Gardening in the Summer Heat

How can your garden stand the heat?Here in Texas we have two main growing seasons.  Spring and Fall.  We plant things as soon as the fear of frost is past (and sometimes before, if we’re feeling lucky).  Then we hit a dry spell during the dog days of summer when it is too hot for many plants to produce.  Take tomatoes, for instance.  Once the nighttime low temps are above 70 degrees, tomatoes can’t set fruit.  Once the hottest part of the summer is past, we have another growing season before there is any threat of frost.

The plants aren’t the only ones who suffer in the heat.  Hard work in the garden in the heat of summer can be dangerous for the gardener too.

So, what is a gardener to do?

As far as your own safety is concerned, early morning is your friend.  Thankfully the sun rises earlier in the summer so you can get up very early and do all of your garden work before the rest of your family is up (and before the mercury goes up too).  Drink lots of water, wear a hat and loose clothing.  Be careful.  Leave really heavy tasks for the fall when the weather cools down.

Your plants are going to need vigilant watering while it is so hot outside.  The water evaporates quickly so it’s important that you don’t miss a day of watering.  Pots and other containers especially need regular watering.

Mulching helps keep the soil cooler and slows down the evaporation of moisture from the soil.   Dried yard clippings and ground leaves make a great mulch abundantly available free of charge.  (If you use herbicides of any type in your yard, don’t the clippings as mulch in the garden.)

While you do need to be vigilant about watering, you should avoid watering your plants with hot water.  You know how the water standing in the garden hose gets so hot during the day?  Don’t water your plants with that water.  Let it run into the yard or into the pool.  Also, try not to let water stand on the leaves.  Do you remember as a kid using a handheld magnifying glass to concentrate the heat of the sun to burn something like a bug or a piece of paper?  Well, a drop of water on the leaf of your plant can act just like that magnifying glass and burn those leaves.

On top of all that, know that there are crops that do better than others in extreme heat.  Here’s a list:

Basil

Peppers

Summer squash

Okra

Purple hull peas

Black eyed peas

Water melon

Cantaloupe

So, be careful with your health.  Be choosy with your plants, and keep the water flowing.  Happy summer!

Overwaterers Anonymous

Be careful of overwatering.

Beware overwatering.

My name is Cathi, and I’m an overwaterer.

I’m in recovery though.

Yes, it’s true.  Last year, in my first summer of gardening (which was, in my defense, was also the hottest summer on record) I was so eager to love on my garden each and every day that I never missed a day of watering.  Starting early in the Spring and lasting well into the Fall I watered every day unless it rained.

So of course, not surprisingly, my town community garden bed is suffering with fungus.

See the fungus-y fungus all through my wonderful tomato plants?

Therefore, based on the research I have done on the subject, I have reformed my ways.

How can you avoid overwatering your vegetable garden?

If your plant is wilting and brown, that means underwatering.  If your plant is wilted and yellow, that means you are an overwaterer.

Most vegetable gardens need one inch of water per week.  Stick a rain gauge in your garden so you can tell how much rain you’ve had.  I recently bought one for $2.99.

Stick your finger in the dirt.  Does it feel cold?  Then it’s wet.  Feel the soil 3 or 4 inches deep to see if you need to water.

There are many other ways to love on your garden that don’t involve overwatering.  You can pull weeds. make free organic fertilizer, make a worm box, browse through seed catalogs, thin your plants, or just sit and enjoy your garden.

School Community Garden Bed Update

You might remember a few weeks ago when I was battling the relentless bermuda grass that continually encroached on this bed.   The school paid to have a raised bed built around it.  Immediately after the construction was complete I filled a third of the bed with compost / soil and planted bush beans.  The remaining two thirds of the bed still had onions that were not yet ready to be harvested.

Last week I harvested the onions.

Onion Harvest

Homegrown Onions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, based on the fact that filling the original third of the bed made me quite sore for days and was hard and dirty work, I paid my yard man an extra $40.00 and he and his helper came and whipped it out in less than 30 minutes.

Juan helping me fill my raised bed.

Thank goodness for help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So then I planted 4 watermelons, 4 pumpkins and 2 bell pepper plants.  I eagerly the sprouts.

