Producing a toothsome crop of summer vegetables is more than plunking a few seeds or plants into the ground. Here are some strategies for dealing with your garden´s challenges.
GARDENING IN SMALL SPACES: If you aredirt challenged,” consider these possibilities.
First, search out nursery seeds and plants labeled small-sized or compact. For convenience, perhaps buy some plants from the nursery, but start special varieties from seed in a sunny window to transfer to the garden after danger of frost. Seed catalogs offer enticing possibilities.
You can grow a few summer vegetables in containers with six hours or more of sunshine. Summer vegetables in general require more root space than leafy winter crops, so go with sizeable pots or half barrels. To preventfry and die syndrome,” keep the soil consistently moist. Use potting or garden soil enriched with compost; top with mulch.
When planting in the ground, you may be able to space vegetables a little closer than recommended with well-amended soil and ample water. Trellis or stake sprawling tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and some squash. (Heavier melons and squash don´t trellis well since the stems cannot support the fruit.)
Tomatoes come in determinant and indeterminate varieties. Determinant tomatoes do not require staking and bear their crop over a shorter period. Indeterminate varieties must be supported as they continue growing and producing until cut back by frost. You can reduce the ultimate size of indeterminate tomato plants by carefully removing new growth at the nodes along the main stem.
FOILING THE SPOILERS: Head off hungry insects and diseases by replenishing the soil with compost or aged manure and planting each kind of vegetable in a different spot each year. Start with fresh soil each season when gardening in containers.
Press cutoff tin cans or nursery pots around new transplants or emerging seedlings. This protects from a multitude of hungry marauders including snails, slugs, many insects, and birds. Carefully remove the container as soon as the plants crowd the sides.
To repel deer, some swear by a vigilant dog, others by seven-foot high fences. Double fences can also work since deer cannot high-jump and broad-jump at the same time. Make the outside wood or wire fence four feet tall with another simple barrier (stakes topped with surveyor´s or scare tape 36 inches off the ground) four to five feet inside the first.
Keep terra cotta saucers filled with water among the vegetables to attract beneficial insects and bug-devouring frogs, toads, and lizards. Collect and destroy snails and slugs from underneath the saucers. Be sure to empty saucers frequently to prevent mosquito growth.
Keep an eye out for aphids and white flies throughout the growing season. Deter by hosing off both top and under sides of leaves with a strong spray of water. Repeat frequently until the problem is controlled. Yellow sticky traps from the nursery (or homemade) will also attract and catch white flies. Rolled up newspapers draw earwigs at night; dispose of the paper in the morning.
Tomatoes are prone to blossom end rot (dark, sunken areas at the bottom of the fruits) caused by calcium deficiency. End rot is usually corrected by assuring adequate, consistent watering. Make sure the entire root ball takes up water. If you notice black droppings and chewed tomato leaves and blossoms, look for hornworms. Pick off and squash the offending caterpillars (plump and green). If necessary, spray in the evening with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) which kills only caterpillars. Drench the leaves well, both top and bottom.
GARDENING WITH KIDS: Today´s children are said to suffer fromnature deficit disorder” caused by inadequate time in the out-of-doors. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the average child now spends 44 hours per week staring at some sort of electronic screen. What better remedy than including kids in food gardening, a winner nutrition-wise as well? A study recently showed that, after spending eight weeks gardening, children became more likely to eat the vegetables they grew themselves.
Also check out the National Wildlife Federation´s newGreen Hour” program (www.greenhour.org) targeting numerous ways to involve children in outdoor activities.
MORE INFO: TheSunset Western Gardening Book” and several food gardening publications offer instructions on growing most any vegetable you can think of, including tips for success in different growing areas. Be sure to check planting times and length of growing season in your particular area. Learn more on managing pests and on pruning tomato plants at our UC Davis Website.
Master Gardener Vera Strader gardens near Sonora. She considers each year a new adventure in outwitting her garden´s hungry predators