THE WORST OF THE WEEDS -- July is just on the edge of being the time of the year when the last thing in the world you want to do is get out into a sun-drenched garden and pull weeds. Unfortunately it's also the worst weed time.
There's only one way that I have found to force myself to get out and pull weeds on a steamy day in late July. Line up use of a pool somewhere for, say, about 2 p.m. About noon, take a cool shower. Put on a bathing suit and shorts or light pants. (Pants are actually better, so your legs don't get ripped apart by rough zucchini leaves.) Insect repellent is useful, to, though less necessary than you'd think. Garden insects tend to stick more to the garden than to you, unlike forest insects. Fill a jar of ice water. Get two rags, one for wetting, the other for drying sweat. And hit the garden.
In July, when the grass has stopped growing, your eggplants and cucumbers go limp in the day time and you're ready to call it all quits. The weeds see the opportunity to pounce and there's no stopping them. It takes only about a week for the garden to disappear. So get out there and attack. In an hour you'd be amazed to see how much progress you can make. When you pull the weeds, shake off as much dirt as possible and lay them down around the plants. Pulled weeds are an effective mulch. Some will take root again, but the few that will are easy enough to pull again next weekend.
Every 10 minutes or so, soak the rag in a little ice water and mop your face and neck. Use the other rag to wipe off sweat. By 1:30 you will have made a pretty good dent into the weeds. In fact they should be just about cleared out. Go back into the house, stand in front of the fan or air conditioner a couple of minutes and then go swimming. FIGHTING THE ZUCCHINI MEANIE -- If your zucchini, cukes and peppers look a little limp midday, check back on about dusk. They should all have perked up pretty well. The hot day will often make them look like you feel, and as the cool air moves in they'll get back to normal. If the zukes and the cukes haven't, sometime the next day put a small sharp knife in your pocket, get out to the garden and dig gently down around the base of the zucchini plant. Look along the base of the stalk for long, whitish lesions and perhaps some wet, brownish pulp coming out of the stalk. If you're not sure you see any of that, but the plant still looks like it's hurting, gently take your knife and cut the stalk lengthwise, as though you would cut celery strips. Very gently separate the two strips from each other, without removing any of the stalk from its root system. You can go all the way up to where the second or third set of leaves comes out. What you're looking for is a short, fat grub with a brown nose called the squash borer. Sometimes there are more than one. If you find any, kill them and take them out. If you have any rotenone handy or wood ashes, sprinkle the stalk lightly with either one and lay it back down, covering with dirt. If you haven't found any grub, don't worry about the plant itself. It will recover from the surgery.
Sometimes squash bugs will cause the lower leaves to turn ashen and shrivel. If you see any signs of the brownish, diamond shaped bugs crawling around the underside of the lower leaves, take off infested leaves and put a light layer of wood ash or rotenone down on the ground and cover with some kind of mulch -- grass clippings, peat, anything you have handy. If you put down paper, shred it first. Throw away the affected leaves. Pick off any yellow egg clusters you found on the underside of unaffected leaves. THE WILT -- If the cukes still look limp, you could try the squash borer surgery but they don't handle it quite as well, and usually it's not the squash borer that's hurting the plant. It's wilt. And there's not a whole lot you can do about it once the plant begins to wilt. Pull up any vines that are obviously beyond help, and any that looks as though they might be salvageable or haven't yet wilted, dust lightly with Sevin, if you don't mind using that. I found that Sevin is about the only thing that works on wilts. I haven't been able to find any organic cure for the disease, which is passed from plant to plant via insects and brusing of the leaves when the vines are handled.
If the peppers still look limp, they probably need to be watered. Put the bare hose mouth down onthe ground amid the pepper plants and turn the faucet on halfway, to achieve a gentle but steady trickle that will soak the ground throughly. THINGS TO PLANT MIDSUMMER -- You can still plant beets, for borsch later on; carrots, for wonderful cool carrot soup in September; a monthly crop of lettuce; and cukes. And if you are lucky enough to find tomato plants at a nursery, don't hesitate to put them in, especially against a south-facing wall that gets the sun's benefit even after the fall weather sets in. A second crop of beans should go in now. GARDEN DIVIDENDS -- Herbs that are flowering right now should be harvested for drying. Cut them to about six inches from the ground and then let them come back for the rest of the season. Also harvesting now would be any kind of summer squash -- yellow, zucchini and cucumber, for slicing and pickling -- beans, bell peppers and hot peppers, beets and of course lettuce, if you've been planting successive crops of it. IN THE FLOWER BED -- If you haven't pulled up your tulip bulbs, do so now and store them in a cool, dry place. Roses past full bloom should be picked to keep new ones coming. GRAPEVINE COVER-UP -- If wasps and birds are going after the grapes, put brown bags over each cluster, tying loosely, and the grapes will ripen inside the bags. They should be getting ripe inthe next two weeks or so.