What to do now in the vegetable garden
October 24, 2017
(Image: Vision House Photography)
October is slides into November the craziness in the lead up to the festive season and end of year activities makes now a good time to sort out the vegetable garden. A small amount of preparation now will see your garden on auto-pilot, growing happily and working up to bountiful summer harvests.
1. Plan your growing space.
Estimate the number of plants you need for the space, good companions, and a mix of fast and slow growing plants. Planning these things moves you towards achieving regular harvests through the season. Sketch out the area to estimate the number of plants you will fit in. The Vegetable Garden Workbook includes a planner to help you document this planning step, allowing you to record and monitor the results so you can repeat your successes and avoid the things that didn’t work well. It also includes information on choosing plants, types of plants, and how many to grow for continuous harvests. Read more about the Workbook.
Avoid re-planting the same plants in the same area year after year. If you have only one vegetable garden bed, don’t despair, a vegetable garden does not require a dedicated space. Consider planting herbs and vegetables between other (non-edible) plants. If additional growing space is needed, add pots. Find my tips for growing vegetables in containers here. I add containers around the garden in Summer to allow me to grow more than the garden beds allow and also to allow for some rotation of plantings. I don’t use the containers in the other seasons, they get emptied and go back into storage at the end of Summer until the following year. The containers and pots allow me to grow a quantity of some plants that produces an excess I can dehydrate, make sauce and preserve for use later in the year one the season ends.
2. Plant your Summer seeds if you have not done so, or source seedlings
Now is the time to get your plants in the ground. If you are unsure of what to plant now get a copy of my free Seasonal Planting Guide here. If you are feeling nervous about missing the season you can always add a few seedlings now and raise the seed varieties you are keen to grow also. Add the seedlings raised from seed to the garden when they are ready. The benefit of this is are that you extend and stagger the season’s harvests. You will avoid a glut of one vegetable from the garden. Growing from seed also allows you to grow high quality, organic, heirloom plants that are not readily available as seedlings.
If you are purchasing seedlings consider partnering with a neighbour or friend to share the seed punnets. Unless you have a large family, you will not need 6 zucchini plants in your garden (the standard number of seedlings in a small seed tray from a nursery)
3. Add compost and mulch
Last week I wrote a summary of the types of mulch to use in the vegetable garden. Read it here if you missed it.
A worm farm, or a compost heap provides valuable organic matter at this time of year. I generally add compost prior to Summer planting and prior to Winter planting. The plants grown in these seasons are heavy feeders. Some pre-work on the soil will help to support your plants.
Give your Summer seedlings some seaweed solution, worm castings or worm juice to encourage strong root development and plant growth. Provide once per week after planting for one month and then ongoing at least once per month.
4. Have a plan for plant care
Work out a watering system or process that suits your lifestyle, budget and amount of time you have available. In Summer I loop dripper hoses through the garden beds. They are hooked up to a timer that is activated every 2-3 days, depending on the weather. This saves me hours per week keeping the garden well watered. It has proven to be effective over the past years, even at times during the peak of Summer when we have been on holiday. Our garden is a decent size and is filled to capacity in Summer so I have found this approach an effective, low cost option. Ideally I’d love an in-built watering system for my garden beds but for now a low tech. cheap option is the most suitable.
Watering the vegetable garden in Summer is the most time consuming task. The other main activity is simply harvesting the fresh produce before dinner preparation each night. While the weather is warm and the days long, watering the garden is a pleasant evening activity, a nice way to get some fresh air, cool down and let the kids play. Despite the benefits of this, evening is not the best time to water your vegetable garden. It is a task best completed early in the day. I understand this is not possible when you are trying to get the kids to school and make it to work – thus the effectiveness I have discovered of a simple dripper hose system.
Watering vegetables and herbs early in the day helps to avoid mildew damage and disease and should always be done at the base of the plants rather than over the top of the leaves. I make a parting in the mulch at the base of each plant just large enough to enough to allow easy watering. This means the water does not have to first wet through the mulch before reaching the soil and then the roots of the plants.
If you are growing in pots they are likely to require daily watering in Summer because they dry out quickly. If you are growing in pots do add a thick layer of mulch to the top soil to help provide some temperature stability.
Temperatures in the high 30’s and above require you to provide plants with protection. At the very least they will need water early in the day. If the weather is anticipated to stretch across a number of days the plants can become stressed. Provide seaweed solution or worm juice when watering during times of high heat.
Plants near brick walls, or tin fences will suffer heat stress earlier than others so be sure to keep an eye on any in these positions.
Erect shade over your plants if possible. In the past I have used things like old curtains, cotton baby wraps, sheets, table cloths from the Op. Shop – anything that can be put over the plants to provide some additional protection. You can also add umbrellas, shade cloth or netting. When you do cover plants, allow air to circulate or they will expire under a heavy cloth…
As shown below, a temporary arrangement is not the most beautiful looking thing but it serves a purpose and means that you get to the opportunity to harvest the produce from the plants you’ve spent time caring for. If you live in a climate with consistently high temperatures a more permanent structure and solution is wise to consider.
Fruit trees in your garden will have the birds, possums, bats, and other wildlife competing with you for harvests. Set up netting or a mechanism for protecting the fruit so your family gets to enjoy it. Our own fruit trees have not been large enough in past years to warrant this, however this year I will be netting them. The stone fruit – peach, nectarine and apricot are laden with fruit and it will be our first real year to harvest them.
A final reminder from tip number 1 – write down the varieties you choose to plant this year, label the plants clearly and note how successful they are at the end of the season.If you are keen to get consistent results in your vegetable garden this is the best way to achieve it – keep a record.
Is there anything else you do in the lead up to Summer in your vegetable garden? Please tell me in the comments.
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