Gardening: Eight chores for August

My late older sister, Ruth Anne, used to say, "The weeds always win." And she was largely right. We all get tired of weeding after a few months of it. By August, with its heat and bugs, we tend to back off, go to the lake, go on vacation, go watch a ballgame. Meanwhile, those sneaky weeds are producing seeds and dropping them into the soil. Don't let them!

My solution is to go outside early in the morning and pull a few weeds before it gets hot. I'll set a goal — a 5 gallon pail of small weeds or perhaps a wheelbarrow of big weeds. Before I know it, a portion of the garden is looking spiffy. I recommend it.

If you planted lettuce this spring, you probably have either eaten it all, or let it get tall and bitter. In that case, pull it out and plant some seeds. Seeds will germinate more quickly now than in the spring as the soil is warmer, encouraging seeds to get started. They're not worried about snow or frost.

Just a reminder: remember to snip off diseased leaves that appear on your tomatoes. Bring along a bucket to toss them in and put them in the household trash, not the compost pile. Do this regularly to help keep the plants healthy. Only work on the plants when the leaves are dry, to minimize chances of spreading the diseases.

You probably have harvested your garlic by now, but if not, do it today! Depending on where you are, and how dry the soil is, many of your garlic leaves may have browned and dried up.

Ideally, you have 5 leaves that are still green when you harvest your garlic. The leaves, which actually begin underground and coat the bulb of garlic, provide protection for the cloves. If too many have dried up by the time you harvest, the bulbs can easily fall apart, and will dry out in storage.

I cut some of the scapes (flower stems) earlier this summer. Conventional wisdom says that this step, aside from providing garlic flavor to early summer dishes, get the bulbs to grow bigger. I have never been able to verify that. But I paid attention while harvesting this year, and did see a slight advantage to those whose scapes were cut.

But even more significant, was bulb spacing. Garlic bulbs too close together were definitely smaller. I try to select my best garlic for planting next year's crop in October, and have been selecting good ones for years, so I have pretty nice-sized bulbs.

Garlic needs to be cured after harvesting. I've been told that the bulbs absorb vitamins and nutrients from the tops during the curing process — which should last at least 10 days before you cut off those long green tops. Keep your garlic out of direct sun while curing it.

I've seen nice wire racks that catch the bulbs and let the tops hang down, but I didn't have any wire mesh the right size. So I put down a 2-by-4 stud on a cement floor under a covered porch, and laid the garlic tops over the wood.

That allows better air circulation than just laying them on my shady deck.

This is also a time for more thinning in the garden. I thinned carrots and beets in early July, but thinned again recently. I got some nice carrots that were crowding their buddies. The carrots left behind will get even bigger.

My onions are not ready to harvest. How do you know when they are? The tops fall over. Simple as that. You can let them stay in the ground for a while, but I like to pull them and dry them in the sun. You can just leave them in the garden, or on the lawn, but I put mine on a sunny deck.

Potatoes will soon be ready for digging. Watch for blossoms. Once they blossom, you'll have some potatoes. Of course, the longer you wait to harvest, the bigger they will be. You can wait until the tops die back, but you can sneak out some new potatoes by slipping a hand into the soil and grabbing some little ones without disturbing the plant.

August is generally hot and dry here, so I'll be doing some watering. My celery root (celeriac) and onions are two crops that are particularly sensitive to lack of water. Celery, which I do not grow, is also very water-needy. At planting time I don't plant onions and celeriac in raised beds as those dry out more quickly than flat beds. Gravity works on water, too.

My kale is big and lovely right now, so I will freeze some for winter. The plants, of course will be gorgeous right through frost and until nearly Christmas. But I like to get a head start putting up food now, before all the tomatoes are ready to harvest.

So yes, I'll take some lazy time to read a trashy detective novel by the water, but I'll be out pulling weeds and tending the garden, too.

Read Henry Homeyer's blog posts at You can sign up for an e-mail link to them every time he posts. You may reach Henry by email at


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