One of the results of the pandemic is the increased popularity of vegetable gardening. Many gardeners are planting tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for the first time. Whether you are new at gardening or a long-time gardener, a bountiful harvest is yours by following these routine summer tips.
Control the weeds
Weeds are opportunistic and seem to appear overnight. They are easiest to eradicate while small. The bigger they get, the more they compete with the vegetables for water, nutrients and sunlight.
Remove weeds by hand or with a light cultivation. Chemical herbicides are available but usually not necessary for small plantings. Use these products as a tool, but good cultural practices should be the first defense.
Layer on the mulch
Mulch is the unsung hero in a vegetable garden. We often think of mulching our landscape beds.
Many gardeners overlook the value of adding mulch in the vegetable garden as a strong defense against weed growth. It also reduces water loss and keeps the soils cooler, helping to develop strong roots.
The best mulches in a vegetable garden are those lasting just one season. Grass clippings, shredded fall leaves or straw work best. The mulch layer should be about 3 inches deep and cover all the open soil areas.
As the season progresses, the mulch will break down, creating additional organic matter to improve the soil. Simply work the mulch into the garden at the end of the season. This simple step will jump-start the garden next year.
Other mulches can be used, such as wood chips which are traditionally used in the landscape. These materials do not break down rapidly. If they are incorporated into the soil, they rob the nitrogen available to plants as they decompose. The lack of nitrogen usually reduces growth unless more is applied.
Apply even moisture
Since vegetables have a short season to produce, the conditions must support continual growth. Stressed plants will set less fruit and have lower quality. Summers in Kansas City can be hot and dry, which is not a good combination.
Vegetable gardens do best with about 1 inch of water per week. This keeps the upper level of the soil moist where many of the roots are located. There are several ways to water. Pick the option that works best for you.
Moisture on the foliage for long periods of time causes more diseases, especially with tomatoes. It is best to water earlier in the day, allowing the leaves time to dry before nightfall.
Another way to avoid wetting the foliage is to use surface irrigation. This can range from a drip system to simply letting the hose flood around the base of the plants.
Harvest the bounty
Life gets busy, but don’t forget to harvest the fruits of your labor. Lack of picking reduces the plant’s ability to set additional fruits. Besides, what’s better during the summer than bringing in a basket of freshly picked vegetables for the table?
Vegetable gardening offers many rewards, from fresh produce to exercise and even a family activity. Giving the garden proper care makes it more rewarding. It seems to taste better when you grew it yourself.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Have a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to email@example.com.