Getting the most out of your vegetable garden

The mid-summer vegetable garden may be a source of pride or despair. The well tended garden will have provided early vegetables for the table and freezer with many vegetables yet to come. On the other hand, if weeds, drought and pests have gotten ahead of you, the garden will be an untidy reminder of a project gone wrong.

Weeding, watering and pest control are the primary requirements for vegetable gardening during the summer months. By managing these three elements, you can have a healthy crop of vegetables, make a pleasant looking vegetable plot (most important in my view) and be able to re-plant in areas where early vegetables have been harvested.

Weeding is the most important job which should be done weekly from the time the seeds have germinated until harvest. Weeds have the uncanny ability to grow ten times faster than the desirable plants and will very quickly rob the vegetables of moisture, space and light. Problem weeds will depend upon your community weed population.

A flat hoe, which only beheads the weeds, may not kill the weeds but will prevent damage to the shallow rooted vegetable roots. Invariably, I find the best method for weeding is to get on my hands and knees while sporting a good hat with a bottle of water near by. With any luck, nobody will find me amongst the greens.

Mulching is an excellent way of reducing the amount of weeding required. This spring I mulched very heavily between the rows of vegetables and this has remained relatively weed free. I did not mulch directly on the rows themselves so needed to pinch out weeds between the vegetable plants. The moisture which was conserved by the mulch made the task of weeding a rather pleasant one.

Weeding or thinning the rows is a continuous task as the vegetables mature. As you weed or thin, have a bucket full of a soil/compost mix handy and top up the soil around the remaining plants. Exposing the tips of beets, carrots and other root vegetables will cause them to discolour, dry out and will reduce their overall quality. Side-dress the rows with a vegetable fertilizer such as 5-10-10 to provide the nutrients required for vegetables to mature.

Thinning is an ideal source of greens and young vegetables for a fresh feast. To thin non-root vegetables simply pinch them off at the base to avoid uprooting the remaining plants.

Generally, vegetables require about 1 inch of water per week in order to grow to their potential. The most efficient source of extra water is through a trickle irrigation system or soaker hose which supplies water directly to the roots. Most people don’t have one of those systems. Using a sprinkler is the simplest method but has two drawbacks. Sprinklers tend to waste water and the water will sit on leaves and increase the likelihood of disease. If you use sprinklers, water in the morning so that the leaves are not wet going into the evening and stay out of the garden until after the leaves have dried so that you don’t introduce and spread diseases yourself.

For small plots, having rain barrels and other vessels nearby filled with water will allow you to fill a watering can and put the water exactly where it is needed. Mulching will reduce the amount of extra watering required since it will conserve soil moisture.

Pest surveillance needs to be a daily routine if you want to be sure to avoid major crop loss. Physical barriers need to be secured and netting replaced as the animal pests persist. Pesticides or natural pest control products may need to be applied if an insect population suddenly descends upon your plot. After peas, beans, greens or other early vegetables are finished, there is still time for a second crop of many vegetables. Beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, New Zealand spinach and parsnips are some examples of hardy plants suitable for late summer seeding. Prepare the soil by removing the old crop and placing a thick layer of fresh compost over the surface. Mix this is along with about one pound of 5-10-10 for every 25 feet of row. Make sure the soil is well moistened prior to planting the seeds because seeds will not be able to germinate in dry soil. After the seeds have emerged, mulch heavily to prevent weeds and conserve moisture.