August first, and the dogwood trees are full of berries, their leaves showing the first hint of autumn color.
The first day of August is one of the important turning points of the year. Traditionally known as the day of First Harvest, Lammas, or Lughnasa or Lughnasadh; August 1 is a day for celebrating the first fruits of the harvest
In medieval Europe, peasants were expected to present the first wheat harvest to their lords on this day. In Ireland, and other Celtic nations, bread was baked from newly harvested wheat and either presented at church; blessed, broken, and placed around the barn to protect the harvest; or carried up a mountain or hill and offered to the traditional gods and goddesses who cared for these lands before the Christians came, then buried in the Earth as a sacrifice.
Squash vine blooming on the first rainy morning of August.
Today is a day for celebrating the harvest of summer and preparing for the shorter, cooler days of autumn which are just ahead. Lammas is the first of the three traditional harvest festivals in traditional Celtic communities. Autumn Equinox falls near the end of September, and then Samhain on October 31. Just as Thanksgiving Day celebrates the ending of the harvest in the United States, so Lammas, August 1, celebrates the beginning of the harvest throughout much of the northern Hemisphere.
Leaves are already turning red on this seedling oak tree.
This is a good time to gather for family reunions, to throw a party for close friends, to bake bread, gather the last of the berries, and observe the turning of the season. Days are noticeably shorter now. The dogwood leaves are beginning to show tinges of red here in Williamsburg, Va. We’ve had our first cool nights in a good long time, and cool damp mornings with a fresh breeze from the northeast for a change.
In August our thoughts turn to preparations for the school year ahead in many families. It is time to begin gathering school supplies, taking off for those last family excursions, and buying new shoes and school clothes. Teachers are plotting the year ahead, revising lesson plans, and savoring the last few days of summer break. College freshmen will leave home in the next few weeks to begin life on their own in their first dorm room. It is a time of nervousness and excitement as room mates make plans and parents prepare to see their children move on.
Yes, August is for savoring. As we feel the long hot days slipping away, we appreciate each summer day a little more. We hang on to the goodness and pleasures of the season.
I’ve been watching hummingbirds in the garden the last few days, and the ever increasing crowd of butterflies feasting on everything with flowers. Their enthusiasm is contagious. It is no wonder that so many traditional religious faiths imagine “heaven” to be in a garden.
For those of us who are the gardeners, August is an important month of transition, and there are some key tasks wanting our attention:
My garden has another three to four months of life in it before I will even think of frost. With such a long growing season, there are definite transitions in what is coming and what is going.
This is a good time to wander around the camera and take photos. A garden always looks different in photos than it does in person. The camera brings focus to particular views; it frames and edits what we see. This is a good time to take photos of all parts of the garden- the parts you like, and the parts which need tweaking. Work with the photos as you make plans for the coming seasons.
Bulb catalogs are out now, and we have a window for ordering the bulbs we’ll need to plant by mid-November.
This is also the time to make our final purchases for the year of compost, mulch, potting soil, tools, and pots. Many garden centers and hardware stores in are process of moving out their gardening equipment and bringing in Halloween and Christmas merchandise. (Yes, it is WAY too early to see Christmas decorations in the stores, but we all know they show up earlier each year.) Most everything is on clearance prices at the garden centers now. This is a last opportunity to stock up on things we’ll need for the next several months. Have you ever tried to buy potting soil in February?
Beautyberry shrubs are full of tiny berries. They will turn bright purple by early September.
Lavender and Basil benefit from cutting back now, and will keep producing for the next several weeks. Keep up with the weeding so plants don’t get over gown with grass.
Fall is the best time for planting trees and shrubs in my area. As an added bonus, they are on sale right now. Planting in early fall gives them a chance to adjust and grow new roots into the surrounding soil before the ground freezes.
A new Hydrangea has been growing in a pot on the deck. New shrubs do best when planted out into the garden in autumn.
August is also the time to cut back. Many perennials have finished blooming and look ratty at the moment. Unless you are waiting for seeds to form, daylily stalks need removing; brown leaves of Iris need cutting; verbenas, Echinacea, and some annuals will benefit from a hard cutting back. Harvest fresh flowers of Zinnia, Echinacea, rose, and many others plants to stimulate more flower production. Cut off fading flowers promptly, before seed is set, to stimulate more flowers. This is especially important on flowering shrubs, like Buddleia, which will just shut down if the flowers are left to set seed.
Cut back spent flowers before they can set seed to keep new flowers opening for several more weeks.
