Growing season is here and chances are you’ve planted food crops.
The road to a successful harvest can be bumpy. But we can help smooth it out for you and enhance your chances of a bumper crop.
Here are our top eight food gardening tips as we get set to welcome June:
1. Stake. Double your tomato crop by getting the plants off the ground, where the fruit is susceptible to rot and ground-dwelling insects and tomato horn worms (see more below). Staking will get air to circulate through the plant, allow the sun to ripen the fruit and make better use of your vertical space.
2. Weed. Unwanted growth needs weeding out because it robs the soil of nutrients and the space around your desirable plants of, well, space. Weeds are fierce competitors. This is the ideal time of year to cut them down with a sharp hoe or pull them, root and all. No competition equals better quality food-producing plants.
3. Watering. Do this as infrequently as possible. Standing at the end of a hose and soaking your vegetable plants might be good therapy for you, but it can be bad for plants. It’s best to water deeply but not too often. Push your index finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels damp or cool, wait to apply water until it is dry. Then water thoroughly.
4. Mulch. You can minimize the time it takes to raise quality vegetables, fruit and herbs in your garden with mulch. We use a four- to five-centimetre layer of finely ground up cedar bark mulch around most of our garden plants. This insulates the soil from the drying effects of the sun, and means watering less often. And it can reduce weeding by up to 90 per cent. What are you going to do with all that extra time on your hands?
5. Compost. Add a layer of composted manure or finished compost from your composter around the root zone of all food plants — about three to four cm thick. A row of beans, beets, Swiss chard, you name it, all benefit from the natural nutrients found in compost. A plant feeds itself by converting the energy of the sun and absorbing nutrients from the soil. Feed the soil and the plant will take mostly care of the rest. Do this and there is no need for chemical fertilizers which, by the way, are going up drastically in price this year.
6. Bug the bugs. The Colorado potato beetles that plague your potatoes and the tomato horn worms that horn in on your tomato crop are not the boss. You are. Show them. Apply diatomaceous earth to the beetles (any beetles), it is harmless to humans and pets. Hand pick the horn worms and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
Inspect your crop daily for pests. Once you find some, act. They move quickly this time of year, even the slugs.
7. Pick and enjoy. The leafy greens that are growing an inch a day will bolt to seed overnight if you stop paying attention. These are the longest days of the year, and the sun is at the highest angle in the sky, which means that every plant in your garden is growing its fastest. Rhubarb, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and mesclun mix like to bolt right before your eyes.
8. Stop harvesting. Perennial food crops like asparagus, rhubarb and chives can be over-harvested. Take no more than 60 per cent of the crop — leave some asparagus spears, rhubarb leaves (and stems) and chives to, well, chive on. Because, as they do, they build up energy in their root zone that will support the next healthy crop.
Enjoy the growth in your garden, the freshness of summer and a healthy garden harvest.
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