Tips to help a vegetable garden thrive this summer
One of the results of the pandemic is the growing popularity of market gardening. Many gardeners are planting tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for the first time. Whether you’re new to gardening or a longtime gardener, a bountiful harvest is yours by following these summer routine tips.
Weeds are opportunistic and seem to appear overnight. They are easier to eradicate when they are small. The bigger they get, the more they compete with vegetables for water, nutrients, and sunlight.
Remove weeds by hand or with a light culture. Chemical herbicides are available but generally not necessary for small plantings. Use these products as a tool, but good cultural practices should be the first defense.
Layer on mulch
Mulch is the unsung hero of a vegetable patch. We often think of mulching our landscaped beds.
Many gardeners overlook the value of adding mulch to the vegetable patch as a strong defense against weed growth. It also reduces water loss and keeps soils cooler, helping to develop strong roots.
The best mulches in a vegetable patch are those that last only one season. Cut grass, ragged fall leaves, or straw work best. The mulch layer should be about 3 inches deep and cover all open soil areas.
As the season progresses, the mulch will break down, creating additional organic matter to improve the soil. Simply work the mulch in the garden at the end of the season. This simple step will relaunch the garden next year.
Other mulches can be used, such as wood chips which are traditionally used in the landscape. These materials do not break down quickly. If incorporated into the soil, they steal the nitrogen available to plants as they decompose. Lack of nitrogen usually reduces growth unless more is applied.
Apply even moisture
Since vegetables have a short season to produce, conditions must support continued growth. Stressed plants will give less fruit and have a lower quality. Summers in Kansas City can be hot and dry, which is not a good combination.
Home gardens do best with about 1 inch of water per week. This keeps the upper level of the soil moist where there are many roots. There are several ways to water. Choose the option that works best for you.
Moisture on the foliage for long periods of time causes more disease, especially with tomatoes. It is best to water earlier in the day, allowing the leaves time to dry before dark.
Another way to avoid wetting the foliage is to use surface irrigation. This can range from a drip system to just letting the hose flood around the base of the plants.
Collect the bounty
Life is busy, but remember to reap the rewards of your labor. Lack of picking reduces the plant’s ability to produce additional fruit. Besides, what could be better during the summer than to bring a basket of freshly picked vegetables to the table?
Market gardening offers many rewards, from fresh produce to exercise and even to a family activity. Maintaining the garden well makes it more rewarding. It seems to taste better when you’ve grown it yourself.
Dennis Patton is a Horticultural Research and Extension Officer at Kansas State University. Have a question for him or for other academic extension experts? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.