July tasks and kitchen garden parties
Hello kitchen gardeners,
Time flies during summertime in the garden. Didn't we just sow our seeds and plant our little seedlings? Most of them have already been harvested or grow to full maturity within the next month. To continuously having a plentiful kitchen garden, July is the month in which we should start paying attention to new plantings. This is one thing we often miss out on and then we have empty raised beds and nothing to harvest anymore by September. Let's not do that this year! Take some action now and you'll harvest throughout fall and into the winter months (with some frost protection).
Just follow these simple steps and you'll continue growing: (1) Harvest and make space! Take out all the crops that grew to full maturity. These include: peas, lettuces, radishes, beets, mustards, cress. >> You can tell that peas are done, when there are hardly any flowers and just one or two pea pods per day. It's time to take the plants out and make space for e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers. You should have planted these ideally already at the end of May/beginning of June. In that case these warm season crops would be fully established by now and need more space to bear good fruits. >> Most of your lettuces and mustards planted in April/May bolted already, right? Lettuces start to bold when temperatures get too hot and the plants get too much sunlight. The plants plainly start to go to flower and their middle shoots up like an obelisk. The leaves of most lettuce varieties take on a bitter taste and get a bit chewy when they bolt. Take them out and re-sow for new lettuces in August! (2) Maintain your cole crops! >> Most cabbages and cauliflowers are still growing and are not ready to be harvested yet. The heads are building and the plants need lots of nutrients and space. Fertilize them with compost or liquid fertilizer (e.g. seaweed) about every 2nd week. >> Check your plants for any pest damage. The white cabbage butterfly is very active these days and lays its eggs on our plants. Check the underside of the leaves for any eggs or small caterpillars and remove them. If some leaves got too damaged, just remove them. >> Harvest kale regularly to support growth. It sounds funny, but that's how it is. If you harvest the outer leaves of your kale plants regularly, the plant produces new young leaves faster. And what's better than fresh kale for your summer smoothies anyways?! >> Depending on the variety, your broccoli might already be ready to be harvested or just started with building its head. There are two ways to go with broccoli in any case: (a) Either you harvest the full plant and make space for new plants or (b) you just cut off the head and leave the plant where it is. Then give it a couple of days and you will see some broccoli magic. Tiny new broccoli buds will appear along the stem and grow up to new small broccolis. You can continuously harvest from a once established broccoli all season until frost. If you prefer to have big heads though, you need to replant broccolis now. Get yourself some new seedlings from the nursery and plant them for harvest in October. (By the way, broccoli, cauliflower and kale are very easy to freeze for your winter supply. Just wash, cut and dry them a bit, put them in freezer bags and freeze them. Don't forget the label!) (3) Fertilize regularly! Your kitchen garden supplied you with many vegetables already and the heavy feeders like tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbages are in their high peaks of producing fruit right now. Naturally they need lots of energy and plant nutrients to stay healthy and provide you with a great harvest. The soil you started in in spring has already been drained by all the crops you planted and harvested. To keep your soil healthy and rich, you need to maintain it regularly. >> Fertilize your plants every two weeks with a hand full of compost per plant. Add the compost right around the plant and work it a bit into the top layer of the soil. This way the nutrients are close to the roots and can be taken up quickly. You can use liquid fertilizer like seaweed as well. Follow the instructions on the package and feed your plants while watering. (4) Water thoughtfully! If you hand water your kitchen garden, you might find yourself wondering if you water enough or too less. There are a couple of easy rules that make watering less of a guesswork. >> Water irregularly but deeply. You don't need to water every single day. That's great, right?! It's much more efficient to water every other day and then to water deeply. That means, that you should check your soil, if it's really moist. Very often the surface of your soil might look dark and moist, but the underlaying soil is still very dry and the plants get nothing. Simply stick your finger into the soil and see how deep the water got that you just applied. You might be surprised to find dry soil in your hands. To water deeply means, that you give the water a chance to soak deeper into the soil (not to flood the bed and create a bog though). The best way to do it is to use the 'rain' setting on your hose and water until you actually see a little puddle building up on the soil. That's how it is when it rains heavily, right?! Then go to the next spot or bed and do the same. After you did the tour through your garden, repeat from the beginning. You'll see that your soil will take up the next watering much better (because its upper layer wasn't dry anymore) and the water will actually reach the roots of your plants. >> If you have the time, water in the morning. The plants will get their water supply for the hot summer day and can thrive instead of wilt. Watering at night is ok too, but keep in mind that you might attract slugs and other pests, that love these moist cool surroundings. It's almost like an invitation to feast on your crops. >> Install a drip-irrigation system. You can almost forget about watering! Of course you need to watch its doing and hand water additionally in some spots, but it does the main job for you. And the best part is, it actually safes water compared to hand watering: no run-off and almost no water evaporates into thin air, since the drip irrigation released its water right into the soil close to the roots. It's worth to consider for big gardens and busy gardeners! (5) Fill all the gaps with new seeds and plants! All the lettuce is gone and there are big gaps in your beds right now? No problem! After a good load of fresh compost, you can get sowing again. Fill the gaps with carrots, beets, basil, dill, pac choi, tatsoi, spinach, rutabaga or arugula. Soon there will be new growth and more harvests for the months to come! If your local nursery still provides you with seedlings, check for cole crops. If you plant them now, you can have fresh cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli in October. The good news is: You don't have to do it all in one day - remove old plants one day, fertilize another day and re-sow and plant the third day. The summer rush seems like a lot, but you can do it step by step and this way it's not as much. And...if you invite family and friends over for a KITCHEN GARDEN PARTY you can do the chores together and celebrate your success afterwards with a cool drink and BBQ. Doesn't that sound good?!
Happy Gardening and Happy Summer!
Ines & Eric