Summer is a busy time in the garden. The seeds have sprouted; the plants are growing including the weeds! In order to produce a good harvest you want to stay ahead of the weeds. You also want to give your vegetables the best chance so they will produce well.
When your seedlings are just a few inches high use your hoe and rake to thin the weeds between the rows. You will not only be getting rid of the weeds but aerating the soil as well. Cultivation breaks up the surface crust, which helps oxygen to reach lower soil depths. Take the time to thin your seedlings as well. Plants grow much better when given the room to grown.
There are many tools to destroy those small weeds. My favorite is a small four-pronged hoe. I do have to get down on my hands and knees to use it, but it is very effective. I also have a “finger” or “poker” hoe. This is shaped like a pointed finger and works so well on those areas of stubborn weeds. If you take a few minutes every day to pull a few weeds you can stay ahead of them. If you prefer to stand up use a longer handled tool to weed.
Once your garden is well weeded take the time to mulch your plants. Mulching is the layering of materials onto the garden soil and around your plants. By mulching the sunlight is blocked and the weeds can’t get a start. It also conserves moisture. My favorite mulch is grass clippings. As long as you know that the grass clippings are free of pesticides, herbicides or other toxic pest controls they are safe to use on your garden. I have also used pieces of old carpet for my paths. This seems to work well although I have had persistent weeds that have grown through the carpet.
Different plants may prefer different types of mulch. I use wood chips around our blueberry bushes; they prefer an acidic soil and woodchips are a perfect solution. Blueberries also like to be well supplied with moisture. I run a soaker hose around each blueberry bush, which does a good job at keeping the plants, watered. You can also use wood shavings or pine needles, both of which help to provide an acidic environment. Increased organic matter from decomposing mulch will help improve the soil structure and nutrient uptake of the blueberries. You want to replenish the mulch as needed to keep the mulch depth at two to four inches.
Strawberries are very susceptible to frosts in the spring. Mulches that have covered the plants during the winter should be removed in the early spring but should be left in the aisles to cover the blossoms in the spring when frost is predicted. I leave a light layer of straw between my plants during the growing season. It helps keep the moisture in and makes it easier to pick the berries. It also helps keep the berries off the ground which keeps them cleaner.
I have also used newspaper to mulch my vegetables. Most newspapers use soy based ink. The inks used on the matte newspaper pages and the high gloss inserts may contain petroleum-based inks and should be avoided in the garden. I then cover the newspaper with grass clippings so I don’t have newspaper blowing, all over the garden. Newspaper mulch can be used in the vegetable garden, around shrubs, on perennial borders and on walkways. It can be used pretty much anywhere that weeds grow.
It is important to wait until your soil is warm enough to put the mulch on otherwise the mulch will actually keep the soil cool, it may keep the soil too moist attracting slugs. Heat loving crops such as tomatoes will not like this.
As summer progresses you will want to water your garden. Every week June through September your garden needs an inch of rainfall. This can be in the form of rain or water that you provide. Try to water your garden in the evening or the morning when evaporation by the sun is low. You want the water to really soak down to a depth of four to five inches. This will encourage good root growth; the last thing you want is a shallow root system.
Once your garden is weeded and mulched you can now concentrate on the plants themselves. Keep thinning as the plants grow. Harvest thinning helps to cultivate the soil within the row, loosening the soil and making it easier for the remaining crops to grow. Baby beets are wonderful in a summer salad. You can cook the baby beets and the greens together.
Just like staying ahead of your weeds you also want to stay on top of your harvest. Check your garden regularly and pick the crops as they mature. If you are going to be away ask someone to come every day and pick. You want to keep your garden clean of over ripe, soon to rot vegetables. Most vegetables are much tastier when picked young. Zucchini for example can grow rather quickly. I like to pick ours when they are on the small side, if left on the plant in a matter of days they can get as big as a baseball bat!
Late summer is the time to enjoy your garden. Keep track of your harvest, as this will help you with the planning of future gardens. Stay on bug patrol as well. Your garden will last longer if free of harmful insects. Enjoy your harvest; you’ve worked hard for the bounty.