The Vegetable Garden in June
I don’t want to jinx anybody, but so far, our weather this spring has been pretty friendly to gardeners. It has been warm, allowing the gamblers among us to get away with putting warm weather vegetables in the ground early, hopefully portending an early first harvest. And the rain has been regular and helpful, not too much, not too little. We are off to a good start.
So at this point, all of us but those awaiting an imminent apocalypse have planted or are planting any and all crops. Frost risk is extremely low and the ground is warm. In my own garden beds, things really started growing in early May and are progressing nicely. June becomes the time to finish first plantings, start weeding and mulching and continue harvesting cool weather vegetables like lettuces, spinach and radishes. The fun has begun.
As garden space gets consumed, use vertical gardening techniques and practices like intercropping and companion planting to get the most out or your available garden real estate.
Remember to rotate crop locations to minimize the buildup of pests and pathogens. A 3-year cycle is commonly recommended.
Thin the seedlings of carrots, beets and other root crops to the recommended spacing to avoid crowding.
Now that the ground has warmed, apply organic mulches such as leaves, straw and clean grass to conserve water, suppress weed germination, and enrich soil as the mulch decomposes.
Repeat plantings of corn, beans, and other summer vegetables as the cool weather crops go to seed, to extend the harvest season.
Monitor soil moisture. As a general rule, vegetables require about an inch of water per week during the growing season. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation make the most efficient use of water during dry spells.
Water in the mornings and minimize splashing water and soil on plants to minimize the risks of mildew and soil-borne disease transmission. For the same reason, remove lower leaves on your tomato plants to minimize inadvertent soil contact.
Asparagus –– stop harvesting when spears become thin.
Growing lettuce under a shade screening material will slow bolting and extend the harvest season. Also, try planting bolt-resistant varieties such as Muir, Sierra and Nevada.
Continue to mound soil up around potato vines to prevent the tubers from being exposed to the sun and turning green. You can also add a layer of straw or leaf mulch to help control weeds.
Some soils in our area are magnesium deficient, especially those where high-calcium lime has been applied rather than lime containing magnesium (dolomite). “Green” your peppers by giving them a magnesium boost with Epsom salts. This will aid fruit production. Dilute one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a quart of water. Spray the solution on leaves, using a clean household spray bottle. You will notice a difference in the color of the leaves in couple of days.
If you’ve saved some leaves and/or yard trimmings from last fall, combine them with grass clippings and kitchen vegetable cuttings to generate compost that you can apply to your beds prior to winter. I find that roughly equal volumes of grass clippings and mulched leaves is about right to achieve a hot compost batch. If it doesn’t get hot, add more grass and kitchen scraps. If it is slimey or gives off an ammonia smell, add leaves, wood chips, sawdust (not pressure treated) or other carbon source. Keep the pile moist but not dripping and turn it to keep it aerated every week or two. A second heap gets regular additions of materials as they become available throughout the year. It decomposes a bit more slowly and less uniformly than the hot pile, but still produces a beautiful product in the end. It’s worth the effort!
Collapsible puppy pens make a simple, inexpensive compost containment system (see photo). Clip the open ends together for containment. Unclip and swing open to turn the pile.
Herbs planted in average soil need no fertilizer. Too much fertilizer may reduce flavor and pungency.
To control earworms on corn plants: apply several drops of mineral oil to the corn silk.
Thin overloaded fruit trees; this will result in larger and better fruit at harvest time.
Renovate the strawberry patch after harvest. Mow the rows, thin out excess plants and apply mulch for weed control.
The best time to harvest most herbs is just before flowering, when the leaves contain the maxium essential oils. Cut herbs early on a sunny day.
Adapted from the Albemarle/Charlottesville VCE Office, “Monthy Horticulture Tip Sheets,” albemarle.ext.vt.edu/hort-tip-sheets/6-14-veg.pdf ; albemarle.ext.vt.eduhort-tip-sheets/6-14-fruit-nuts.pdf; albemarle.ext.vt.eduhort-tip-sheets/6-14-herbs.pdf
“Vertical Gardening Using Trellises, Stakes and Cages,” https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/HORT/HORT-189/HORT-189-pdf.pdf