Mid-August and the garden is coming in like gangbusters!All that heat and rain have helped so many vegetables – and berries – to go above and beyond the usual production.

As with every year that I garden, I have learned much so far this season.

My first attempt at “three sisters” growing has taught me more than I expected. “Three sisters” — like the Native Americans once gardened — involves growing corn, pole beans and winter squash or pumpkins together.

Right now I have a virtual jungle! I planted four three sisters plots in about a 6-foot-by-25-foot space at the lower edge of the garden. My first lesson: These sprawling crops need much more space. The few corn seeds I planted in the center of each plot grew well, but three or four stalks per plot is not enough to support the prolific bean plants. Next year, not only will each plot have far more space, but I will plant at least double the number of corn seeds per circle of pole beans. The bean plants are wrapped around the corn stalks, the nearby self-seeded sunflower plants, the fence posts and anything else that is growing nearby. It’s fun to search among the leaves of various plants, but probably everything would be doing much better if I had allowed more space.

Second lesson: Plant the corn about a week before planting the circle of beans. Because of the high number of bean plants that germinated very well, they needed more support than the size of the young corn stalks could handle. Although the corn is tasseling, ears may suffocate because of the tightly wrapped bean plants.

Third lesson: Allow way more space for the pumpkin and squash plants. Right now, several small butternut squashes and a few little pumpkins can be found among the huge leaves, but the vines are reaching into the lawn and are almost reaching the nearby blackberry plants.

Results, so far – I’ll do it again next year because it is so much fun to watch the three grow, and they will produce beans, corn and pumpkins. But I’ll make sure to allow a lot more space, or better yet, provide a well-fertilized area separate from the main garden just for the three sisters.

This is indeed a spectacular year for growing potatoes. I found far fewer of those pesky, damaging potato beetles this year compared to most past years. I grew all my potatoes under straw or hay this year and the results are simply wonderful.

I’ve been uncovering a few of the red Norlands, Kennebec and Yukon gold potatoes while they are still small for a delightful addition to supper. With some finely chopped fresh parsley and a little butter, potatoes never taste any better. It’s best to eat the red Norlands first, as they are the early potato and don’t keep as well as the Kennebec, Yukon gold and my fourth variety this year, cobblers. It’s also best to wait until early September before harvesting most of those varieties so they will last until almost next season.

My fear of the early blight or fungus hitting the tomatoes has come true, but not nearly as bad as in some years. Two of the three areas where my tomatoes are planted have evidence of some blight. Some of the lower leaves have turned yellow, many with black spots on them. The fruit, however, is growing rapidly and beginning to turn red. Here in Zone 4, tomatoes take longer to ripen than Zone 5, which includes the Lewiston/Auburn vicinity.

Some environmentally safe insecticides contain an anti-fungal ingredient that can sometimes slow down the blight. Fertilizing is another way to help support and protect your tomatoes. All my tomatoes received compost and pigeon and goose poop when they were planted, and again in July.

The Japanese beetles, as virtually anyone who grows anything knows, are extremely ravenous and will eat anything – bean leaves, berry leaves, even weeds. They do tend to stay away from my herbs, however. This fall, just before the remaining vegetables are harvested and preserved, we plan to apply milky spore to most of the grassy areas near the garden and the berry patch.

Milky spore is a living creature that infests the white grubs of the Japanese beetle and kills them before they become the damaging insect.

It is fairly expensive, at about $35 to $40 a pound, but a pound goes a very long way and can prevent grubs from developing into Japanese beetles for up to 10 years. It generally comes in powder form and can be found in most garden supply stores.

To apply, simply lightly sprinkle grassy areas with the powder. It will get into the soil where the eggs are laid and the larvae grow. Next year, a significant reduction in these shiny beetles should be noticed.

Other thoughts on the garden in August:

— Continue to keep a close watch on weeds and grass in the garden, and definitely don’t let the weeds go to seed. Each weed can produce thousands of weed seeds that will lie in wait for next year.

— Apply compost to each area of the garden as the crops are harvested and cleared of any weed or grassy matter. Compost has the ability to improve soil by holding water longer and for lightening heavy soil.

— Garlic should have been harvested by now. If not, make sure this is done immediately. Scapes, or the flowery tops of the plant, should have been removed at least a couple of weeks ago. Leaving them on results in smaller garlic heads. To ensure the longest storage time, make sure the heads are well dried, with their tops still attached, before storing. We hang them one layer deep in an airy part of our garage before cutting off the tops and storing them in a dark, cool, dry space.

— Keep a lookout for those ugly, huge tomato hornworms. If they appear, it’s usually during August. I haven’t seen any this year, or the previous few years. But although they are difficult to see because of their lovely green color, they can damage not only the leaves, but also take big bites out of the fruit. Earwigs seem to be plentiful this year, however. I have found them among my cabbage and cauliflower. When I harvest these vegetables, as well as the Brussels sprouts and broccoli, I always soak the plants in well-salted water, then rinse, before cutting and eating or freezing.

— Remove dead or dying pansy, geranium and other perennial flower blossoms. Doing so ensures more blossoms to come until the frost arrives.

Happy gardening, and be thankful for such a magical earth.

Eileen Adams may be reached at [email protected]


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