Waiting for pumpkins to sprout

Waiting for pumpkins to sprout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t this look so much better and easier to garden?  Try not to pay too much attention to the area between beds.  I’m applying for grants and just trying in general to get the school to have that all redone.  When the garden was originally done, the paths between beds should have been scraped down and gravel or something put down over landscape cloth.  That wasn’t done, so we’re constantly battling grass.

School Community Garden Bed

Here is the current status of the school community garden bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Organic Fertilizer

Free Organic Fertilizer

Free Organic Fertilizer - This is homemade worm tea.

Free organic fertilizer? Does it seem too good to be true? Especially when you first start gardening, it’s easy to start questioning yourself as to the wisdom of this endeavor.  There are so many things to buy, so many expenses.  It seems ridiculous to spend so much money on growing food when it’s so much cheaper to buy.  As far as fertilizing your garden organically, though, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, some of the best organic fertilizers are completely free.

Grass Clippings – One of the best organic fertilizers.  Plus, it’s free and abundant during growing season.  They not only break down and provide the soil with wonderful nutrients, but grass clippings also prevent weeds and preserve moisture.  Don’t use grass that has been treated with herbicides, as it will kill your plants.

A 1 to 2 inch layer will give all of the nutrients most crops need for a full season of growth.  Just layer it onto your garden like mulch.

Alternatively you can actually make a tea from grass clippings. (I did it once, it really really smells)

Here is another article about using grass clippings as fertilizer.

Egg shells:  How many egg shells do you just throw away every week?  Egg shells are so useful in the garden!  Eggshells are 1% nitrogen, .5% calcium phosphoric acid and have other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.  Even if you don’t produce an abundance of eggshells, you can still get them for free.  At a breakfast restaurant near our house, I talked to the manager about saving me egg shells.  I brought him a bucket, and 2 hours later it was filled to overflowing with beautiful shells.  I rinsed them off, let them dry in the sun, then ran them through the food processor. Now I have a wonderful additive for my soil.  These ground eggshells are particularly useful to sprinkle in the hole before you plant tomatoes.

You can also just topdress your garden with a sprinkling of the ground eggshells.  Another great idea is to add them to whatever other liquid fertilizer your making because the minerals will leach into the liquid…then just pour it on.

Also, when just hand crushed they work pretty well for thwarting some garden pests like slugs and other soft bodied worm types.  Imagine if you were a soft slimy creature and you were trying to crawl over sharp jagged egg shells.  OUCH!

 

Urine: The urine that you flush away several times a day has elements your garden needs like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.  Do these sound familiar?  They’re the elements you’ll find in any fertilizer.  In fact, urine even has almost the perfect ratio.  You will need to dilute the urine so as not to burn your plants.  I saw recommendations ranging from 1:8 to 1:12.

Urine doesn’t keep though, dilute and use it right away.

Here is an article about using urine as a fertilizer.

..and here’s another one from the Washington Post.

Home made compost: Making your own compost at home is of course one of the best ways to keep your garden healthy without spending money. I’ve talked a lot about compost in that section of this blog.  Here in my garden I have a couple of compost piles, I also have a compost turner.  I also have worm compost.  I don’t pay for anything that goes into any of my compost.  I did have an initial outlay for my worms and for my worm box.

Gardening does not have to be an expensive endeavor.  There are so many opportunities to spend money, but most of it isn’t necessary.    Use what you already have.

What about you?  What do you use for free fertilizer?

What I’ve Done in the Garden This Weekend

There are always garden chores to do.

Garden Chores

This is the time of year when things really start hopping in the garden.  Much to do!  Here is what has happened around here today garden wise.

  • Picked up coffee grounds from Starbucks two different times.
  • Added coffee grounds to the compost at the school garden.
  • Fed coffee grounds to the worms at the school garden.
  • Fed coffee grounds to my worms.
  • Thinned the onions in my bed at the school garden.
  • Put a layer of grass clippings on my bush beans in the school garden.
  • Took a bucket to the brunch restaurant down the street and picked it up later filled with egg shells to use for fertilizer.
  • Watered school garden.
  • Watered my beds in the backyard.
  • Harvested a tray of worm castings.
  • Started a batch of worm tea.

