Walker County Extension Agent
Most folks tend to think that the arrival of late summer brings about an end (or at least a slow down) of garden chores and activities. We are blessed with a relatively long growing season for producing large quantities of high quality vegetables for most of the year. Most of us actually only use about half our growing season to producer vegetables.
Right now home gardeners have some decisions to make. It is certainly time of the year to consider planting cool season fall vegetables such as collards, cabbages, onions, beets, turnips and others. These are our traditional fall crops that can be seeded or transplanted right now, and there are many others as well.
What few people realize is that there is also time (provided we have a little luck with a late frost this year) to grow out another stand of short season summer vegetables. Yellow summer squash (either straight neck or crook neck) is a prime example. With only 40-50 days until maturity there is plenty of time to get an early fall picking of squash. Last year I actually planted yellow summer squash on the first day of September and still got in a harvest of “fall squash”. There are lots of other short season summer vegetables that can be done the same way. Snap beans take only about 50 days to maturity and will work fine as a late summer crop. If you still have tomato or pepper transplants (or slips as I grew up calling them) plant them out now and enjoy fruit all the way up until frost as long as they are provided adequate moisture.
Most okra varieties are ready to pick within 55-60 days of planting. Most of us who grow okra have noticed that it usually yields quite well at the beginning of the season and gradually tapers off during the late season. Along with all the other chores of late summer and early fall is one of my favorites, harvesting the produce planted earlier in the year. Around this time of year, I always start getting questions about harvesting crops such as gourds and even pumpkins and winter squash.
Harvest your gourds when they stop growing in size and the vines begin to die back. In a typical year, inadequate water and rainfall during the growing season can cause gourds not to reach their mature size. Discard any immature or diseased gourds as you will not be able to preserve them for very long.
Harvest your gourds with a sharp knife or hand pruners leaving an inch or two of stem on the fruit. Wash your gourds in warm soapy water to remove any disease or debris. You may add a tiny amount of chlorine bleach to the water to disinfect your gourds without causing any discoloration. Dry them very thoroughly after washing them.
Your gourds will take about one week to surface dry the outer skin and set the color. Spread them out on several layers of old newspaper in a warm dry room and turn them daily. Internally, your gourds will take two to three weeks to dry. Move your gourds to a warm, dry, dark area with good air circulation. The darkness will help preserve the color. Another way to dry very small gourds is to hang them out on a line by stringing them through their stems.
Pumpkins and winter squash are a different matter. The objective of curing and storing them is to prolong their post harvest shelf life until you get the chance to use them. Mature squash and pumpkins store better than immature fruit. When mature, winter squashes including acorn, hubbard, and my favorite, butternut have hard skins that resist puncture from your fingernail. Their skin is also dull and dry compared to the fresh bright shine of the skins of immature fruit. Make sure that you harvest pumpkins leaving a long stem; however, winter squash should be harvested leaving little or no stem at all.
Curing involves storing your pumpkins and winter squash at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees with 75 to 80 percent humidity for approximately ten days. The curing process will help heal wounds, ripen the immature fruit, enhance color, and will prolong the fruit’s shelf life. Curing is certainly beneficial to pumpkins and some winter squash, however, butternut and hubbard squashes have not shown any added benefit from curing. After curing, reduce the temperature and humidity to generally between 50 and 55 degrees temperature and 50 to 75 percent humidity (70 to 75 percent for hubbard squash).
It also will not be long until prime planting time for woody ornamentals and fruit trees which should be done during October and early November. We are also getting close to the September target for putting down a fall pre-emergence herbicide application in our home lawns and ornamental beds.
For those of you who have had problems with those prickly sand bur type weeds (actually called lawn burweed), a fall herbicide application can help to prevent this problem next year.
Boy, I thought this summer was finally slowing down, but this article reminds me of just how much there is left to do out in the garden.
We are also still taking applications for the 2018 Master Gardener Class through August 20. Please contact our office at 205-221-3392 for more registration details about that class.