ABCs of Summer Vegetable Garden Care
Anyone can plant a vegetable garden, but what about caring for it as it grows? A healthy, productive vegetable garden needs three things Ė water, fertilizer and pollination.
Watering your Vegetable Garden
Like the story of the tortoise and the hare, successful watering is about being slow and steady, keeping the soil consistently moist.
- Whatís the Best Watering Tool?
There are lots of tools to choose from for watering your veggies and herbs, but I recommend soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system, both will apply a slow trickle of water directly to the roots. This method of deep watering encourages root growth and reduces the water lost to evaporation that tends to happen closer to the surface of the soil. In a pinch use a wand attachment with your garden hose. It will provide more control than a sprinkler so you can get the water right where it is needed.
- Conserve Water with Mulch
Another way to reduce that evaporation is by using mulch. Whether itís straw, compost, newspaper, finely ground hardwood or another material, mulch insulates your soil from the hot rays of summer that lead to evaporation.
- How Much Water Does a Vegetable Garden Need?
Vegetable plants need 1 inch of water per week. You can use a rain gauge to measure rain and supplement the amount with your irrigation system.
Fertilizing your Vegetable Garden
When we talk about fertilizer, weíre basically talking about plant food. Itís any substance that is added to the soil to supply one or more nutrients essential to the growth of plants.
- Why Fertilize your Vegetable Garden
Healthy, well-fed plants tend to have higher production levels. Iíll see anywhere from a double to triple crop yields with my vegetables and herbs just by adding fertilizer to the soil. Another benefit is that healthy plants take up nutrients and water more efficiently, which means less watering.
- The NPK of Fertilizer
When you look at a fertilizer package, youíll notice an N, P and K. These are the symbols for 3 key elements that help plants perform their best.
Nitrogen (N) helps plant foliage to grow strong.
Phosphorous (P) helps roots and flowers grow and develop.
Potassium (K) is important for overall plant health. It regulates metabolism and water absorption.
- How to Apply Fertilizer
Organic soil nutrients such as compost or aged manure can be added the soil before planting or side dressed around established plants. Heavy producers such as tomatoes, squash, peppers and melons need regular feeding. For these try a liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days. Hold off on the fertilizer during periods of extreme heat when plants are stressed.
So, you prepped your soil, and you planted your garden, and youíre watering it consistently. But how do you make sure your plants will produce all those delicious veggies you want? Well, thatís where bees and other pollinators come in. Pollinating insects travel from bloom to bloom collecting nectar, and in the process move pollen from the anther to the stigma of flowers. This is essential for plants like tomatoes, melons, strawberries and squash that produce their fruit from a flower.
- How to Improve Pollination in your Vegetable Garden
To increase the chances of your plants getting pollinated, there are a few things you can do.
Plan flowers like zinnias or bee balm, near your vegetable garden to attract bees and other pollinators.
Avoid using pesticides especially dusts Ė that are toxic to bees and other pollinating insects.
Remove floating row covers when vegetables start to bloom.
- How to Hand Pollinate Vegetables
Cool or damp weather can sometimes keep the pollinators away. If you get a lot of flowers and not much fruit, try hand pollinating your plants. This can be done by using a paintbrush or a cotton swab to transfer pollen from the male part of the plant to the female. In some cases, these are found on the same flower and in others, like zucchini, they are two separate flowers. Female flowers will have a swelling where the flower connects to the stem.