Roots and Shoots: You Planted a Victory Garden. Now What?

2013 garden

The 2013 garden from which I didn't get a single ear of corn but had the best green peppers I've ever grown (Photo by P. Doan)

The kale and tomatoes are settled into their new homes in your garden. You planned, prepared, purchased and researched, and the weather turned warmer. Maybe you’re even eating peas and greens already. Other than waiting for the tomatoes to ripen, what comes next over the months ahead? Here are the essentials.

Water

Check soil moisture daily for transplanted plants and assume that seeds need daily watering unless it rains. If it works with your schedule, water the garden in the morning. The plants go into the day with ample resources and leaves dry out in the sun. In general, wet foliage and cool overnight temperatures can make plants more susceptible to fungus problems but evening watering is not the end of the garden if that’s what you can schedule.

I’ve tried many methods. Hand-watering, sprinkler-watering, drip irrigation and dragging the hose around the yard. I prefer the control of hand-watering, which is the least wasteful but the most time-consuming. A hose with a low spray nozzle is faster than using a watering can and you can customize the flow and spray for efficiency, but it also requires dragging a hose around the yard, which I don’t enjoy.

Drip irrigation or a soaker hose are water-efficient, and once the setup is complete it functions without you. Set a timer and use the flow calculations for your system to determine how long to run it. A sprinkler on a timer also functions solo but it’s the least water-efficient system and you’ll need to measure how much water is reaching the plants to determine how long to run it. Also make sure it reaches all the plants. Since the water flow won’t be directed at the soil but will come from overhead, observe throughout the summer as plants fill in and grow together to make sure enough water is reaching the roots.

Don’t forget mulch. I like straw because it’s easy to acquire, easy to spread and it works into the soil for next year as more organic matter. Mulch holds moisture in the soil, which is helpful during a heat wave and it reduces weeds. Wood chips are another option for natural mulch. Make sure to keep the mulch away from the base of plants.

Weed

Your garden setup, the seedbed of weeds in your location and the soil preparation will impact how much weeding will be necessary for your garden. Weeds will compete with your plants for survival. They want the soil nutrients, water, and sunlight, and they aren’t bothered by aphids, squash vine borers, blight, powdery mildew or stink bugs.

It’s much easier to hand-pull small weeds than rip out larger ones, and it creates less soil disturbance. Weeds set seeds early in the season, so staying on top of weeding in May theoretically makes for fewer weeds in August. Try not to let any weed set seed and youcan disrupt the life cycle of the plant. For more ideas, see highlandscurrent.org/keep-weeding. Other resources are Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso, and Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich.

It’s inevitable that weeds will not cooperate. The peppers might be small. The carrot seeds might not all germinate. The squash might take over the garden. Don’t get discouraged. It’s all a learning experience and one great tomato on a hot summer day makes it worth it.

Watch

There are many things that want to destroy your garden. It’s not personal, it’s just nature. Observing plants for changes and diagnosing the problem quickly is the most effective route to management. Look for any changes to the plant, like leaf damage, spots, insects, abnormal growth and failure to grow or develop blooms that will become the fruit or vegetable. Pests and pathogens damage the plant, but lack of water, too much or too little sun, poor soil nutrition and soil pH (acidic or alkaline) impact growth and harvest, too.

Figuring out the problem accurately is the key to solving it. The Cornell Cooperative Extension master gardeners and staff at putnam.cce.cornell.edu or ccedutchess.org are a useful source for identifying issues and treatment plans. Herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers can have unintended consequences to the garden and the environment.


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