Hobby Farms Editors
June 13, 2011

Watermelon
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Provide water and added nutrition for your crops to help increase summer production.

Summer often brings some relief from the hard labor and aching backs of gardeners invested in planting vegetable crops. But the life of the hobby farmer rarely includes the luxury of complete rest. Vegetable gardens and crop fields require regular attention and upkeep. When the sun is high and the days are long, one thing is certain: Sweat is a standard byproduct of any successful garden.

By committing to these six gardening activities, you can increase your summer crop production and stifle the perils that a long, hot summer can pit against your garden.

1. Water
As a rule of thumb, your garden beds demand about 1 inch of water per week. Mother Nature doesn’t always provide that type of consistent hydration. A well-designed garden affords irrigation opportunities from a simple garden hose to complex irrigation systems.

There are two schools of thought when watering: light and frequent or heavy and occasional. A watering can works well for light, frequent watering. Soaker hoses, with higher water delivery rates, are the perfect solution for a heavy and weekly watering regime. Always avoid watering in the heat of the day because the water will evaporate more quickly and your plants could burn. Morning is best for watering, but evening will also work. 

2. Control Weeds
No matter how great a gardener you are, weeds will torment your garden bed. Undesirable plants rob valuable moisture and nutrients from your garden’s soil. Use plastic weed barriers, herbicides, tillage and the age-old practice of weeding to help control those photosynthetic villains.

3. Control Pests
Whether they don fur, feathers or a hard exoskeleton, hungry critters are out there, ready to nibble on your precious garden crops. Garden pests love succulent newly growing stems or the juiciness of a ripening fruit or vegetable. Vigilance is the key to protecting your garden crop, and invasions should be immediately remedied. Consider dusting your vegetables with basic farmer’s lime to deter insect pests or blood meal to keep furry foragers at bay.

4. Feed Plants
Pay close attention to the color and growth of your crops—these will show the signs of your crops nutrient density. An in-season application of fertilizer may be just the ticket to turn a weak crop into a bumper one.

To avoid “burning” your plants, use an organic fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer, like Miracle-Gro.  Some great organic fertilizers to consider are fish emulsion (except for use on salad crops) or blood meal. Consider “brewing” your own compost tea by soaking compost or manure in a burlap bag in a barrel. Apply the liquid fertilizer or compost tea once during a seven- to 14-day period, and repeat as needed. Other organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion or bone meal, can be applied once and are slowly released in the soil.      

5. Harvest Crops
Yup, the more you pick the more your crops are likely to give. Lackadaisical gardeners not only miss vegetables for table, but minimize the total amount of crop the garden will produce.

Learn your crops and how they respond to harvest. Pole beans will respond favorably to frequent harvest, but cucumbers, for example, will yield varying volumes based on size of the cucumber being harvested. (A lot of picklers can be produced or a few larger cucumbers.) Perennials, like asparagus, can be over-harvested, minimizing future harvest or killing the plant.

Pay attention to seed-packet information for the crops you’re growing. It’s also worthwhile to stop by the library and check out some high-yield-gardening books. Take notes and save yourself money on buying literature! 

6. Mulch Garden Beds
As your crops grow and become well-established, consider a mulching regime to assist in many of the areas discussed above. Mulch preserves moisture, controls weeds and adds valuable organic matter to your soil. Chopped leaves, grass clippings and sawdust can be used as mulch and save you time in garden maintenance, but be advised that decomposition of mulch may impact your garden’s nitrogen supply. Perform regular soil tests to keep tabs on your soil quality over time.

Don’t let the dog days of summer stifle your garden investment, put in the time and effort and beat the summer slump. You can rest when there’s snow on the ground and your pantry is full.

About the Author: John Morgan owns a hobby farm in central Kentucky, where he raises a garden with his family.  He’s a certified wildlife biologist with degrees from Penn State and the University of Georgia. 


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