling from a tree for days, struggling to fly, until someone found it, still alive but too injured to save.
Balloons, even the so called degradable latex ones, can take years to break down and strings and ribbons even longer. For years after that birthday party your balloons could be killing wildlife. Balloon companies lobby hard to keep balloons legal using that degradable label, but it’s a false argument because of the years it takes, and the ribbons and strings often attached to them.
Balloons not only litter and kill wildlife they can harm humans. Mylar and other metallic balloons can short out powerlines, starting fires and causing power outages. Balloons have caused small planes to crash and larger planes to have to divert from their course. In 1986 the United Way released 1.5 million balloons in Cleveland Ohio. Rescue helicopters couldn’t fly through them, causing the death of 2 boaters who had capsized in Lake Michigan. Helium used to fill the average celebration balloons, is a scarce resource used in science and medicine and shouldn’t be wasted on littering.
Balloons are the only form of litter that we ignore people discarding on a routine basis. Releasing balloons should be covered under any litter laws, because that is what’s being done, littering. Balloons have been tracked thousands of miles from their release points, often ending up in wilderness areas.
Don’t use balloons to discourage animal pests in the garden. It doesn’t work well after a day or two and there’s the risk the balloons will float off. Balloons need to be kept inside and disposed of properly when the party’s over. If used outside they should be weighted down and never released.
Puncture balloons and dispose of them after use. Encourage your locality to ban releasing balloons and don’t use this form of celebration or memorial if you care about wildlife and the environment.
Balloons don’t just disappear into the atmosphere when released; they fall back to the earth somewhere. When someone releases hundreds or even thousands of balloons as a memorial, as a celebration, as a decorative background, they are throwing away hundreds or thousands of pieces of litter into the environment, litter that can maim and kill. Releasing balloons is an idiotic custom that needs to cease.
How to freeze zucchini
Many gardeners plant way more zucchini plants than they need, which is generally one. Then they agonize over what to do with the excess fruits. Neighbors and work colleagues start avoiding them. You can only eat so much zucchini bread at a time. But what if you could make zucchini bread all year round?
You can-if you freeze the zucchini. Here’s how to do that. You’ll need clean freezer containers. You can use freezer bags but containers with rigid walls often keep the frozen produce better. Containers of any size must seal tightly. Pint size containers hold 2 cups of shredded zucchini, which is what is usually called for in recipes.
Choose young, thin skinned zucchini fruits for freezing. Zucchini fruits that are the size of baseball bats will often be tough after freezing. Wash the fruits well.
Grate or shred the zucchini. You could chop it, but pieces should be no thicker than ¼ inch.
Prepare a large pot of boiling water and a large container of ice water. Measure how much zucchini will fit in one of your clean containers.
Place just enough rated zucchini in a colander or strainer to fill one freezer container. Dip that colander or strainer with the zucchini in boiling water, just until the zucchini turns translucent (starts looking clear), about 2 minutes.
Drain the colander of zucchini. Push down lightly on the shredded zucchini to remove more water. Then pack the hot zucchini in your container.
Next sit the packed container in the ice water bath. The ice water should not get into the containers. Let the containers sit at least 10 minutes. Then wipe the containers and place in the freezer.
Let the zucchini thaw before using in recipes.
This quick blanch (hot water treatment) and rapid cooling makes for the best tasting and storing zucchini. Blanching stops an enzyme reaction that can cause off flavors when zucchini is frozen fresh.
You can freeze sliced zucchini for other recipes by slicing it no thicker than ½ inch and blanching it for 3 minutes, or until translucent.
Note: canning zucchini and other summer squash is not recommended by food safety experts, even in a pressure canner. Not only will it turn to mush, but it is very difficult to properly determine processing time, due to the dense nature and low acidity of the product. Canned summer squashes, including zucchini, may not be safe to eat. Pickling zucchini can be done.
The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone.
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