The dog days of summer see thriving warm season crops-tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes, peppers and Mediterranean herbs. To keep your harvests at their peak, there are few simple things you can do for your garden.
1. Harvest frequently! Plants are in the business of reproducing. Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best chance possible of maintaining more plants for the future. The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce. I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine. As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day! Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness.
2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering. It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot. I use mulch in both my garden beds and pots.
3. Water consistently. The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water. The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks. Over watering can also be a problem. Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy. If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a good watering. I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants! They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth. It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck). For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat. I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom.
4. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost. It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil. You can purchase minerals just for gardening. You can also use kelp or seaweed as a fertilizer that also adds other nutrients. If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will, too!
5. Pick insects off daily. Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started. I pick off bugs daily. If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth. It is organic and not a chemical. Some people even eat it! It works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death. Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too. I use it very sparingly and only if desperate. A few bugs don’t eat much. Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants.
6. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them. Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough. I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.
7. Compost. For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter. I have both. My husband built me a fencing ring outside that I throw the big stuff. I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage for all the kitchen scraps.
For more small space and container gardening tips, visit Melodie's blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com