Published in the Toronto Star June 25, 2016
Can you imagine yourself picking a wonderful harvest of food this summer and fall? If so, this weekend would be a very good time to act. We are venturing into that time of year when our days are longer and day time temperatures are higher: perfect for growing most anything in the vegetable garden!
Here is where I recommend you focus your attention:
- Cool crops = plant now. There are some popular vegetables that perform best in the cool temperatures of late summer and early autumn. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, leeks, Swiss chard, carrots and kale fall into this category. All of them require between 80 and 100 days from planting to harvest. Planting this weekend would be a perfect. Keep in mind that you harvest the lower leaves of kale and Swiss chard as the plant matures and the lower ‘fruit’ (if you can call it that) of Brussels sprouts. This means that your harvest continues as the season progresses. I pick Swiss chard for about 12 weeks, beginning in late July through October: I swear that it is the most productive plant in the universe! Ditto kale.
Leeks are an interesting study: the tender plants are mounded up with soil about 15 cm as each plant matures through the summer. I pull clean soil up to the base of each plant every week or two, as I am weeding, using a Backhoe (a large headed hoe).
One last point on late season crops: temperatures at or below freezing concentrates the sugars in these plants, intensifying their flavour. Leave them in the ground until late October or November. Yummmmm….
- Succession Planning. For the longest possible season of tasty and healthy fresh veggies from your own garden, plan on sowing small quantities of some vegetables more frequently. I sow leaf lettuce, mesclun mix and arugula every 10 days to 2 weeks beginning in early May through early July. It is not too late for you to get started. My list of successive sowing includes: peas, snap beans, beets, carrots and the aforementioned greens. You can still get a couple or three sowings of each in the ground.
- Cover Up. The enemy of many vegetable crops are the insects that consume them. The cabbage moth is a perfect example. The larvae of the wicked white winged ‘butterfly’ has a huge appetite not just for cabbage but all cucurbits: the ‘gassy’ vegetables that include broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale. The best way to prevent damage from this and many other flying insects is to cover the plants up this time of year with a veggie tunnel. A white, loosely spun polyester material is suspended on U shaped plastic supports. The fabric allows the sun to shine in and water to move through it while insulating your valuable crop from damaging insects. Chemical free and very effective.
The same material can be used to extend the season in the fall by insulating crops from early frost.
- Nurture your tomatoes. As we head into late June, it is important that you pay special attention to your tomato plants. Stake them now. I use 2 metre high metal spiral stakes to avoid tying my tomatoes up. I just twirl the green stems of the plant around the stake as they grow. Get your tomatoes off the ground and you will double your crop and prevent many soil-borne problems and rot.
Bordo. To prevent the dreaded early and late blight apply Bordo mixture now and every two weeks until harvest. It is a natural, copper based product used by organic gardeners.
Mulch. Reduce weeds dramatically and insulate the soil from the drying effects of the sun by placing 30 to 50 cm of loose, clean straw at the root zone of each plant or 6 to 8 cm of finely ground up cedar or pine bark mulch. This will minimize blossom end rot later in the season too.
- Weed and fertilize. I can’t emphasise enough the need to keep your veggie patch weed free early in the gardening season (now!). Run a hoe around each plant and through the veggie bed, clear cutting weeds while they are young and save yourself a tonne of work later in the summer. Tomatoes and peppers are hungry plants. If you did not use generous quantities of compost early in the season, now is the time to add tomato food. There are many products on the market for this purpose. If you wish to use something natural look for the Natura or Green Earth brands.
And finally, keep an eye on your cucumbers and squash for squash beetles, potatoes for Colorado beetles (how did they get here?) and tomatoes for the giant and truly ugly tomato horn worm. Remove them by hand or use the all-natural ‘diatomaceous earth’/silicone dioxide to control them. It is harmless to humans, effective against crawling insects [including ants].