Fruits and vegetables are now getting round and ripe in your lush, green gardens and it seems like the growing season will last forever, but August nights hint that the end of the harvest is near. This means that it is time to think about saving seeds from your best tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and melons. The seeds from these plants are ready for saving when the fruits are ripe and ready to eat.
Note: Dry most seeds on a glass or ceramic plate. Spread the seeds evenly over the surface of the plate and stir twice daily to ensure even drying and to keep them from clumping together. Don´t dry seeds on paper plates or paper towels as they will stick like glue. A food dehydrator set at 85 degrees works well, but don´t dry them in a warm oven or any place that exceeds 95 degrees.
How can you tell when the seeds are dry enough? If you can´t bite into them, or you hit them with a hammer and they shatter, the seeds are dry enough to store. Do so in an air-tight container as soon as possible so they won´t reabsorb moisture.
What Else to Do this Month?
1. Prune back tomatoes and peppers to stimulate new growth and continued production.
2. Fertilize heavy feeders such as corn, cukes, squash and onions, using a dilute solution of fish fertilizer, once a week.
3. Or make a garden tea (and I don´t mean the ones you drink). Manure tea is a great liquid fertilizer that is easy to make. Place a large shovelful of manure into a burlap bag and close the top securely. Place the bag in a large bucket and add water. Swirl your “tea bag” around, allowing it to soak up enough water to remain submerged. Let it “steep” for a week. Pour finished tea in a watering can and use full strength on soil; dilute by mixing with three to four parts water for foliar feeding.
Compost tea is made the same way as manure tea, using compost instead of manure. Allow it to brew twice as long as manure tea. Dilute 50/50 with water before using on plants. Apply every two to three weeks. For best results, use tea with three weeks of brewing. PLANTS CANNOT OVERDOSE ON COMPOST TEA.
4. When the weather is dry, water your gardens gently but deeply. Water is vital to the life of your garden and yard, yet gardeners often waste this precious resource. Since Tuolumne County is suffering drought-like conditions this year, each of us should make a sincere effort to conserve water.
Watering: When, How, and How Much?
• Experts agree that you should water only when your crops require it. You need to pay attention to your plants. If they show any signs of wilting, premature fruit drop, yellowing or browning of foliage, or the inability to set fruit or blossoms, be sure to check the soil for dryness.
• Water the right way. Good soakings are better than frequent sprinklings.
• Water early. Watering your gardens early in the morning is best. This way your plants have water available throughout the day. By watering early, the leaves have time to dry before night, helping reduce plant fungus. This is especially important with plants have lots of foliage.
• By mixing generous amounts of organic matter into the soil, you´ll increase the soil´s ability to hold water. Adding about two to four inches of mulch to the top of your garden beds will also help to maximize water conservation.
• When landscaping, choose native plants that require little or no water beyond what nature provides.
• Drip irrigation is at the top of the list for using water wisely, because it directs the water right to the plants you want to grow and not to the weeds. The soil surface remains dry between plants which discourages weed seeds from sprouting.
Have questions about foothill or mountain gardening? Call on a Master Gardener at the University of California Cooperative Extension at 209.533.5696.
Betty Hensley is a Tuolumne County Master Gardener with a prolific summer garden.