keeping up with the joneses; maintaining the garden in summer

It’s summer, finally.  The spring that wouldn’t come has finally gone and we are now enduring 100 degree days.  For the gardener, summer weather presents many challenges.  Whether it is the high heat and humidity, long, dry spells or of the many insects and blights of all kinds, there is always something that needs doing.  This week, Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are exploring the many needs of a garden in summer.

Each winter, as seed catalogs arrive, I patiently await the warmer weather to plant my vegetables.  When the dreary weather passes, garden centers begin selling starter plants and gardeners snatch them up quickly, myself included.  The funny thing is that not all of these plants are best suited for spring weather here in the south but it never stops me from trying and this year was no exception.  Brassicas, commonly referred to as cole crops, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts,  cauliflower, cabbage and the like do not do well in warm weather.  By the time the garden centers set them out in March and April, it is almost too late to grow them here and honestly, they are better suited to the fall season.   While listening to a Q & A with organic farmer Jeff Poppen, he declared to all that brassicas need to come out of the ground by May or they will attract all sorts of undesirable insects to the garden and he is right-some day I need to listen to this advice!  Our spring weather was a few weeks behind and I just pulled out the last of our broccoli and kohlrabi.

Remember, gardening is a continuous cycle and the seasons flow somewhat seamlessly.  As temperatures creep up then down, plants thrive, mature and ultimately begin the process of dying.  For many vegetables, succession planting will keep you harvesting produce for longer periods and I try to use that method in my garden.  Thankfully, Virginia has a long growing season and since our first frost date isn’t until November, I am still starting seeds and planting summer crops and dreaming of fresh picked corn and tomatoes.

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Pulling out last seasons plants to make way for the next wave is just one task on the gardening “to do” list.  Keeping the bad bugs at bay will also keep you busy.  Even if you just garden with flowers, there will be battles with bugs!  In my new shade beds, I discovered some wooly aphids in one of my hanging planters.  The fluffy white stuff on the stem in the photo above is actually a few wooly aphids.  As you walk through your garden looking for signs of pests, be sure to lift the leaves and look carefully at the whole plant including the undersides of the leaves.


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One of the worst offenders in a summer vegetable garden is a flea beetle.  They can quickly devour leaves and the damage can kill a plant.


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This is a leaf on one of my eggplants that flea beetles damaged.  The damage reduces the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyl and it can die as a result.  While I do practice organic gardening, I will occasionally use pesticides but only those considered acceptable for organic gardening.  To combat these horrible creatures, I sprayed the plants with pyrethrin and the plant is now recovering from the damage.


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And just as insects can damage a plant, so can sunshine; this celery plant shows signs of sun scald on the leaves.  Over the winter, I grew a celery plant from the bottom part that was cut off the bunch.  By slicing off a thin piece of the root end and placing it in a dish of water, and in time, some roots appeared.  Eventually, I planted it in a pot of soil and then put it out in the garden still in the pot.  As it grew and grew, I decided to take it out of the pot and plant it in one of the bales.  Unfortunately, I put it in a bale that gets a little too much sun and I will most likely move it to a bale that offers more shade.  

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Basil is one of my favorite plants in summer for so many reasons.  It tastes good, smells wonderful and is actually a pretty plant but if you let the flowers grow, it will stop producing leaves so be sure to snip them off as they appear.  Since I am also a beekeeper, I tend to let a few of the flowers remain on the plants because honeybees love basil too and they will visit the blooms to gather nectar.

IMG_3859 While I have not seen honeybees visit a dill plant, I have seen many caterpillars on them.  But just like basil, if you leave the flowers in place, the plant will switch over to reproduction mode and it will concentrate on producing seeds so be sure to snip these off too!  Then be sure to harvest the leaves and mix up a batch of homemade buttermilk ranch dressing!

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Potatoes are such an easy vegetable to grow and if you plan your beds, you can grow a companion plant above the soil while the potatoes grow below, a great way to maximize limited space.  In late spring, flowers will appear and soon after, the vines will begin to die.  Once the vines die, it is time to harvest the potatoes.  Our Yukon gold potatoes are coming along nicely and as these vines die off, I will pull apart the bales to find them.

As the season progresses, a gardener must pay close attention to details.  Weeds can be a problem at any time so it is important that you remove them quickly.  To keep the soil from drying out, use mulch in the beds.  Another plus to using mulch is that it can also help keep the weeds at bay.  Applying fertilizers or compost tea as well as treating for pests is an ongoing process so be sure to use these products properly for the best results.  Some pests are best treated by hand picking.  When asparagus beetles, harlequin bug and stink bugs descend on my garden, I fill a 1-2 gallon bucket with water and mix in a few tablespoons of dish soap.  After stirring it to mix, I simply drop the offending critters in and watch them drown.  This works for caterpillars too so if you see one munching on plants, give it the same watery grave.


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Not all insects in the garden are a problem.  Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and judging by the number of them flying around here, I must have a lot of mosquitoes in the garden!  At any given time, half a dozen or more dragonflies are hunting in my garden and when they are as colorful as this one, it is hard not to take a minute or two to chase after one with a camera…


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This one is not as colorful but it sat still and watched me as I took several photos.

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This planter box was the first one I added to the front of the house and the plants here are much more established than the others.  As a matter of fact, I have had to trim some of the plants just to keep them in check.  Recently, my mother noticed a house wren going in and out of the planter.  He would return each time with grass or small twigs, and yes, he not she because male wrens are the nest builders.  The whole wren courtship ritual is interesting to watch.  The males build a nest or two and then sing out in the hope of attracting a female.  Whether or not our little guy was successful remains to be seen, in the mean time, we have a spare nest available if anybody needs one…


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At first glance, the nest is not noticeable and that is good for the wrens but in truth, it makes watering the box a little bit of a challenge.


IMG_3876Look at the work that went into this little nest.  Strand by strand, that lady wren is one lucky bird!  And much to our surprise, she said yes!  We discovered that the little lady wren laid some eggs in the nest when I approached the planter to water it and she flew out.  A quick peek inside revealed two speckled eggs!

When we moved into our home last fall, we knew that a garden would be part of our new yard.  Slowly, we sculpted the beds and layered them with the falling leaves, coffee grinds and compost which will be turned into the soil with hopes of lightning the dense, compacted clay.  While we waited patiently for spring to arrive, we added 45 straw bales to the beds and now that summer is here, the first of the bales are beginning to collapse.  A few are leaning like drunkards, threatening to spill over and dump out the plants in them and I couldn’t be happier!  Having followed the instructions found all over the interwebs for straw bale gardening, I suddenly have a large supply of compost to turn into the soil.  But, do not call this method a success, yet.  And if truth be told, I wouldn’t follow those directions again because the extreme amount of fertilizer called for has the ability to cause just as many problems as the instructions claim they solve.  Look for more on this method later in the year, I will keep updating and I plan on a complete review in the fall.

Be sure to visit Melissa’s blog to see how she takes care of her mid-season garden.

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