Here’s Why Your July Vegetable Garden Should Be Ugly

Do you know the difference between a good vegetable garden and a good flower garden? Both of them start out looking good; nice and neat with even rows and plant spacing with never a weed in sight.

Both of them demand lots of care and attention if they are to grow properly but the main difference is that while the flowers of summer are starting to produce eye candy and give glorious picture opportunities, many vegetable gardens are looking a bit scruffy around the edges.

And, this is deliberate. Remember that with leafy plants, regular harvesting is essential for continued growth. You’ll get far more basil if you cut half of the new leaves off every week or harvest a little bit every few days than if you try to grow it into a humongous plant and take a single harvest.

This is the same for lettuce and spinach and any other of the salad greens that are so wonderful at this time of year. Harvest those leaves regularly and don’t be afraid to keep doing it even though the plant is a bit on the ugly side.

How To Start The Vegetable Garden Season

Mind you, twice weekly watering and heavy applications of compost in the spring are necessary to keep the plant producing rather than simply withering away under the onslaught of regular harvesting.

A good friend and great gardener has been selling some of his excess organic vegetable produce for a few seasons now and he produces some of the best greens I have ever tasted. He does this by regular harvesting (man, his plants are ugly) and copious amounts of compost every year.

There are few weeds to be seen in his huge garden and water is supplied through regular drip irrigation so the plants aren’t stressed. He handpicks all the pests and other than last year’s scourge of squash beetles, his garden is relatively pest-free. I also note he starts the second crop in July so that it is starting to come into harvest just after the main heat of the summer has passed.

Mind you, the rest of your vegetable garden should be starting to look pretty good about now. The growth of tomatoes and vine crops should be well on the way to harvest size.

Should You Remove Leaves?

Remember that tomatoes love the sunshine

Do not remove the leaves above any ripening fruit set; the plant needs them for food production.
In the greenhouses, we would remove all leaves below the fruit set being harvested.  In other words, the staked plants would be clear of leaves right up to the fruit set currently ripening. (Tomatoes ripen from the bottom up.)

If you’re not staking your plants, do not remove leaves from your tomato plant (no matter what the Internet says)

Regular Watering Is Critical To Avoid This

Regular watering is essential for all vegetables but particularly for tomatoes at this time of year. If the first fruit set has a soft flattened bottom with mold or rot there, you likely have. This is a physiological condition and not a disease. While technically it means the blossom didn’t get the calcium it needed, in practice, it means the plant did not get the water it needed to move the soil’s abundant calcium up to the blossom in time.

Don’t bother buying calcium; simply add more water to the garden. With all the rain we had this spring, this should not be a major problem in our gardens.

In conversation with my friend this week, he noted that his squash was not pollinating very well this year. He said that what was happening was the small squash would look like it might be forming after the flower fades but then it rots away.

He pointed out that this is not a disease but rather the blossom was not being pollinated. Without pollination, there will be no fruit set. Bees normally do this for those big yellow flowers but bee populations seem to be down this year (bees are quite sensitive to many horticultural chemicals) and you too may find your vine crops are not what they might have been.

It’s Not Likely A Bee

As a side note, I always take umbrage with people who go picnicking and say that the bees were swarming them looking for food. Invariably, bees take the blame here but it is actually wasps that are doing the raiding. Further to that, wasps are actually beneficial to our gardens because while they might take the odd bite here and there from a fruit or vegetable, most of them are insect predators of one kind or other and help control the bad guys in the garden.I whack them when they get into the house but once outside, wasps and I have a friendly truce going.

So don’t be too worried if your vegetable garden is looking a trifle blowsy right now. That’s the way it is supposed to look if you are enjoying it.

Click here to never miss a new post

Four Flowers You Want To Trap Insects In Your Vegetable Garden

One of the interesting things in the vegetable garden is the existence of “trap plants” we can use to both attract and identify pest infestations as a form of companion planting.

We say these plants act as “insect traps” for the rest of the garden.

