Are you ready to make the most of your vegetable garden? Try these tips and tidbits for everything from easier weeding to stopping pests to enjoying a hearty harvest!
- Reducing Weeds
Minimize weeds in your garden by covering the soil between planting rows with mulch. Several sheets of moistened newspaper topped with hay or straw works very well, especially if you move your planting areas around a bit from year to year. You can even use carpet scraps placed upside-down. Landscape fabric topped with wood chips or gravel is a good choice if the walkways are permanent. Try to avoid the habit of tilling to remove weeds because this process brings up weed seeds from deeper in the soil and exposes them to the light they need to grow.
- Increase Tomato and Pepper Production
Fruiting of your tomatoes and peppers may be improved by applying Epsom salts, which contain sulfur and magnesium. Apply one tablespoon of granules around each transplant, or spray a solution of one tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering and fruit set. You can find Epsom salts at drug and grocery stores.
- Supporting Tomato Plants
Set your tomato supports in place before plants get too large. Smaller determinate (bushy) varieties can be supported with small cages, but larger indeterminate (vining) varieties need large cages or tall stakes. Secure cages with stakes so they don’t fall over as plants grow larger and heavier.
- Growing Larger Tomatoes
Indeterminate tomato plants, such as ‘Better Boy’, will produce many suckers. A sucker is a new shoot that starts where a branch connects with the main trunk. Removing suckers will decrease the number of fruits produced, but the remaining tomatoes will be larger and will ripen sooner.
- Ending Blossom End Rot
To minimize blossom end rot, keep soil evenly moist, apply a layer of mulch to conserve moisture, don’t over-fertilize (especially avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer) and avoid damaging plant roots while cultivating. Blossom end rot shows up as dark sunken spots on the blossom or non-stem end of tomatoes, peppers and squash. It’s caused by a calcium imbalance in the plant. The soil may have adequate calcium, but the plant isn’t able to take up enough to supply the rapidly developing fruit.
- Stop Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails may be deterred with coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth and even sharp gravel. Spread any of these materials in a ring around individual plants. Wrap pots with copper tape to keep slugs from crawling up. Inspect foliage and pick off any insects that have already passed the barriers.
- Keep Cucumber Beetles at Bay
Young cucumber, melon and squash plants are easy prey for cucumber beetles. As the seedlings grow, these yellow-striped or spotted beetles emerge to feed on their foliage. The beetles also spread bacterial wilt disease. To control cucumber beetles use a portable vacuum cleaner to suck up them up in early evening, spray beneficial nematodes on the soil or try planting broccoli, calendula, catnip, nasturtium, radish, rue or tansy, which naturally repel these insects. If you want to try marigolds to repel them use the more pungent varieties like African, French or Mexican marigolds. The more common marigolds may actually attract these pests.
- Plan for Late Summer Harvests
It’s not too late to sow lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes and other short-season crops for a late summer harvest. Shade lettuce, if possible, during late afternoon to keep young plants cooler, or grow them next to larger plants that provide some shade. You’ll need to water more often on these hot days than you did in spring and early summer, but you can easily extend their growing season for later harvesting.
- Grow More Tomatoes, Zucchini and Beans
Harvest tomatoes, zucchini, beans and other fruiting crops frequently to encourage continued production. Don’t allow any fruits that you won’t be harvesting to remain on your plants, because when mature seeds are produced it’s a signal for the plant to slow down fruit production. Instead, consider sharing, selling, preserving or trading extra produce so you can continue to harvest and extend the growing season.
- When to Harvest Herbs
Herbs are best harvested just as they are beginning to flower. That’s when they have the highest concentration of essential oils and flavor in their leaves. Harvest entire branches back to within a few inches of the main stem to encourage new, bushy growth.
- Harvesting and Storing Onions
Begin harvesting onions when about half to three-quarters of the leaves have died back. Then gently dig or pull the onions and store them in a dry, shady place with good ventilation, such as an outdoor shed or barn, for 10-14 days. After the onions have cured, put them in slatted crates or mesh bags and store them indoors in an area with low humidity and temperatures between 33-45 degrees F.
- Enjoying Green Tomatoes
When daytime temperatures no longer rise above 65 degrees F in late summer and early fall, it’s time to pick the green tomatoes. Wrap them individually in newspaper and let them ripen indoors, or try some fried or in other recipes that call for under-ripe tomatoes.