The “stay-at-home” spring of 2020 resulted in a renewed interest in home gardening. Many seed companies reported record sales and plant nurseries sold out.
It seems there are new gardens around every time you go out for a drive! The shoveling, digging, and tilling of the initial garden establishment seems to be the most work, but most vegetable gardens require attention throughout the whole summer to ensure harvest success. Here are some tips to get your garden to the finish line.
Spend time observing
Scouting, or observing your garden is crucial to keeping your plants healthy. Spend a small amount of time each day looking for signs of plant disease or insects. Keep in mind not every abnormality will be due to a problem.
It’s helpful to look under leaves and close to the soil where leaves are more likely to stay moist. Leaves that stay damp for long periods of time are usually the first to succumb to disease. Write down what you see and take pictures.
Don’t forget to look for eggs or cocoons. Identification is crucial to ensure the right steps are taken for insect and disease management. If you have trouble identifying the problem, bring a sample to the extension office! Often, we can identify a pest from an image, but samples are more helpful.
It’s easier to identify and treat problems on plants that are just starting to show symptoms. Unhealthy, weak plants often attract other problems, so the initial cause might be hard to identify if a dead plant is used as a sample.
Don’t wait to harvest. As soon as crops have reached a mature stage they should be harvested. Once mature, seed-bearing structures have been produced, many plants decide their job here is done and will start to senesce and die.
Harvesting regularly will delay this signal and keep your plants producing. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, okra every 2-3 days. This will make sure you have the ripest fruit and will keep the plants producing. The same scenario works for flowers. Dead head any spent flowers so the plant keeps producing up new stems.
Weeding is the key between keeping a garden and keeping a jungle. Weeds growing in vegetable rows or raised beds take vital nutrients away from vegetables. Plants will grow much larger and produce more fruit when they have less competition.
Mulching, hoeing and hand-weeding are all viable options for keeping garden beds clear. Although mulching may seem like a lot of work initially, having nicely mulched vegetable beds increases the appearance of a garden, helps retain moisture, and improves soil quality.
Mulching tomatoes and peppers will even decrease disease pressure by preventing water from bouncing off the soil and onto plant leaves. Try organic materials like straw, grass clippings, sawdust, leaves, or shredded newspapers.
Weeds can also be eliminated by shallow cultivation. A simple hoe is a great tool for removing young weeds from the garden. While you are scouting, take a cultivating tool and dig up young weeds before they are large and difficult to remove.
A stirrup hoe is an excellent tool for quickly eliminating weeds. Checking beds once or twice a week and removing the weeds with a stirrup hoe or similar tool can greatly reduce the hard work of pulling weeds later in the summer.
Dealing with insects
As mentioned earlier the first step in dealing with an insect problem is correctly identifying the problem. Insects damage plants in a variety of different ways and spraying a “one size fits all” insecticide may not actually resolve the issue.
Many insecticides are available for home gardeners – synthetic, biological, botanical, etc; however, many cultural and mechanical control methods may be just as effective. Good garden management practices like crop rotation, keeping beds clear of weeds, and working to improve the soil go a long way in preventing problems. One of the easiest ways to deal with garden insect pests is to simply pick them off and place them in a bucket of soapy water. This method, of course, works better if you have a small garden. A solution of dawn dish soap can also be sprayed safely onto plants to deter insects.
Right now, be on the lookout for aphids, imported cabbageworm, flea beetles, Japanese beetles and squash vine borers. There are many organic and synthetic insecticides that will make quick work of these insects. Make sure you consult the label before spraying any material.
Full season vegetables need 20 inches of water a growing season. This equates to around 1” of water for May and June and around 2” of water a week in July, August and September.
This amount can be a combination of rain water and irrigation water. Gardens will perform much better when the soil is watered deeply. Just like a heavy rain, providing more water at one time will promote healthier root growth than multiple shallow watering.
If a sprinkler is used to water the garden place a can in the sprinkler range to determine how much water has been applied. Sprinklers should be used in the morning so plants have all day to dry off. This measure reduces disease pressure.
Many crops are happiest with a support system. Tomatoes, especially indeterminate varieties need a stake or trellis to keep them contained. Peppers often fall over without a stake and cucumbers wouldn’t mind a nice bamboo teepee.
These crops are more productive if with proper support. Many diseases that infect tomatoes are soil-borne and will first show up on lower leaves. Trellising will keep the plants growing upwards and allows for easy removal of diseased lower leaves.
Plus, many vegetables are easier to harvest at eye level. Try using these trellises as part of a “snacking garden.” Plant cherry tomatoes and Mexican sour gherkins on an arbor and pick the fruit as you walk through. These plants will keep producing all summer until the first frost of fall.
Don’t stop planting
The planting season doesn’t end with May. Although some crops take longer to establish in July, compared to the cool comfortable weather of May and April continuing to plant during the summer will ensure plenty of fall vegetables.
