Whew! It sure is hot in Liberty County right now. In fact, we are right in the midst of the “dog days of summer,” but what exactly does that mean?
Many people believe the phrase stems from the fact that dogs tend to be slow-moving during the oppressive summer heat. Who could blame them, aren’t we all? As true as that observation may be, the phrase doesn't stem from dogs lying around in the throes of summer. Rather, to find the answer, we must look to the summer sky.
In the summer, Sirius, (known as the “dog star" by the ancient Romans because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major “large dog”), rises and sets with the sun.
On July 23, it is in conjunction with the sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it added to the sun’s heat, thereby causing the long stretch of oppressively hot weather.
Thus, the Romans referred to this time as diēs caniculārēs, or “dog days” and the term came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the sun: July 3 to Aug. 11.
While this period is recognized as the hottest stretch of summer, the increase in temperature is not caused by additional heat radiating from Sirius. Rather, the heat during this time period is a direct result of the earth’s tilt.
During this time of year the tilt of the earth causes sun's light to hit the northern hemisphere at a more direct angle for a longer time throughout the day. This means longer, hotter days during the summer.
While the astronomy fans are sure to enjoy this little factoid, I’m sure my gardeners are ready for me to start talking about vegetables. The connection is that the dog days of summer mark the time where it could be spring all over again for your vegetable garden!
Generally, we plant summer vegetable crops in March and April and wind them up about this time of year. But we can grow two summer crops in Georgia.
The growing season can start in spring around mid-March and it doesn't have to end until the first frost of fall. This usually happens around mid-October in the mountains and mid to late November (sometimes later!) in the southern part of the state. That means we can plant crops like tomatoes, pepper, squash, sweet corn, southern peas, snap beans, cantaloupe and eggplant all over again.
Cooler-season fall crops can be planted a little later on.
Some folks may plant at intervals from spring through midsummer, which is fine. Others may carry out harvests on tomatoes, squash and the like throughout the summer. However, rather than trying to keep the same plants producing indefinitely, you often get a better harvest by making a fresh start. This is especially true for tomatoes, which are likely succumbing to early blight infections and are no longer producing as they should.
Tomatoes, pepper and eggplant should be transplanted just as you did in the spring. For crops like squash, cantaloupes and cucumbers, seeding them directly into the ground will work just as well, if not better. Snap beans, sweet corn and southern peas should be directly seeded.
Don't plant the same crop back in the same place. Rotate your space so you can reduce potential disease problems. Pest and disease pressures are at their highest this time of year, so if you planted squash there this spring so be sure to rotate families of crops. Plant peppers, tomatoes or eggplant where you had squash, cucumbers or cantaloupe. But don't plant cucumbers on the same ground where you had squash.
Getting a crop established will be more of a challenge than it was in the spring. Because of the intense heat, you'll need to keep the garden watered enough to reduce heat and drought stress. You will likely need to water daily, unless we get adequate weekly rainfall. Try to water in the morning or late afternoon so the foliage does not stay wet through the night. Using organic mulches like pine straw or wheat straw will also help lock in moisture, keep the soil cooler, and suppress weeds.
From late July until frost will be roughly 120 days, so crops that mature in less than four months will usually make before frost, barring in early fall. However, the longer you wait, the longer it will take your second crop to mature as days get shorter and the weather cools off (eventually). So try to start these crops by mid-August. Some fast-maturing crops like snap beans, cucumbers and squash can still produce if planted by early September.
Don't let the summer heat cheat you out of the rewards of your second harvest!
For more information on vegetable gardening, contact the Liberty County ExtensionService office at 912-876-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org