In midsummer, vegetable gardens hit full stride, yielding an abundance of delicious and healthy fresh produce. It’s a wonderful time in the garden. It should also be a time of diligence – giving plants all the care they need to keep them producing on into fall.
Here are some things you can do to keep your vegetable garden healthy and productive:
Water regularly. If you let vegetable plants dry out, many will stop producing, and if they don’t, the quality of the harvest will suffer: tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will get blossom-end rot; cucumbers will be bitter-tasting; ears of corn will not properly fill out; and beans will be tough and stringy. So keep the soil evenly moist, especially during hot spells. Water deeply (at least 12 to 18 inches), give the soil time to partially dry out, and water again.
Mulch. Lay down a fresh 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, like compost, around the base of plants to keep the soil cool as well as to reduce evaporation and weeds.
Pull weeds. Don’t let them get the upper hand. They compete with vegetable plants for light, water and nutrients. And they usually win the competition.
Harvest often. Visit the garden at least every other day to harvest mature vegetables. Most vegetable plants, including beans, cucumbers, squash, peppers and eggplant, will stop producing if not harvested frequently. If you can’t use everything you harvest, share your bounty with neighbors.
Keep planting. In mild-winter areas, harvest can extend into winter and there still may be time to plant another crop of quick-maturing summer vegetables such as beans and squash. In many areas, August is the ideal time to plant cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, chard, peas and lettuce. Fall’s shorter days and cooler weather are perfect for ripening. For exact planting dates, check with your state cooperative extension office.
Fertilize. Keep late-ripening vegetables growing vigorously with occasional applications of nitrogen fertilizer. But don’t overdo it with plants that are already producing. Too much nitrogen will cause some vegetables, especially tomatoes, to stop producing.
Use season-extenders. In short-season areas where frosts can occur anytime, protect plants with floating row covers. Available in nurseries and garden centers, floating row covers are made of lightweight cloth, which transmits light and water, but traps warmth to hasten ripening and protect from cold.
Control insects. Keep a close eye out for insect pests. If you have a few, you can hand-pick and destroy (stomp on them or drop in a jar of soapy water) tomato hornworms, cucumber beetles and grasshoppers whenever you see them. If problems persist, consider applying a solution labeled for use on vegetables.