Harvest herbs regularly. Oregano, Basil, Marjoram, and mints will keep producing for many weeks to come, if the flowers are cut back regularly. Harvest generously and the plants will reward you with renewed growth. Herbs can be dried, infused in oil or vinegar for cooking, made into pesto and frozen, or used fresh for cooking. Some lavender plants will send up another flush of flower stalks if the spent flowers are removed, and the branches trimmed back slightly.
Roses give another strong burst of bloom in October in our area, so it is important to keep up with the pruning. Cut off any spent blossoms by cutting the whole stem back to just above a leaf with five small parts. Any diseased or brown leaves should be removed and thrown away. There is time to feed rose bushes once more with Espona Rose Tone and Epson salts to stimulate those autumn blossoms. If there is evidence of black spot, give another spray with an organic fungicide like neem oil.
Blackberry and raspberry canes which bore fruit this year need cutting back to the ground when the harvest is over. New canes should be tied into the supports. New fruiting shrubs should be planted now.
Fall vegetables should be planted in August. It is a good time to start kale, collards, and spinach; carrots, snap beans, onions, radishes, and lettuce from seed. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts transplants can be set in place. Autumn is the time to plant garlic for harvest next summer. Many of our tomato, cucumber, and squash plants have given up for the year. We need to clean them away, add some compost to the beds, and plant our fall vegetables.
If our tomatoes, squash, peppers, and melons are still healthy and producing, we can clean up any damaged leaves and give them a shot of Neptune’s Harvest to keep them going into fall. I often harvest my last tomatoes around the first of November. Even though the days are shorter, surviving plants seem to get a fresh start when the temperatures cool down. Keep producing plants well watered and pick the fruits as soon as they ripen.
Figs are beginning to ripen, and can be harvested over the next several weeks.
Potatoes are ready to dig as soon as the tops yellow and die back. Sweet potatoes still have another month or so to grow before they are ready.
Strawberry runners can be rooted in pots and then cut away from the mother plant, or can be pinned down to the garden soil and allowed to grow in place. Runners rooted now should bear next spring.
Figs are beginning to ripen. Check the trees over day or so for ripe figs. They will continue to ripen here over a long season into October.
One of the toughest jobs in August, especially when August is hot and bright, is the weeding. Grass and weeds can overtake a bed so quickly. It is important to use cool and damp mornings to stay after the weeds so our crops and flowers aren’t crowded out. If certain grasses and weeds get started, their underground stems and roots will just keep sending up new plants forever. Weeds allowed to set seed will plague our beds for years to come.
Black eyed Susans, the first of the autumn flowers, are just beginning to bloom.
Finally, August is a good time to start new stem cuttings. When growth gets too rampant on Basil, Coleus, Begonias, Plectranthus, Impatiens, and other leggy plants, we can often root the bits we cut back. Most will root in a glass of water. Some wonderful plants, like cane Begonias and purple heart can just be stuck into moist soil, and they will root in place. Annual plants and tender perennials started in fall from stem cuttings can be overwintered and saved for next season. This not only saves money, it insures that the variety you like best is available.
August is a month of transition. We complete what we began in spring, close out, clean up, and savor the harvest of our efforts, even as we make preparations for the new beginnings autumn brings. It is a time for family and fellowship, for celebration, and for sowing the seeds of our next harvest.
All photos by Woodland Gnome
A bread recipe to celebrate Lammas
Measure 3c. self-rising flour into a large mixing bowl.
Add 1 tsp. sea salt, 1 TB olive oil, 2 TB honey, and 1 tsp. active dry yeast
Also add some dried onion flakes, snipped herbs, finely chopped chilies, and grated sharp cheddar cheese if you want a heartier loaf. (the extra yeast helps the bread rise if cheese and other heavy ingredients are added)
Stir ingredients lightly with a spatula, and form a well in the center of the mixture. Pour in a 12oz bottle of a favorite beer. Mix until the mixture is thick and all ingredients are moistened. Run a little water into the bottle to rinse and add to the mixture if more liquid is needed.
Turn out this wet dough into a prepared bread pan. Pat the top of the loaf with a little additional flour, cover with waxed paper, and let rise in a warm spot for an hour.
When the bread has risen to fill the pan, preheat the oven to 400 F. Brush or spray some water onto the loaf, and sprinkle with sea salt and sesame seeds.
Bake about a half hour until the loaf is fragrant and browned.
Allow finished loaf to cool on a rack until it an be handled, and enjoy with friends and loved one.