University City

Warm August is time to start fall garden

Cabarrus County farmer Doug Crawford picks a final round of tomatoes at the Lomax Incubator Farm in Concord. Afterward, he will pull out the diseased vines to make room for fall crops. The Lomax project is dedicated to encouraging beginning farmers,
Cabarrus County farmer Doug Crawford picks a final round of tomatoes at the Lomax Incubator Farm in Concord. Afterward, he will pull out the diseased vines to make room for fall crops. The Lomax project is dedicated to encouraging beginning farmers, DON BOEKELHEIDE

This year, sultry August may be even warmer than usual. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration blames El Niño, but I wonder if some of the heat comes from Donald Trump and his competitors reaching critical mass.

Reportedly, Trump eats organic veggies, thanks to his kids. Unlike Michelle Obama, however, he doesn’t grow them. The Donald is a golfer, not a gardener.

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, writer and farmer at Garden of Eve Organic Farm ( on Long Island, N.Y., says Trump’s TV apprentices can’t compare to her hard-working farm apprentices, who chase chickens in the dark, pull onions in rainstorms, and drive big trucks filled with eggs and veggies through New York City rush-hour traffic.

USDA warns that America will lose half our current farmers during the next decade, and Kaplan-Walbrecht’s farm is helping to grow a new crop of growers.

We backyard and community gardeners can also do our small part to keep our nation’s food growing skills alive and well. Action trumps talking, as it were.

For cool season vegetables, August is the new March. By sowing a fall garden now, you can enjoy lettuce, spinach, kale and all the other good food you’ve been buying in plastic bags and clamshell packaging. Make your world less plastic.

Sowing a fall garden is easier said than done. In August, vegetable gardens are still crowded with tomatoes, okra and other summer crops. Just as with the presidential hopefuls, some have got to go. Ruthlessly get rid of sick plants, and say goodbye and thanks to crops that have stopped producing.

Another creative way to make room is to integrate edibles into your flower beds. Some fall crops, such as lettuce, Swiss chard and mustard greens, are more beautiful than any marigold.

Gardeners must also choose between planting fall crops and a last round of summer vegetables. I might plant a few bush green beans, but I still devote as much space as I can to broccoli, kohlrabi (a favorite of mine), leafy crops and root crops.

Finding good August transplants for such crops as broccoli and cabbage is a challenge. Some experienced farmers grow these crops from seed in the fall, sowing just before a rain, then nursing them through the inevitable heat. Check with Renfrow Hardware in Matthews and McLeod Organics in Huntersville. Renfrow just announced they have fall transplants ready to go.

Though we are in a hurry to get fall vegetables in this month, there’s no need to rush anything else. Hold off on pruning and fertilizing shrubs and trees, and wait to plant landscape plants until cooler weather. Wait for the fall plant sales.

The top routine chore this month is watering. Be especially careful to water shrubs you planted this past spring. After seeding or transplanting vegetables, you may need to water them lightly twice a day. Morning is best and evening second, but if you can only water at high noon, that’s when you water. Water with minimal splashing to avoid disease. Mulch helps with this, and also slows water loss.

Don’t forget to care for the gardener, too. This means a broad-brimmed hat, your choice of style, sunscreen and lots of water to drink. If you hear thunder, take a break until there is no lightning danger.

August is back-to-school time in the Carolinas, and there are classes for gardeners, too. At Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, gardeners can learn about Good Soil from Jeff Rieves. The class is offered twice, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Aug. 18 and 10 a.m.-noon on Aug. 19. Cost is $20 with a price break for families.

Go to or contact 704-847-4088 or renfrowfarm@gmail (or just sign up in the store.) CPCC Cato Campus, near UNC Charlotte, offers a six-week, hands-on course in organic vegetable growing for fall. Classes begin in late August, 6:30-8:30 p.m. with a choice of Tuesday or Thursday. I am the instructor, $95 for the series. Visit, use the search term GDN 8050, or contact 704-330-4223 or

August almanac

August continues July’s hot tropical summer conditions. Average highs remain in the high 80s and average lows in the high 60s. Sunrise and sunset are 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. first of the month, and 6:55 a.m. and 7:50 p.m. at the end. Day length drops from 14 hours to 13 hours. Rainfall is normally about 4.2 inches, making August Charlotte’s wettest month. The moon will be new on Aug. 14 and full on Aug. 29.

NOAA says El Niño conditions will continue through the fall and winter. August temperatures in Charlotte may be slightly higher than normal, but rainfall is now projected as normal, however short-term moderate drought conditions continue through fall. NOAA predicts a mild hurricane season due to El Niño but warns that it only takes one storm.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer: