Tips and Tasks in the Vegetable Garden

  • By Cleve Campbell
  • /
  • July 2015 - Vol. 1 No. 7

The weather in central Virginia is often unpredictable, ranging from 75-80 degrees in February to snow in April, but we can say with certainty that in July, it is going to get HOT! The heat brings many challenges, not only to the garden but also to the gardeners, who must somehow protect themselves from the hot summer sun with clothing and sunscreen while remembering to maintain hydration.

July in the vegetable garden is primarily a month of maintenance: watering, applying additional mulch, weeding, and harvesting.  The ambitious gardener may take on additional tasks, such as sequential planting of select vegetables and preparing for the planting of fall crops.

Weeding

It’s important to control weeds around vegetables, as weeds will out-compete vegetable plants for nutrients, water and sunlight. The best method to control weeds is by mechanical extraction, meaning good old-fashioned weed pulling or the use of a hoe.   For small weeds, the “hoop” or “stirrup” hoe is highly recommended because it allows for shallow cultivation.  Another plus for the hoop hoe:  it does not bring weed seeds to the surface of the soil! Many weed seeds require sunlight to germinate, so deep cultivation or utilizing a tiller often brings seeds to the surface of the soil, facilitating seed germination for a new crop of unwanted weeds.

For additional weed information see: pubs.ext.vt.edu/456/456-018/Section_2_Home_Vegetables-4.pdf.

Succession Planting and Fall Crops

The following vegetable seeds may be planted in the latter part of July: green beans, Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, mustard, turnips, summer and winter squash.

Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower plants may be transplanted into the garden beginning in late July, depending on the temperature.  Transplant in the late afternoon and avoid days with 90-degree weather.

For additional information on what and when to plant see:

Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended planting dates pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-331/426-331_pdf

More Tips and Tasks for July

To save space in your garden, you can construct temporary or permanent woven wire fences, which will provide vertical support for runner varieties of beans, as well as for cucumbers. Plants can be trained to climb the fences, saving not only space but also making harvesting easier as the vegetables will be hanging down.

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A New Threat to Basil   Watch out for a fungal disease specific to sweet basil called fusarium wilt of basil. The fungus attacks the water-conducting tissue (xylem) within the stem. Infected plants will grow normally until they are six to twelve inches tall.  Then the plants become stunted and will suddenly wilt. Symptoms include wilting and brown streaks along the stems. The stem may become curved — often referred to as a shepherd’s crook appearance.

Once established, the fungus can over-winter and survive many years in the form of spores, ready to cause new infections if basil or other members of the mint family are replanted in the same area.  Currently, there is no fungicide approved for the treatment of this fungal disease, but it can be controlled somewhat by removing all diseased plants, by avoid planting basil in the same location, and by planting disease-resistant varieties.

For addition information on basil see http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-125.htmlGrowing Small Farms-Basil problem ncsu.edu

Wondering if your blueberries are ripe enough to pick?  Just try pulling a few berries from the stems.  If they come off easily, they are ready to harvest. If not, they need to ripen more. Cover with netting or the birds will beat you to the fruit.

Continue to monitor water moisture levels around plants. The rule of thumb is that plants need one inch of water per week to maintain productivity.  Mulching reduces the need for frequent watering and improves yields.  Early morning is the best time to water. Evening water is less desirable because leaves that remain wet through the night are more susceptible to fungal diseases.

  • Pepper plants are more productive if given appropriate moisture. Placing mulch (such as wood chips or leaf mulch) around plants will help retain soil moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering. In addition to conserving water, mulch provides the extra benefit of becoming a weed barrier.
  • Dry weather causes Swiss chard to bolt—or prematurely go to seed. Water your plants to extend the season.
  • Cucumbers develop a bitter taste if the soil is not kept consistently moist. Leaf mulch works great to help maintain soil moisture.

Harvest cucumbers for pickling  when they reach 2-4 inches in length; for table use, harvest when no longer than 5-6 inches. Remove any over-ripe cucumbers to encourage continuous production.

Withhold water on storage potatoes when they begin to die down, as water and fertilizer may disturb the dormancy stage and cause regrowth; it can also cause potatoes to crack.

If potatoes are visible along the soil surface, they probably look green. This coloration is caused by exposure to light. Green-skinned potatoes will taste bitter. How to avoid this problem:  make sure potatoes are protected from the light by covering them with soil or mulch.

Pumpkin and squash blossoms are both beautiful and edible. To prepare squash or pumpkin blossoms for an appetizer, pick them after they open. To remove insects and dirt, wash and drain the blossoms, dip them in a flour or beer batter, and fry until golden.

Although tomatoes are self-pollinating, they need movement to transfer pollen. If it is hot and calm for several days, gently shake plants to transfer pollen and assure fruit set. Hot temperatures can also interfere with blossom set.

Shredded Chinese cabbage is a good hot weather substitute for lettuce in salads and sandwiches. A second crop may be started now for fall harvesting.

Too many cucumbers, zucchini, or tomatoes? Think pickles, relishes, and tomato sauces.