Around Issaquah and Sammamish, people seem to be complaining in equal measure that the temperatures have been too hot or that that summer has not yet come to the area. Our kitchen garden crops know the truth of the matter, however.
Temperatures haven’t been all that bad, really. According to University of Washington Meteorologist Cliff Mass, compared to last July we have had more than twice the number of days when temperatures exceeded the average high. And with torrential cloudbursts and gentle mists alternating with the sun, our crops have had plenty of water.
And the result? Gardens boasting ripe tomatoes at the start of August.
Most of the garden
If a few too many complaints seem to be slipping off our tongues, we can fill our mouths instead with the juicy tang of those first ripe tomatoes.
Since the first settlers came to Issaquah and Sammamish in the late 1800s, August has typically been the month when gardeners harvest the last of the season’s cold weather crops while relishing the first fruits of the warm weather crops. “We always had a garden,” noted Lester Adair whose parents settled in Issaquah in 1903. Their August harvests included “potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, [and] carrots.”
Seattle Tilth has a few tips to help us make the most of our own August harvests.
Tend your tomato plants.
According to Seattle Tilth’s Falaah Jones who coordinates the work in Issaquah’s Pickering Barn Community Garden, tomatoes should be a primary focus of gardeners in August. “You should be trellising your tomato plants to make sure they have adequate air circulation and to prevent the slugs from getting to any tomatoes because they are laying on the ground.” In most cases, this is as simple as using a natural-fiber twine to tie low-lying tomato branches to a trellis. To promote air circulation, you may also want to prune your tomato plants. Jones recommends removing any young branches that form at the fork of two mature branches, as well as any branches at the base of the plant that are not bearing blossoms or fruit. Visit the Pickering Barn Community Garden for trellising and pruning ideas.
The area's July rainfall was about 150% of normal, but the metrological models all predict a dryer than normal August. Accordingly, you may need to consider watering a bit more than you did the last two summers. If you find that the ends of your tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers are rotting, you may not be watering enough. “Blossom end rot indicates calcium deficiency,” says Jones. “It’s not caused by inadequate calcium in the soil. Rather, the plant can’t access the calcium in the soil because there isn’t enough water.” She recommends watering in the morning so that the leaves dry more quickly and the plants don’t become too cool over night.
To prolong the productivity of your summer crops, harvest your beans, squash, cucumbers, and other vegetables before they get too big. If you do so and find yourself with a pile of various vegetables on your counter at dinnertime, try “Most of the Garden.” It's a delicious recipe from the collection of Mary Wold, a gardener who was born in Issaquah in 1886.
“My Mother and I used to can everything we could,” wrote Adair. If you are interested in learning how to preserve your crops, PCC and Seattle Tilth are offering classes locally. And don’t fret if your harvest is larger than you can eat or preserve. The Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank will welcome any extra vegetables your garden produces.
A sympathetic ear
Benjamin Franklin purportedly warned that "constant complaint is the poorest sort of pay for all the comforts we enjoy." Yet, if we persist in harboring the odd weather complaint or perhaps have a question on how to manage our August crops, we have somewhere to go. The Seattle Tilth employees who staff King County's Garden Hotline are happy to listen and help.
Seattle Tilth’s Falaah Jones coordinates volunteer and educational programs at the City of Issaquah’s Pickering Barn Community Garden. Educational sessions and volunteer work parties provide a unique opportunity to play outdoors while learning about sustainable gardening. The harvests are donated to the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank. You are welcome to visit the garden at any time!
NOTE: Views expressed in this article are the author’s unless indicated otherwise.