Ahhhh, the lazy days of summer! The mere mention of it brings up images of sunbathing at the beach or sitting on a patio sipping a frosty beverage. For the home vegetable gardener, summer means reaping the rewards of your hard work that you put in over the spring – juicy ripe tomatoes, zucchini and hot peppers turning a crimson red.
That is not to say that there are no duties to be done in your vegetable garden during the summer – there are. But it tends to be a much shorter list when compared to everything that needs to be done during the spring and fall. And that’s just perfect for the gardener on vacation.
Summer Garden Checklist
1. Flower Pinching. Summer is a time when many of the plants in your garden are going into reproductive mode. This is great for plants that you eat the fruit from such as pepper, zucchini and tomatoes. But, unless you are looking for seeds, this is not so great for herbs, which are also starting to flower at this time. When herb plants like basil, oregano and others start to flower, you should pinch off those flowers immediately because once the plant starts to go into reproductive mode, the stems become tough and woody and the flavor becomes more bitter.
Again, if you are looking for seeds, you can let them go, but that particular plant will not be as nice for eating once it flowers.
2. Succession Planting. One of the best ways to maximize use of your garden space is succession planting – that is, following one crop with another. Many crops that are planted in the spring can be planted again in late summer for a fall harvest.
Succession planting requires a little planning and know-how, but the results are definitely worth it. Pull out any old crops that you will not be saving seed from in order to make room for the new. As weather during the late summer starts to cool down, you can start planting cool weather crops again such as lettuce. Other crops to consider for a fall harvest are kale, snap beans, spinach, carrots, beets, cauliflower and broccoli. With less daylight, these late crops tend to take longer to mature but these mid-to late-summer plantings make your autumn dinner table all the more bountiful.
3. Pests. Like spring, the summer season brings with it its own set of garden pests. Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, whiteflies and other intruders view your garden as a delectable smorgasbord and if you don’t stop them in their tracks, they might just get more produce from you vegetable garden than you do!
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If you’re having a particularly buggy year, you might be tempted to blast the unwanted creatures with toxic chemicals/pesticides. But if eating those chemicals – or feeding them to your family – is as unappealing to you as it is to me, consider these alternatives.
- Use all-natural bug spray. One method  incorporates a mixture of chili peppers in water, while another uses all-natural diatomaceous earth . Either way, bugs will run — or die.
- Floating row covers. Translucent white, porous fabric is used to cover your prized veggies. It lets in light, while keeping creepy crawlies out. The fabric can be draped over metal hoops, wooden frames or wrapped around tomato cages.
- Traps. Some people swear by various forms of traps that attract certain insects and then contain them. If you do decide to go this route, be warned that this type of trap can often have the effect of attracting more pests than you had before and make the problem worse. If you decide to go with traps, make sure they are a good distance away from your vegetable garden.
- Hand picking. Now some vegetable gardeners might get a little grossed out at the idea of combing their lettuce for sticky slugs or extracting menacing-looking Japanese beetles from your pepper plants, but hand-picking is one of the few ways that will guarantee a reduction in the pest population in your garden – and some gardeners actually revel in providing a meal of freshly killed bugs to their backyard birds. Or if you’re really squeamish about hand-picking, then get your kids or the neighborhood kids to do the dirty work for you. Give them containers and “wanted” posters with pictures of the offending pests and offer to pay them a “bounty” – maybe 25 cents (more for smaller gardens) – for each dead white fly, slug or beetle they can produce from your vegetable garden.
One of the best things about summer garden maintenance for the home vegetable gardener is that unlike early spring, you are already enjoying the fruits (or veggies) of your labor – and unlike late fall, you still have time to plant, tend and harvest even more. Ahhhh summer!
What are other ways you maintain your garden through fall? Share your tips in the comments section below.