By Victoria Rolfe
If you have been outside planting since early April, by now those brown patches of earth in your garden are being covered by many varied shades of green, as well as leaves of burgundy and chartreuse, and flowers in all shades of the rainbow. It’s incredible to marvel at how a few packets of tiny seeds can fill your yard with lush growth in such a short time.
The season of creating and installing your garden is winding down and we are moving on to maintenance and that exciting time of reaping what we have sown! Maintaining your beds involves keeping them watered, weeded, fertilized and free of pests and disease.
Remember to continue to frequently water any newly sown seeds or tender young transplants, sometimes even more than once a day in hot dry weather. As we approach late June and your plants grow larger, they will no longer require these frequent light sprinkles. In fact, it would be detrimental to continue such watering, as it encourages the plants to develop a shallow, weak root system.
Once your plants get larger, they will benefit from less frequent but nice, deep watering. Generally, most annuals, including vegetables, will do well with about one inch per week. Of course, we can count on Mother Nature to provide at least some of it, and we will just supplement where she falls short.
By keeping track of rainfall and employing the correct techniques, you can keep your plants properly hydrated without unnecessarily overwatering them. There are also a number of other practices you can employ that will save on water and keep your plants healthy:
Water at the ground level. By applying it directly to the roots of the plants, you will eliminate a lot of the waste that overhead sprinkling of the entire garden will lead to. You can achieve this by using soaker hoses instead. They are perforated with tiny holes that let water gradually seep out. Even if you are watering by hand, direct the flow to the base of the plant and not the leaves.
Another aspect to consider is timing. It is best to water early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This will allow the roots to get a good long cool drink before the hot sun dries up the ground. Be especially careful not to wet the leaves if you are doing it in late in the day, as leaves that remain wet all night will invite fungal disease.
At this point, you may be wondering how you will know exactly how much rainwater your garden has received. It’s very handy to have your own rain gauge. You can purchase one at most garden supply centers, or make your own using any straight-sided clear glass container and marking it in inches with a waterproof marker. You can also use this occasion to add some whimsy to your garden by decorating your DIY rain gauge in a delightful way.
Fertilize efficiently. Just as water should be judiciously applied at the proper times (so as to use the minimum amounts for maximum results), the same goes for fertilizer. Of course, if you have top-notch soil, amended–or improved–with lots of (free!) organic material and composted manure, you might not even need fertilizer. But since many of us fall short in this respect, a little boost of essential nutrients may be necessary. You can use your own compost. If you are using a manufactured substance, a granular mix or a fish emulsion is best. Steer clear of the instant fast-acting "blue liquid." This is because you want a slow-acting fertilizer, not a quick burst of nitrogen that will promote lush greenery at the expense of your vegetable production.
As with watering, the timing of your fertilizing is crucial for optimum results. In addition to the dose you put in the hole when transplanting, there are two other ideal times for application. The first is when your plant begins to "set" fruit, by transforming its blossoms into edible goodies, so that the added nutrients will go directly toward that vegetable growth. It will also benefit from another fertilizer boost midway through its production when it is putting out its crop like gangbusters and depleting the soil at a rapid rate. This timing schedule will maximize your fertilizer efficiency for the best results.
And now the fun begins! You are beginning to be rewarded for your efforts, picking lettuce, leafy greens, radishes, snow peas, and even strawberries and rhubarb if you grew them. Cut and come again on your lettuce and greens (such as kale, collards, spinach, and Swiss chard). If you have sown these seeds early in April, you should already be enjoying your first salads and cooked greens from some of these crops. There is no need to pick the whole plant. Rather, continue to pluck the outer leaves while the plant puts out new growth from the middle. Or, in the case of leaf lettuce, you can actually take a scissor or a knife and cut the whole plant down to one inch from the ground and it will grow right back. You’ll get two, three, sometimes more, salads for the price of one seed!
As you begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor, take some time to feast your eyes on the exquisiteness of this lush garden you have created. It is nothing short of magic.
Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.
Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.
Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at email@example.com.