Harvest garlic. Because of the exceedingly wet weather of the last month, the garlic in our Temple University Ambler garden is dying back much earlier than usual. If your garlic, too, has yellowing tops, it's best to pull it out. You don't want it to rot in the field. Once it's dug up, take nine heads with the leaves (tops) intact, make three bundles of three, and braid the strands. Hang the bunches in a cool, well-ventilated area so the garlic has time to dry and concentrate its flavor. (You can also save some of the dried heads for planting in the fall.) This is an easy way to dry a lot of garlic in a small area. I do a simple braid and tie the ends with jute or raffia, but for a more complex version, you can find instructions at www.bloomingfieldsfarm.com/garbrdhow.html.
Choose herbs for tea. Chamomile is an excellent and fresh-tasting tea that calms the nerves and relieves stomach upset. My flowers were ready for cutting and tea-making last week. Leftover heads can be dried on cookie trays lined with parchment. Once they're dried, store in tightly sealed jars for future use or for gift-giving. Fennel, all sorts of mints, lemon balm, comfrey and borage make tasty teas, too. You can also add herbs such as lemon balm to black tea to enhance the flavor.
Hunt for invasive plants. At this time of year, new invasive plants may be popping up throughout your garden. Early removal saves a lot of headache later, but be sure to put the discarded plants in the trash, not the compost pile. Multiflora rose and English ivy are easy to spot, especially in woodlands. It's important to pull the English ivy starting to creep up tree trunks; once it gets a strong hold, it's harder to get rid of. Some people may have sensitivity to ivy, so wear protective clothing when handling. Other plants that can be difficult include tree-of-heaven, which can be distinguished by its foul smell when broken; bindweed, which looks like a little white morning glory; Canada thistle; and foxtail. For additional information, check out Nancy Gift's book Good Weed Bad Weed.
Keep a close watch on the garden. At my local garden center the other day, I heard that gardeners around the region are having serious problems with root rot and other fungal diseases on young plant, which are extremely vulnerable. In many cases, they've simply been put in the wrong place. Get to know the low, wet spots and high, dry spots in your garden. If you have heavy clay soil, organic matter like compost will lighten it, prevent compaction and enhance aeration, all essential for new plants just settling in. There are many kinds of root rot, depending on the plant species,but most of them are brought on by poor drainage. Symptoms include overall decline of the plant, dieback of new growth, yellowing, leaf wilt, and the darkening of stems at ground level.
Jar that! If you have any members of the mustard or cabbage family in your garden, be on the lookout for harlequin bugs. We found them on our kale last week. These orange and black, flat-backed bugs leave holes on the leaves, but there's a simple way to kill them. Just dunk them into a jar of soapy water. No need for harmful sprays. And the plants are — usually — still OK to eat. For more information, I recommend Good Bug Bad Bug: cq Who's Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically by Jessica Walliser. You can also visit http://ento.psu.edu/ for Pennsylvania and for New Jersey www.rci.rutgers.edu/~insects/rcefact.htm. cq both