Summer is here! Lots to do.


by: Steven Hill

Summer gardening can involve lots of weeds and it may be very tempting to use commercial weed control products. The problem with this is that it will probably lower the quality of your produce. It most certainly will have a negative effect on the overall ecology of your area. These chemicals will be washed away with the rain and will ultimately end up in the waterways where they poison the fish and other wildlife as well as possibly poisoning those who consume the produce without washing it thoroughly. They also tend to take away from one of the less noticed benefits of gardening, and that is the exercise it provides for you. Just leaving the weeds is one approach to dealing with them, but this is not good for your garden. Sure, it may be “natural”, but they take nutrients from your vegetables and provide shelter for pests.


If, on the other hand, you opt to deal with weeds in a more organic, ecologically friendly manner, there are a number of benefits that you will realize over time. You should certainly recognize the exercise benefit almost immediately. Getting weeds out early prevent them from going to seed, reducing their ability to come back. Adding them to the compost heap will let it benefit from the material being added, and the heat of the compost pile should destroy any seeds that have developed. Certainly, any seeds that survive and sprout in the compost heap can be dealt with quickly as you turn the heap. Keeping the weeds pulled will help the vegetables have full access to the nutrients in the soil. Cultivating on a regular basis will keep the weeds down and should provide plenty of exercise, but there is a smarter way. Mulch! Providing a thick layer of mulch around your vegetables will prevent the weeds trying to germinate from getting the sun they need to grow. Mulch will also provide protection from the evaporating powers of the sun allowing the soil to retain more moisture. This is very beneficial to the plants. And finally, mulch results in a very good source of organic material to be tilled into the soil at the end of the season to provide nutrients for next year's crop. Mulch does not remove the shelter for the pests, but not having living material to shelter them does seem to reduce their numbers.


And the elimination of chemical weed control products will eliminate the poison both to those who consume the produce as well as the environment down stream from the watershed. Or at least that part of it. Not everyone is really concerned about the rest of the world, but hopefully you will see the benefits for yourself and your family and make the selfish choice to eliminate chemical weed control products from your garden.


As the season gets hotter, you will need to make sure you keep an eye on the moisture level of your garden. The mulch discussed above will help in this regard, but do not simply assume that it will make the problem go away. You must check your soil on a regular basis. Do not simply check the top, but with a small trowel or spade, dig down 3 or 4 inches and make sure the soil is moist at the root zone. Only watering until the top gets moist is not sufficient for good growth and is probably a waste of water as it will likely evaporate before it reaches the roots and shallow watering will encourage the roots to grow toward the surface weakening the plants ability to establish a good foundation. Watering deeply on the other hand allows the roots to grow deeper giving the plant a better foundation.


BUT, be careful not to over water. You should water early in the morning and let it soak deeply into the ground. Then you should let the soil dry out to a level of an inch or two before watering again. The reason for watering early is so that the leaves have time to dry off before they get too much sun causing them take up too much heat from the sun. If watering in the evening, do it early enough to allow the leaves to dry before the sun sets. Wet leaves make the plants more susceptible to fungus and disease.


For container plants, check the moisture level as described above, and water either early in the morning or early in the evening until the water starts coming out of the drainage holes. Be sure that you let the top inch or two of soil dry out before watering again. It is also important to encourage deep root growth in containers, maybe even more so.


You will want to periodically start those fast growing salad vegetables to ensure that you have a continuous supply for the salad. You may also want to provide some shade cloth to keep them from wilting or bolting to seed. Of course, if you want to collect some seed, this is the time to do so.


By mid July you will want to plant your cool weather fall crops so that they come up in time. But be sure to check the germination period so that they do not come up too early and die off from the heat. By now you should be enjoying many crops and fruits and may be reaching the point where the preserving begins. Be sure to pick your harvest and either sell or preserve it. Letting it die on the vine might be good for the compost, but it reduces the value gained from raising your own food.


Caterpillars and slugs will hide in the heat of the day, but they will be out in the cooler mornings, evenings and after it rains. Learn when pests like to seek out your garden and prepare for them. Seek and destroy, destroy, destroy!


Some other things to keep in mind at this time of year:


Once the strawberries have been harvested, be sure to fertilize for next year's crop. However, do not fertilize during hot dry weather.


Use nets to protect your fruit trees from the birds. Be sure to keep the bird bath water changed so the birds stay around and you eliminate standing water which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Even though you want to keep the birds from the fruit, you want them around to keep the bugs under control.


As you clear one area through harvesting, be sure to either plant late season crops or plant a cover crop of clover or something that you can till under at the end of the season.


You may also want to raise the lawn mower up a notch or two. Longer grass will shade the roots and prevent drying out the yard.