Bill Johnson raises dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables in his large backyard garden near Columbus.

Summer Vegetable Garden Chores

We all know the garden needs to be watered, but how much?  Many other questions about fertilizers, bugs and weeds might be troubling you.  To set your mind at ease, I have addressed these questions, focusing on the top fruits, vegetables and herbs grown by midwestern gardeners.

Peppers need to be watered thoroughly once a week; use a slow-watering technique, letting water soak deeply into the soil, promoting root growth farther into the soil.  On hot summer days (90 degrees and above) plant growth will slow and buds and blossoms will drop.  They are in survival mode, so just keep them watered and when it cools down a bit they will start to flower and fruit again.  You could also add an inch or so of organic mulch to the soil to help retain moisture, lower soil temperature, and prevent weeds.

Tomatoes need a steady supply of water throughout the growing season, so water deeply and evenly.  Make sure to stake or cage your tomatoes, adding a cage when the plant is small to help ease its placement.  Feed tomatoes with a low-nitrogen fertilizer.  Blossom end-rot, a leather-like spot on the blossom end of the fruit, can become a problem.  It is caused by low concentrations of calcium in the fruit, so adding a fertilizer with calcium and watering evenly should help.  Be sure to watch for insect pests like tomato hornworms, which are 3 to 4 inch long green caterpillars that can eat a whole tomato plant.  These can be controlled by picking them off by hand, but if a caterpillar has white tube-like eggs protruding from it, leave it on the plant because these are parasitic wasp cocoons.  The emerging wasps will parasitize and kill other hornworms.

Beans are easy. They only need an inch of rain each week, so supplemental water is only needed sometimes; this is most important when the bean plants are flowering and setting fruit. There are a few insect problems, like Mexican bean beetles and Japanese Beetles. Remember that beans need to be rotated throughout the garden-crop rotation is key to the garden’s overall health.

Cucumbers are heavy feeders and need a soil applied, all-purpose fertilizer when first planted and side-dressed nitrogen fertilizer during blooming and fruiting. Keep the soil moist throughout the season, which aids in the production of fruit. Cut ripened fruit off the vine, very careful not to damage the vine, when the fruit is 6 to 8 inches long. Cucumber beetles transmit bacterial wilt, which causes the plants to wilt and die. Control these pests by vacuuming them up, placing sticky traps, or planting some broccoli, catnip or radishes close by.

Herbs such as sage, chives and basil need to have the flowers removed. This tricks the plant into thinking “I need to grow more so I can flower,” thus encouraging it to produce more leaves that we can eat and use. Chives throw a large number of seeds and can take over a garden, so be sure to remove them in a timely fashion. Conversely, you can let thyme flower, as it is quite lovely, and then remove the spent flowers so the plant will produce more foliage. 

Parsley leaves should be harvested from the outside of the plant allowing the new leaves to form in the center. When plants like parsley, radish, and lettuce flower, remove the plants and put them in the compost pile because they become incredibly bad (bitter) tasting. 

Weeds need to be removed from the garden as they take water and nutrients away from the plants that are wanted. The easiest method is to hoe them away when they are small; this also loosens the soil, adding air and an easy way for rainwater to permeate the garden. Don’t hoe very deeply into the soil around the plants as you do not want to injure the roots of your vegetables. You can also simply pull weeds by hand. Never wait so long that the weeds have flowered and gone to seed, thereby adding to the garden’s weed population.

Watering Tips
Water plants early in the day to give the leaves time to dry or before going to bed at night. This will help in the prevention of leaf fungus problems. When watering, consider that an inch of rain amounts to about .6 gallons of water per square foot.  Water plants slowly to allow the soil to soak up a lot of water, promoting good root growth.  For more watering tips, consult the article, “Watering Essentials” on the Our Ohio Web site.

Spend a few minutes everyday in the garden. Keeping up with garden maintenance will save time in the long run. A good general rule of thumb on annual vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers is the more you harvest the more the plant will flower, resulting in more for your table.

Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.