For example, beans and eggplant are beloved of spider mite and white flies so if you want to know if these pests are a problem in your garden, check these two plants first.

Or, if you’ve had a problem with these pests in the past, do plant these plants so they’ll both attract the pests (taking them away from other plants such as tomatoes) and give you an easy  place to spray insecticidal soap for control purposes.

This means you can actually put some eggplant and bean plants next to other plants that have had insect problems in the past to use as “traps” and infestation early warning signals.  A few plants scattered here and there through the garden works really well instead of concentrating these two plants in a section all by themselves.

Trap-cropping has several things in its favor in the home garden.

The first is that it works and has a great deal of scientific study behind it. The second thing is that it’s easy to do.

Trap-cropping is a simple system with limited plants to use.

The plants listed below attract the indicated pests. Period.

This means the insects prefer to eat the trap crop (most do anyway) instead of your preferred plant.

This gives two positive results –

  • the first is that your preferred plant isn’t being eaten and
  • the second is that the majority of pests are all in one place, making it much easier to kill them.

Because this is what you’re going to do – kill the pests attacking the trap crop.

Differences To Note

I note much of the research has been done on commercial farms where the trap crop is a row or two on the outside or running between rows of the desired crop.

It is on a much larger scale than backyard gardens so there are a few more details to be aware of and techniques to be used along with trap-cropping.

Diverse Planting In The Home Garden

This means plant a lot of different kinds of plants – vegetables, herbs and annual flowers in the same area.

Insects are less likely to build up into total crop-devouring numbers when there aren’t large mono-cultures. (All the same kind of plant.)

Did I mention to include flowers in the vegetable garden?

These will attract a great many beneficial insects as well as provide some beauty in your garden. And a cutting garden of your favorite flowers will fit right into a vegetable garden as both flowers and vegetables are constantly being cut and pruned.

My advice about which flowers to plant would include:

  • marigolds,
  • geraniums,
  • asters and
  • zinnias

All of these plants have been shown to attract insects.

Also include your favorite flowers for cutting. Don’t be restricted by what’s “good” for the garden but instead consider what’s good for the gardener.

Commercially Used Combinations You Can Use in the Home Garden

These suggestions are gleaned from commercial vegetable production research and studies and are recommended for big growers. I suggest home gardeners can take advantage of these as well.

Again, a trap crop will attract the pest first but it won’t “protect” the main crop in any way.

You do have to control the insect but at least you know where it’s more likely to be first. Check these trap crops regularly for the beginning stages of insect infestation.

When you see them on the trap crop, control immediately before the insect moves to your preferred crop.

  • Chevil attracts slugs. Plant with everything as it’s a favorite slug food.
  • Chinese cabbage seems to attract more Cabbage webworms, flea hoppers and mustard aphids than regular cabbage. Plant this form next to your regular cabbage.
  • Dill and Lovage are preferred foods of the tomato hornworm so mix these herbs into your tomato plantings.
  • Hot cherry peppers are used as trap crops for regular sweet bell peppers to attract pepper maggots. Plant all peppers in the same area but check those hot cherry types first for problems.Peppers also attract aphids probably more than any other vegetable – check this crop first and plant it next to any other plant you want to protect.
  • Marigolds deter root-knot nematodes in the soil so plant next to legumes (peas, beans) that are a main food crop of this pest. (Contrary to Internet advice, I haven’t seen research they actually “work” in any other way. But it never hurts to grow flowers in a vegetable garden and who knows….)
  • Nasturtiums are beloved and eaten by aphids, flea beetles, cucumber beetles and squash vine borers. Plant them either next to or among your cabbage and squash plant families.
  • Radishes are eaten by flea beetles and root maggots more than cabbage so plant radishes between your cabbages.
  • Tansy is a great food source for Colorado potato beetles so plant it next to your potato crop.

Remember though

Trap crop plants don’t deter insects, they attract them. This makes it easier for you to find/control/eliminate the bad guys.

error: Content is protected !!