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Caring for the Vegetable Garden in July
It’s vacation time and those vegetables just keep growing! If you plan to be away for more than a few days, it’s wise to have someone look in on your garden every couple of days. Watering and harvesting can’t wait for your return or the garden will suffer for all the fun you’ve had while traveling.
Many of the July garden chores are repeats of work started earlier in the year. When the spring rains have gone, it’s time to take seriously the garden’s need for water. One inch of rain or supplemental water per week is required for good production. If the skies don’t provide it, then an irrigation plan is essential. Hand watering, sprinkler systems, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation will give the vegetables the water they need to make a good crop for you. Remember, vegetables are high in water content and if the soil dries out they can’t reach their fullest potential.
Continue to tend to the weeds, too. They are stealing water and nutrients from your vegetables and in some cases they harbor pest insects. Keep on top of them with weekly hoeing or a heavy layer of mulch. The mulch will also help retain moisture in the soil, a double benefit!
Growing a potato patch? Keep them hilled up so the tubers are not exposed to the sunlight. Light causes them to turn green and become bitter. Does this mean the potato is poisonous? Yes and no. The green is indicative of the presence of chlorophyll which is not toxic, but at the same time the potato may be producing a colorless alkaloid which can cause illness. This publication from Perdue gives details if you’re interested. This is easily prevented by hoeing up some soil around the base of the potato plant or covering it with mulch such as a thick layer of straw. Early planted potatoes may be ready for harvest later this month when the tops start to die back. And you can always dig around carefully under the plant for the small new potatoes that are so delicious!
Now is the start of the worst of the insect and disease season in the vegetable garden. Daily walks through the garden will keep you alert to any problems while they are still small and more easily controlled. Squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles, Mexican bean beetles, horn worms on tomatoes, as well as other tiny critters love your vegetables as much as you do and can do serious damage in a short time. Hand picking most of them while their numbers are low will go a long way to prevent the problem from requiring chemical treatment. If you’re not sure whether the insect on your plant is a good guy or a baddie, collect a sample in a small vial of clear alcohol and have the Chesterfield Cooperative Extension office or a full service garden center identify it for you. Don’t spray unless you know what you are trying to kill. Some things that look like bad boys are actually good predators that help eliminate the pests in the garden.
That patch of lettuce or other early spring crop that has wilted in the heat or gone to seed needs to come out now. Pull the plants or till them under and start something new. Seeds of many vegetables can be planted now for late summer and into fall harvests. It’s a good time to start a second crop of beans to provide a continuous harvest when the early rows start to slow down.
Make the most of the vegetables reaching their maturity this month. Plan on preserving what you don’t eat or give away. Canning, freezing, and drying are the best methods to use so you will be able to enjoy your garden when the winter snows fly. Extra cucumbers, zucchini, and many other vegetables make wonderful pickles, too. Recipes for these treats can be found on the web at numerous locations.
Late in the month, transplants of the cool weather crops should be available in garden centers. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower grow much better as fall crops than they do in the spring. They need cooler conditions in order to mature properly and spring plantings tend to be caught by the heat before they’re ready to harvest. If you like to grow plants from seeds, early in the month is the best time to start them in pots so the plants will be ready to set out by late July.
Seeds of many vegetables can be put directly into the bare places in the garden this month. Beets, carrots, kale, spinach, turnips, and others planted now will come to harvest in the fall when much of the early vegetable garden is winding down. Care needs to be taken that the seeds are sown in moist soil (from rain or from deep watering the day before planting) and that the seed bed doesn’t dry out while germination is taking place. The seeds should be planted two times the depth listed on the package so they are less likely to dry out and the soil is slightly cooler.
Additional information on vegetable gardening topics can be found in the publications listed below. Or call the Chesterfield Cooperative Extension office at 804-751-4401. You may also use the Ask an Expert online feature.
Mexican Bean Beetles
Hornworms on Tomatoes