I don't care what anybody says, not much is more miserable than trying to work in the garden in July hereabouts.
You have to get up at the crack of dawn to avoid the heat and by about 9, those fat, metallic-green June bugs begin to divebomb.
I use the term June bug loosely. There appear to be a number of different beetles that people refer to as June bugs. Having said that, I never did understand why these giant beetles are called June bugs where I live, since they always appear in the garden the first week of July. I am told by an entomologist at the Smithsonian that they are in reality fig-eaters (Cotinis nitida), which, despite a certain tropical charm, is not as appealing a name as June bug. According to the entomologist, they belong to the same family as what he calls June bugs, which are brown, and Japanese beetles. Despite their awesome size -- the diameter of a silver dollar and the thickness of a hand -- and the thunderous clicking noise as they whiz by, my June bugs appear to be harmless to plant or beast, unless they land on the back of my neck. This causes me to yell, jump around wildly and drop the garden trowel on my foot.
The Smithsonian entomologist says that they are scavenger beetles and particularly enjoy eating rotting fruit, although they will nibble on the occasional flower. My garden is loaded with them, and there's precious little damage that can be attributed directly to them, even among the flowers. The bugs will subside considerably by the end of the month, if past years are any indication.
Where I live, the kids like to catch June bugs, tie a strong thread to one leg, and fly them like a kite. Not a sport for the squeamish.
Apart from the June bugs, if your garden is at all weedy, or if you have tall growing plants like corn, it can become unbearably hot. While my garden gets some breezes, it is protected from stronger gusts and therefore becomes stifling in July. The plants, closely grown, give off a good deal of humidity, and, like most gardens, mine gets full sun nearly all day. I like shade in July, but the plants don't.
So the question always is: When, and even whether, to garden in the middle of the summer? Personally, I like to give the garden a cursory glance as I walk by -- enough to admire it and congratulate myself on a superb job -- and leave the harvesting until the last half-hour before dark. If Washington weather is true to form, some time around 6 o'clock the skies divide to dump large quantities of water in a very short time, a slight mist sets in for 15 minutes, and by seven or so, there's a somewhat cooler hour available for any serious weeding. Not a morning person, I rarely arrive at the garden gate in time to greet the sunrise and the cool hour before the June bugs, although the more God-fearing say I am missing much by sleeping in.
When I actually decide to do more than pick the oversize zucchini, or check the corn silks to make sure they are not being devoured by Japanese beetles, I avoid midday gardening. In the early evening, I pull small weeds and cut down larger ones. It doesn't work to pull tall weeds when the ground is dry. When a weed has established a good root system, pulling it will disturb the ground mightily. This is fine if the soil is quite moist, because it will fall back into place easily, and you can tamp it down gently if there is a hole left behind. When the ground is dry, the weed roots often tear out large clods of earth that don't fall neatly in place. Besides, pulling tall weeds in the hot summer is very wearying.
When large weeds are cut close to the ground, they can be covered with a mulch of newspaper, leaves, grass clippings, or whatever is handy in large quantities, for you need a heavy mulch to prevent them from returning. If no mulch is available, wait until a good rain has fallen (a day or two should do it) and then go back to pull those fat weeds.
Light harvesting is generally not strenuous in the hot weather. Picking squash, peppers, beans, corn, cukes and the like can be rather pleasant. Heavy harvesting of potatoes is best left for a cool day. Potatoes can stay in the ground right through November, and some gardeners go so far as to store them in the ground through the winter, harvesting them as they use them. I find this to be risky, however, having lost quite a few potatoes to hard frosts in January. HONKING HORNWORMS: A call came in last week on the subject of tomato hornworms. Many gardeners are familiar with these, the giants of the local caterpillar family. They can achieve lengths of four inches or more, are fat, very green and exhibit a horn on top of their heads, hence the name. They are voracious eaters of tomatoes, dill, and sometimes, potatoes. The best way to eliminate them is handpicking, which you can accomplish wearing garden gloves if you, like me, are squeamish. Because of their large size, they're easy to spot. I drop them into a bucket of soapy water, and after they're quite dead, feed them to the chickens. They can be added to the compost, too. If, however, you see some hornworms that have white, cone-shaped things on top, leave them alone. These are the pupae of the parasitic wasp. As the pupae develop, they feed on the fluid of the hornworm, literally shriveling it up. The process takes no more than a few days. The pupae then hatch into wasps, and the females continue the cycle by laying more eggs on more hornworms. A good year of wasps may almost eliminate the hornworm population in a small garden, and far fewer come back in following years. I had a real problem with hornworms six years ago, was advised to spray heavily, which advice I ignored, and noticed many of these pupa-clad worms. After a little research, I left the hornworms alone, picking off only the ones that were not attacked by the wasps, and now I can count on two hands the number of hornworms in the garden. If you'd rather not pick them off, spray with Bacillus thurengiensis, available at garden and hardware stores. This won't hurt the parasitic wasp or her children but will kill the hornworm.