In late June, try planting carrots, beans, pumpkins, corn, late tomatoes, pepper, and swiss chard. Many of these crops thrive in the heat and with some extra watering after planting they will quickly be a valuable addition to your garden.
Carrots are notorious for this long germination time and need constant moisture to properly establish. After planting carrot seeds, drape a damp piece of burlap over the planting space to maintain moisture levels for proper germination. Remove the burlap as soon as you see sprouts. Many types of lettuce will bolt once summer arrives but some varieties are more suited for warmer weather. Try summer suited “Sierra” a romaine type lettuce, or “Black Seeded Simpson” a leaf lettuce.
Cool season crops, like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and celery can be started indoors now for planting at the end of summer. For more ideas on what to plant this summer consult the WVU Extension Garden Calender.
- 1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 12-inch whole wheat pizza crust
- 1 cup chopped broccoli florets
- 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced into strips
- 1/2 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Sprinkle half of the cheese evenly over crust; set aside. Sauté vegetables, garlic and Italian seasoning in hot oil 3-5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Spoon vegetables evenly over pizza crust. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 450 degrees 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
Source: University of Kentucky Extension
Cool Cucumber Tomato Salsa
- 2 cups seeded, diced plum tomatoes
- 1 peeled, seeded cucumber
- 1 Tbsp. minced red onion
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. minced cilantro
- 1/4 tsp. salt.
Toss all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate several hours.
Source: Penn State Extension
Farmer’s Market Skillet Bake
- 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4-5 small red potatoes, sliced
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 medium summer squash, sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced
- 4 medium sized tomatoes, sliced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 5 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare onion, garlic and sliced potatoes (about 1/4 inch thick). Heat olive oil over medium heat in a 10- or 12-inch oven-safe skillet. Add onion, garlic, and potatoes to pan and stir to coat with oil.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden brown and tender. Add 1 cup mozzarella cheese. In a bowl, toss together the squash, zucchini and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and half of the finely chopped basil. Layer squash and tomato slices over the potato and cheese layer.
Top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake 35 minutes or until vegetables are tender and cheese is melted. Remove skillet from oven and top with remaining basil.
Source: University of Kentucky Extension
Feta and Hummus Stuffed Peppers
- 1-1/2 pounds mini bell peppers (seeded and halved)
- 1 container (about 7 oz.) red pepper hummus
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tsp. hot sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 3 Tbsp. green onion (chopped)
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
Lay all of the peppers cut side up on a tray or baking sheet. In a medium bowl, mix together hummus, feta, and hot sauce. Spoon the hummus mixture in the center of each pepper half.
In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, green onion, and lemon zest. Sprinkle the herbs over the peppers and serve.
Source: University of Delaware Cooperative Extension
New Potatoes and Lemon Asparagus
- 1 bunch fresh asparagus spears
- 16 tiny new potatoes, cut into quarters
- 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. lemon peel, finely shredded
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 tsp. salt + black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed (I used 1 tsp. fresh thyme)
Snap off and discard woody bases from fresh asparagus. Cut into 2 inch pieces and set aside. Clean and quarter potatoes. In a large pot, bring 2-3 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add potatoes and boil for about 10 minutes.
Add the asparagus and boil for an additional 4-6 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a serving bowl. For the dressing, combine the rest of the ingredients and drizzle over the vegetables, toss to coat. Serve warm.
Source: NC Cooperative Extension
Summer Italian Vegetables
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 squash, diced (yellow or zucchini)
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 sweet green bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350. Combine onion, squash, tomato and green pepper in a baking dish. Sprinkle with oregano. Pour the tomato sauce over the vegetables. Bake uncovered at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Top with cheese and bake another 4 to 5 minutes until cheese is melted. Refrigerate leftovers.
Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension
Summer Squash Quesadillas
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 medium yellow squash
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium red sweet pepper
- 1 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
- 2 cups of shredded cheddar-jack cheese
- 4 (8-inch) flour tortillas Cooking spray (as needed)
Cut the zucchini and summer squash into 1/4-inch slices, then cut in half crosswise. Cut the onion into 1/4-inch slices, then cut slices in half crosswise.
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add vegetables and stir-fry until just tender. Remove vegetables to a plate and remove skillet from heat. Coat the same skillet with cooking spray if needed.
Add one tortilla to the skillet. Spread 1/4 cup cheese over the tortilla, and then spread 1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture over the cheese and sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over vegetables. Top with another tortilla and place skillet back on burner over medium heat.
Toast the quesadilla lightly on bottom then flip carefully and toast the other side (about 1 minute per side). Remove toasted quesadilla from skillet to a plate and follow the same process for remaining ingredients. Cut each quesadilla into 6 triangles and serve hot with salsa if desired.
Source: North Carolina Cooperative Extension