Mid-Summer Garden Tips

So you started a garden with high hopes in spring. You and the kids were out in the yard doing your picture-perfect thing, learning lessons about caring for living things and growing your own food, with every intention of making a garden-to-table dinner before summer’s end. Right?

Well, by now, your tomato plants are big, bush and full of green tomatoes, you’re wishing on zucchini blossoms, and the Swiss chard is rising tall. Here’s where it really gets tough. Bugs and squirrels are just waiting to strike (if they haven’t already), not to mention the countless ailments from blight to mildew that can befall your poor crop, and the kids (and you) are getting pretty tired of the watering routine. It’s the dangerous dead of summer. So how do you keep that garden growing strong?

Bug Patrol

I recommend a pest-control approach that’s safe—you can eat the plants later in the day, even if they have just been sprayed that morning. Just be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Even though these products are safe, they probably don’t taste very good and we all know we don’t need any more reasons for our kiddos to swear off veggies.

Killer bugs don’t stand a chance against my arsenal of weapons. Arm yourself with these must haves. (And remember to read the instructions that come with each product. Busy moms may miss key information, like shaking the bottle before applying.)

  • Neem oil, a product made from the seeds of the neem tree (which is an Asian tree), acts as a fungicide – it keeps zucchini, cucumber, and melon leaves from getting mildew. It also kills spider mites and repels a host of other buggers. June and July is the spider mite’s favorite time to start webbing. Deal with them as soon as you begin to see a few, before all of their hundreds of siblings, grandparents, uncles, and aunts move on in. They arrive hungry! You’ll see yellow holes punctured into the leaves as they move from one leaf to the next.

For spittlebugs (my rosemary was infested with them), you need a stronger neem oil. Bon-Neem with pyrethrins, made from a species of daisy, is more powerful – it suffocates and kills them on contact. I keep both in stock. Just like spider mites, address spittlebugs as soon as they start to appear.

  • Spinosads. Captain Jack, a brand of spinosad, keeps caterpillars and aphids from feasting on anything green and leafy – it kills the insects on contact. But don’t get it on flowers, as it is toxic to bees (there’s a world-wide bee epidemic) for 3 hours after spraying. Spray the top and the bottom of the plants. In my early years of gardening, aphids infested two of my 8-foot flat beds – I lost all my Swiss chard and chives. I sometimes use simple soap and water to prevent aphids, but using that method requires more frequent application. A perfect to do for your kids’ chore list.
  • All Seasons Horticultural Spray Oil, typically mineral oil, kills by smothering. The biggest mistake I’ve made is using these oil-based sprays when it’s over 85 degrees or the humidity is high. Spray early in the morning or late in the evening to keep the oil from heating up and drying your leaves. Also make sure to water your plants well before spraying mineral oil, so you don’t wash away the natural insecticide.

Feed your Food!

You feed your kids so they grow like weeds. The same idea applies here. Here are some pointers on how to do it right.

  • Fertilize it! Here’s how.
    • Fertilize every 4-6 weeks for established plants
    • Large plants like tomatoes or corn can be fed every month
    • Don’t forget to water after you fertilize! If your soil is super dry and plants have wilted, water first, then wait a day until they perk up to fertilize.
  • Experiencing a heat wave? Adding mulch can help conserve water and suffocate weeds.
  • Save your coffee grinds. I keep mine in an old coffee can. It can be used as an additional fertilizer and, when spread in thin layers, helps keep soil moist.

A Few Extras

Here are some extras you don’t have to do, but help if you’ve got the time and energy. Every year I try to learn one new trick for gardening better. These are my latest.

  • Prune some things. It’s helpful to prune back dead leaves and flower buds on herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano. But don’t go prune crazy on everything. Keep the zucchini leaves even if they have started to brown. As long as they’re not shriveled up, they can still make food from the sunlight they absorb.
  • I grow rue, which naturally keeps bugs away. It stinks as bad as the sweatiest kid, but it’s worth the perks. I let it flower and all the bees flock to it, which helps pollinate my plants and save the bees so I can garden with my grand kids and great grand kids someday. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have this gardening thing totally down.

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