Summer is here! Crops are growing and insects are feasting. Now is not the time to rest! There is always something to be done in the garden. The more attentive you are now, the better it will pay off at harvest time. You must keep an eye on the bug population! You need to keep up with the watering and occasional fertilizing of your garden. You will probably want to stake tall growing plants now, especially tomatoes, before they get too big. And you might want to start preparing for succession planting if you want your garden to nourish you until winter comes.
It is fun to patrol the garden for bugs at night! Bring along a flashlight and a bucket of warm, soapy water. Look for slugs. Pick them off and throw them in the soapy water. Squash bugs are on the prowl right now in my garden. I counted 12 of these stink bug look-a-likes on just one squash plant the other night! They laid their bronze rows of tiny seeds on the bottom of my patty-pan squash leaves. I know it sounds harsh, but you must seek and destroy these menacing creatures (and their unhatched babies). Every year, including this one, the flea beetles eat tiny round holes in my eggplant. You can’t catch these fast little jumpers, so spray them with some soapy water or neem oil. I personally haven’t noticed any aphids yet, but I anticipate their arrival. They always camp out on the undersides of tomato leaves. Squish them with your thumb (it’s kinda fun). If that makes you queasy, then squirt them off with the water hose. It’s very smart to take preventative measures for deterring potential bug populations. Putting a few drops of mineral oil on the corn silks to prevent the corn ear worm is not a bad idea. The most important thing is to be present in your garden, whether it be night or day. That way you can be prepared to take measures before an infestation occurs.
As the heat and humidity get worse, try to work in your garden during the early morning or late afternoon when it is a little more bearable. It is a good idea to do your watering in the morning hours. This practice will cut down on water evaporation and fungal diseases. Make sure enough water is applied to thoroughly saturate the root zone of your plants. Fertilizing is important, but don’t overdo it. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, can cause lush vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production. I always add a little less fish emulsion and more liquid seaweed to the watering can when I fertilize in the summer months.
There are several benefits to staking or trellising certain fruit and vegetable plants. For one, it gets plants off the ground, freeing up space in your garden. It also allows better air circulation, deterring many plant diseases. Tomatoes are one fruit that truly benefit from being staked. You can choose the wire cages sold at the nurseries, but I have found that a strong wood or metal stake is cheaper and more effective. Just tie the plant stems to the stake with twine as they grow. Cucumbers, peas and pole beans are better if they are trellised. I make a teepee structure out of bamboo or wooden stakes and wrap twine around the top to hold them together. You can also have them climb up an old ladder or any other vertical structure you have on hand.
Some vegetables take up their space in the garden all summer long. Other vegetables have a shorter growing season. Once you harvest potatoes, onions and other short-season veggies, there will be a bare spot in your garden. Planting other vegetables in these spaces is called “succession planting.” I always end up doing a second planting of bush beans and squash. They are easily started by seed; no need to buy plants.
If you have the space and you really love tomatoes, here is a thrifty way to prolong your tomato harvest: Take a cutting from tender new growth and put it in a glass of water in the windowsill. When roots start growing, just plant it in the garden. As with all new plantings, whether by seed, transplants or cuttings, remember to water them every day until they are established.
Take good care of your garden this month, and you will be picking baskets full of fresh fruits and veggies next month! You may have already been enjoying fresh veggies from your garden and if so, that is great! If not, don’t fret. You will be munching from your garden in no time! July is when the serious harvest begins. Meet me here next month, and I’ll give you in-depth instructions for harvesting to get the maximum flavor and nutrition from your veggies.