In August and September, you want to harvest high-quality produce from your productive summer crops, and get a healthy batch of fall crops going in the areas that are starting fresh. Here are some tricks I have learned to get a good stand of new seedlings in spite of the heat, and get the most out of your summer corn patch.
Getting lettuce to sprout in hot weather
Most lettuce has spotty germination in hot weather. (Just when you really want salad,) If the seeds have been stored in temperatures over 80, they can go into deep dormancy and be difficult to sprout. Two solutions:
Getting a good stand of root crops
Root crops are winter comfort food. They aren't demanding, either. Ordinary garden soil with no extra fertilizer should do. The hard part is getting them started. They need to get going while the weather is still hot, or they won't be big enough when cold weather comes and growth stops. Their seeds take longer to sprout than greens do. You have to keep the soil moist for a long time so the seeds don't dry out and die. This can be a challenge. Try this:
Growing well-filled ears of corn
For some reason, I never see cucumber beetles damaging my cucumbers, or any other cucurbit. What I do see them doing is eating cornsilks. Now this is a big problem because the silk is the pollen tube of the corn ear. If pollen can't go down that tube to pollinate the ear, kernels won't form. So check your ears; if the silks are cut off short, or missing, you need to go get cucumber beetle traps. They are sticky like flypaper and have a pheromone that attracts the beetles.
When to harvest sweet corn?
It is not as straightforward as a tomato. There is no visible sign when the sugars that make it sweet are fully developed, or when they (very quickly, alas) turn to starch and lose flavor. Once you see shriveled silks at the tip of an ear, watch it daily. When the ear is well-filled, feel the tip to see if it feels pointed under the husk or if it has filled out into a more rounded or blunt shape. The husk should still be green, and the silks should be brown and dry. Eventually, when you think it may be ripe, you can peel back the husk enough to check the kernels themselves. Pop one with your fingernail. If it has clear juice, it's not really ready (but don't throw it away, its just not as sweet.) If the juice is milky, it is JUST RIGHT. If it is pasty or gummy, it is past its prime but still edible. Once you have peeled back some of the husk to make this check, watch the ear carefully for insect damage.
Jamie Chevalier lives and gardens on a river in the Coast Range of Northern California. She has gardened professionally in Alaska and California, as well as living in a remote cabin, commercial fishing, and working with seeds. She is the proprietor of Quail Seeds.