This is the year of daisies, black-eyed Susans, lettuce, lilies and so much more.

Fields of simple, lovely daisies are growing everywhere, along with the bold-colored deep yellow and brown-centered black-eyed Susans.

My geese are enjoying the abundance of clover, and I have so much pak choi, lettuce and spinach that I can share it with them.

Plus, the gentle fragrance of milk weed blossoms wafts through our backyard and small pasture.

Onions, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and potato plants are tall, green and beautiful. The vine crops are creeping throughout the squash and pumpkin patches, and even my odds-and-ends garden patch where I planted leftover seedlings and seeds is doing well.

All the rain we had may have been damaging for roads and our spirits, but most of the plants and flowers in my gardens just loved it. I’ve never seen such green.

Of course, I worry about my lush tomato plants. Right now, they are gorgeous with many clusters of traditional or plum green tomatoes. But every day I check on them to be sure none of the leaves are turning brown.

Maybe this year, they won’t be touched by early or late blight and produce enough fruit for not only making dozens of jars of salsa and canned tomatoes, but also many quarts of tomato juice.

The garlic is about ready for harvesting, and we have been using fresh, mild onions thinned from the crop in our salads. The parsley, basil, dill and self-seeded cilantro are providing lots of flavors for our summer lunches and suppers. And the lettuce has produced more than I’ve ever seen, and not become bitter. Usually, the primary reason for pulling up one lettuce crop and planting another is that as the leaves get older, they also become bitter. Not this year.

July brings the fullness of summer. Hot, humid weather feeds the corn and tomatoes, beans and many other vegetables and flowers. Fresh string beans are ready for eating and canning, and cauliflower soon will be.

However, one of my favorite flowers doesn’t like it – the hearty, perky pansy. These lovely plants like cool, if not downright cold, temperatures. They will pull into themselves for as long as the very hot weather continues, then most likely spring back when the temperature drops.

The blackberry and elderberry bushes are loaded with green berries. Next month, most will be ready for harvesting, then making into jelly, jam and pies.

Mid- to late-July brings many tasks for the backyard gardener. Among them:

* Check all plants for insects; remove potato beetles, cabbage lopers (small, white-winged butterflies) and those tiny but destructive cucumber beetles. Environmentally safe insecticides are available in most garden stores.

* Keep plants as weed-free as possible. Once the weeds and grass are removed, don’t let them remain near the plants, as slugs really like to hang out in garden debris, then chomp away at your vegetables.

* Visit a neighbor’s garden and share gardening tips.

* Side-dress your vegetables, particularly corn. They will thank you for the extra application of fertilizer by providing far more produce.

* Bring extra vegetables to a food pantry or to your church to share with those who don’t grow a garden.

* Do a little research on other vegetables or flowers you may want to try next year by attending and purchasing several from a farmers market. Not only will you find some fresh vegetables you may not have thought of before, but also decide that some of these may be something worth growing.

* Check out garden stores for marked-down flowers and vegetables. It’s not too late to plant some vegetables. If pansy seedlings are planted now, they may very well last through the first two or three snow storms. If tomato plants are still available, they may be very large. Bring them home and plant each plant in a five-gallon bucket filled with soil and fertilizer with a hole in the bottom, and place in a sunny place on or near your porch. They will stay warm there when the temperatures dip and a small crop of fresh tomatoes may be available right into November.

* With all the rain we experienced during the last few weeks, we’re due for a lack of moisture. Make sure both your vegetable garden and flower garden receive water as they need it. Keeping them well hydrated results in stronger plants that are less likely to succumb to invasive insects.

Late July is also the time to replant string beans, spinach, radish, lettuce and other greens. Thoroughly clean out their original patch, fertilize well and plant. Right around Labor Day, you should have new crops. They won’t be as prolific as the first crops, but good just the same.

Keep your flower beds as weed-free as possible, too, and mulch.

I have a problem with morning glories. Their vines wrap around my tall, Asian lilies if I don’t keep a close watch and pull them up.

Those wild, orange day lilies found growing around barn foundations and many other places can also be a problem by infiltrating flower beds. I have dug up many of these really quite pretty plants from where I don’t want them, then replanted them elsewhere. They are so hearty that they will grow where nothing else will, such as the north and west sides of the house, and among other wild plants. They add a bit of color wherever they are planted and they don’t need care, just picking to keep them producing.

As the hot, long days of July turn into August, preserving begins. More on that next month.

And above all, visit your gardens often and marvel at what this magical earth can do.

The author may be reached at [email protected]


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