Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton
While everyone else is off on holiday, there's no rest for vegetable garden owners. From hoeing and watering to mulching, weeding and taking care of pests, not to mention sowing and planting, summer is a busy time for gardeners. Read on for our tips on how best to maintain your vegetable garden in the summer months.
- Preparing the soil and mulching
- Watering and monitoring
- Compost care and pruning
- Weeding and sowing seeds
- Harvesting vegetables
Prepare the ground for seedlings and plants
Once you've picked all your spring vegetables, remove any leftover plant waste or stakes from the ground. Only vegetable waste that appears to be healthy should be placed on the compost pile. If your plants have fallen victim to disease or insects, it's best to destroy them just in case. The best way to do so is to burn them; this is most effective way to get rid of any unwanted insect eggs or larvae or fungi that could continue to release spores.
Gently rake your vegetable bed. There's no need to turn over your soil again as you probably already worked it in the spring. What's more, the root systems of your spring crops will have loosened the soil even further. All that's left to do is to give the soil a quick once over with a hand cultivator!
Hoe around crops
The area around crops planted in rows or vegetables planted individually (such as artichokes or rhubarb) should be hoed once or twice over for several reasons:
- To aerate the soil to allow for better air circulation between the soil and air.
- To break the life cycle of certain garden pests – or to expose them to the mercy of the birds!
- To limit water loss through soil evaporation. When soil is compacted, groundwater can seep up in a process called capillary rise. When the soil is mixed on the surface, larger gaps are created between soil particles which helps to prevent this rising action.
- Breaking though compacted soil will allow rainfall to penetrate the ground more effectively. The impact of watering or rain can cause a crust to form on the surface of the soil; in turn, this can cause water to run off the soil rather than penetrate it. Breaking up dense soil should stop this from happening.
Mulch the soil
Mulching soil is a great way to make your water go further. A great number of materials can be used to make mulch. Some mulch options are entirely cost-free, such as lawn clippings, mulched hedge cuttings and fern; others can be bought from garden centres (e.g. cocoa shell, shingle, hemp or linen straw).
Straw mulching helps to stop the soil packing down after heavy rain. It also works to protect the soil (and its microfauna) from the heat and prevent weed growth. If you are using fresh grass clippings from your lawnmower, do not use more than 3 to 4 cm in any one spot.
Water your plants
Watering is one of the most important jobs of the summer. Water your vegetable patch in the evening or very early in the morning to avoid water waste. An automatic watering system is a great solution if you plan to be away for any period of time.
If you are using a soaker hose or drip irrigation, be sure to check that your plants are being watered along the full length of the system. This type of watering system works best for vegetables that like to be planted in rows such as beans, leeks and lettuce. Don't forget that targeting the base of your plants will help you to limit weed growth and save water!
Monitor plant health and deal with pests
Now is the time to treat your plants against diseases such as mildew and powdery mildew. Mildew will usually appear on vegetables in July as this formidable disease loves warmth and humidity. Protect your plants after each rainfall using a homemade Bordeaux mixture or a horsetail tea. Don't wait for the disease to set in before you start to treat it. Spray your chosen mixture onto your vegetables every 3 weeks, paying particular attention to your tomatoes and potatoes.
If disease appears to have set in already don't hesitate to remove any affected leaves. Check your potato plant leaves for any evidence of potato beetles. Remove them by hand and destroy any eggs. You should also do the same for caterpillars and cabbage white eggs.
Turn your compost
You compost pile must be turned two to three times during a single cycle to let in air and allow the aerobic bacteria to do their job properly. Otherwise, anaerobic bacteria will develop and your compost will rot instead of turning into earth. Active compost heaps should always be kept slightly moist. Water your heap if necessary.
Prune your plants to encourage fruiting
At the start of the summer, pinch or prune any vegetables that need it to allow for quicker fruiting. Tomatoes, aubergines, melons and squashes will all require some pruning. Later on, when your produce has matured, you should place a tile or board beneath each melon, squash or pumpkin to protect them from ground moisture.
Tie tomato stems to stakes as they grow. If you have herbs, remove flowers as soon as they appear to allow the leaves to retain their full flavour.
Weed your vegetable patch
Weeds grow more slowly in the summer than they do in the spring. That said, continue to weed regularly either using a hoe to cut the plants down to the ground (if they are dry) or by pulling the plants out by hand (if the ground is moist).
Gather plants for homemade slurries and teas
At the end of spring or the start of summer, you should gather plants to make liquid teas or other plant slurries. Some of the most popular plants for liquid teas and fertilisers are nettles, comfrey, tansy and ferns. These extracts can be used to add nutrients to soil or strengthen the natural defences of your garden plants.
Once cut back, nettles will grow throughout the summer so you may be able to pick them twice.
Sow seeds and plant out
Sow your winter radish seeds (china rose, black radishes, etc.), lamb's lettuce, spinach and turnips. Spread out any overcrowded plants sown in recent weeks (carrots, beetroot, lettuce, leeks, turnips, etc.). Earth up your leeks and autumn cabbages. Blanch cardoons, celery stalks, and curly and escarole endives.
Sow green manure seeds
Stop weeds from moving into your freshly exposed beds by sowing some green manure seeds, such as field beans, vetch or white mustard. Your plants should then be dug in with a sharp spade come spring. This gives your soil something to do over the winter, helps to avoid nutrient loss and ultimately keeps your soil fertile.
Pick your vegetables as they ripen and as you need them. Harvest your common sage and thyme and dry out in bundles hung upside down or placed on a rack in a dry shaded area.
Garlic, onion and shallots should be harvested as soon as the leaves start to turn yellow. Do not wait for them to dry out. Seasoned gardeners will tell you that these crops should be harvested before the August rain starts to fall!
Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton, 71 guides
Since I was a child, I was always interested in manual and technical works. Always fascinated by woodworking, I took advantage of my first flat as a playground. On the cards: electricity (of course, safety first!) and some partition walls; but also decorating with the help of the missus, made-to-measure furniture and little tricks to optimise the space, all the while remaining as original as possible. When the little one arrived, I started building bits and pieces for him! Lacking space, I have not got a permanent workshop and certain tools I dream about but are not part of my collection. Not to worry, I already know a lot about DIY and I have a high-tech profile that I hope will guide you in your decisions!