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Published June 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

How is your garden growing?

I spent my Memorial Day weekend planting my vegetable garden. Amending the soil with organic material, gently coaxing my little transplants out of their plastic pot homes, and tenderly placing them in the garden bed, I now eagerly await that first blush from my tomato plants and the promise of sweet peppers by mid-summer.

By: By Robin Trott, Extension Educator, Alexandria Echo Press

I spent my Memorial Day weekend planting my vegetable garden. Amending the soil with organic material, gently coaxing my little transplants out of their plastic pot homes, and tenderly placing them in the garden bed, I now eagerly await that first blush from my tomato plants and the promise of sweet peppers by mid-summer.

However, the work is not done. If your garden is not properly maintained, your harvest might be disappointing. Here is a quick primer for novices and some timely reminders for those experienced gardeners out there.

Vegetables like water, but a little sprinkle every day encourages shallow root development and weak plants. Water your garden deeply, once a week. (More frequently in hot, dry weather.)

To determine how long to keep your sprinkler running, set an empty tuna can in your garden while watering. When the can is full, you have watered enough.

Fertilize your sweet corn, leafy vegetables and root crops when they are half their mature size. Apply fertilizer to tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans when they have started to develop fruit. Stake your tomatoes to keep the foliage off the ground. Remember that most diseases that afflict tomatoes are soil born. Adequate air circulation and watering at the base of the plant in the morning also discourages fungal and bacterial infections.

Keep your garden beds well weeded. Aggressive weeds compete for water and nutrients, decrease air circulation, and often grow faster than your crops. Weed free beds give your vegetables the best chance for success.

As the hot weather approaches, early season crops like peas, lettuce and spinach are harvested, leaving blank spaces in the garden. July is the time to plant fast growing crops to be harvested in the fall. Beets, radishes, beans, peas, turnips, spinach and lettuce can all be planted in July for September harvest.

Remember, mulch is not just for flower beds. Mulching a vegetable garden will keep the soil cool and moist in warm months, and will help to contain the spread of soil born diseases. I use black landscape cloth and seed-free straw as mulch for my vegetable bed. Grass clippings, newspaper, and wood chips are also good choices.

Insecticidal soap, Bt and Diatomaceous earth can be used to control insect pests, and are harmless to mammals, earthworms and beneficial insects. Make sure all pesticides and fungicides you choose are safe for use on vegetables and are non-toxic to humans. A little effort now goes a long way in maximizing your vegetable crop.

Until next time, good luck with your vegetables and happy harvesting!

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