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Summertime Fun in the Garden

by Mark Adams

July – summer – is not just about heat, drought, weeds and bugs. Gardeners can rejoice in the early fruits of their labor. We’ve already harvested lettuce, broccoli, spinach, radishes, peas, carrots, and cut zinnias from the flower bed. Any day now we’ll be savoring zucchini, cucumbers and beets. Here are a few pointers to consider in the coming weeks:

  • Weeds – If your garden is choked with weeds, here’s why: it’s too big! Weeds are called weeds for a reason – they don’t just suddenly die on their own – that’s what flowers do, not weeds. A small plot is easily maintained with a few minutes of work each day, preferably in the cool of the evening. Use mulch, and get the weeds when they’re small.
  • Fertilizer – Also known as plant food. It’s essential, just like cat food is essential for cats. I apply plant food, usually the dry granular type soon after planting and again in mid-July. This is especially important for flowers or vegetables grown in containers, since they use up all available nutrients quickly in their confined space. Since you water your containers frequently, a water soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro is perhaps the easiest way to go. Mix it into the water at every irrigation, following the instructions.
  • Water – One inch per week on a garden is ideal, but gardens planted in the ground, once established, can survive a pretty severe drought. If you do water, put on a lot at one time. A light spritzing does more harm than good. Containers of vegetables must be kept moist, or the fruits will turn hard and bitter.
  • Bugs – Not as big a problem as the chemical companies would like you to believe. Don’t panic if you see a few insects. The best strategy is to make sure the plants you buy are pest-free. I have seen trouble this year with tarnished plant bugs on peppers and other vegetable plants. They make small dots all over the leaves, and some of my plants have become quite disfigured. I expect them to grow out of it. The early blight that causes the bottom leaves of tomato plants to turn brown can be prevented by spraying copper sulfate, or any fungicide containing copper, in early July.
  • Replanting – This is my favorite gardening activity, because it’s as close as I ever come to getting something for nothing. As soon as an early crop is harvested, plant something else in its place. The ground is still soft from the initial tilling, so just light raking will prepare it for the next crop. You should add fertilizer, since the initial crop has taken nutrients from the soil. I’ve already planted beans, from seed, where the spinach was, and beets in place of the radishes. My zucchini will be ready in a few days, but I’ll continue to seed new zucchini plants every few weeks, in case the squash vine borers get the older ones (mounding dirt around the base of the zucchini plant helps ward off the borers).
  • Deer – My five-foot high fence keeps out the deer because they don’t like to jump into small enclosed spaces. I keep a close eye out for woodchucks, but they haven’t found me yet. Birds are another story. I don’t plant the crops birds eat – like melons, strawberries and corn. I can always buy those at the local farmers’ market. Our flower garden has no fence, so we plant deer-resistant varieties – blue salvia, vinca and tons of zinnias. We have a few petunias, which we spray every few days with an egg-based deer spray. I would recommend buying the concentrate and keeping a bottle of diluted spray handy to save money.
  • Enjoy – Sue and I expect to be enjoying fresh vegetables at every meal right into the fall. And it’s locally grown!
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