This is the time of year when everything needs attention.  I love gardening.  I hope the really hot weather holds off for a while.

I’m pretty sure my bed at the town community garden has fungus.  The beans last year had fungus, and I now know that my tomato plants last year and this year had fungus.  I have to figure out how to get rid of that, but I don’t think it will be easy.  It’s possible that I water too much although I didn’t realize that was possible.

Weeding a Garden

Pulling Weeds in Your Garden

Pulling Weeds in Your Garden

I’ve mentioned before that “in my gardening dreams I plant a seed or transplant a plant, lovingly water it while relaxing nearby afterwards with a glass of iced tea. The plants grow visibly every single day.  They create flawless fruit quickly“.

Another way reality doesn’t match with my fantasy is the existence of weeds.  Unfortunately weed seeds are everywhere.  They blow around in the wind.  They are in come mulches.  In fact, I have had to pull up many many cantaloupe sprouts this spring because I made the mistake of putting cantaloupe seeds along with the rind into the worm bin.  Sadly, the seeds survived and have been sprouting all over the place.

Weeds (I’m including any unwanted plant in the category of weeds) take space, nutrition and water away from the things you’re actually trying to grow.  Not only that, but they’re kind of unsightly as well.  In short, the weeds? They have to go.

Weeding can seem to be an overwhelming task.  Weeds want to take over the world.  I do have a couple of tips to cope with the whole weed issue.

1) Used raised beds.  As I wrote in a previous post, my bed in the school garden was only a chain link fence away from a soccer field that is constantly seeded and green with grass all year long.  Until we installed the raised bed, it really was just hopeless.  There was no way to consistently keep the grass out of that bed.  It made gardening there such a chore.  Now, I get a couple of shoots of grass, but I’m able to easily keep up with it.  When I added the new soil into the raised bed I put a think layer of newspaper on top of the old soil.  The newspaper will compost, but in the meantime, the grass and everything down there will die.

2) Set the timer on your phone and weed just a few minutes at a time.  Yesterday and today I went out to the school garden and pulled grass out of the half of my bed where the onions are.  I didn’t go insane with boredom because my brain knew that it would only be 20 minutes, then I’d be free.  You can do anything for 20 minutes. (Thanks Flylady)

There are certainly things you can do to to help prevent weeds in the first place.  We’ll leave that for another blog post.

Thinning Your Plants

Thinning plants in the garden

These are the onions I thinned from my garden.

I just got back from the school garden.  My primary reason for walking over was to spend 20 minutes pulling weeds from between my onion plants. As I was finishing up it occurred to me that those onions were never going to grow to full size planted like they are.  It’s a long story, but I didn’t plant them.  They were planted in groups of 3 and 4.  Looking back on it, I would have planted them each separately.  Because they were planted several in each hole, each onion bulb didn’t have room to become a big beautiful onion.  As much as it killed me, I had to pull some out prematurely so that the others would have room to grow larger.

When we plant seeds, we are instructed to put a couple of seeds in each whole.  I think the reason for this is that not all seeds sprout.  When more than one does, you have to thin.

As a new gardener thrilled with things sprouting in your garden, the thought of thinning goes against everything you want to do.  You’ve planted seeds, then you look at them daily, sometimes hourly waiting for them to sprout.  Pulling out those precious sprouts just seems wrong.

Do it anyway.

If you don’t thin your plants, they simply won’t have the room and the soil resources to grow the way they’re supposed to.  I’m all for making the best use of the garden space you have, but don’t compromise your plants by overcrowding.

Also, depending on what you’re thinning, you can actually go ahead and use what you’ve thinned.  The picture above are the onions I thinned.  I’ll certainly be using them!  Baby potatoes, baby spinach, baby carrots…you can use them all.

Label Your Garden

Label your garden!

What's sprouting? Who knows!

This is an area in which I am sadly lacking.  Please please, PLEASE! label your garden when you plant stuff.  Especially seeds.

I always think I’m going to remember what I planted where.  But do I?  No.

Recently I started some seeds in some cow pots.  I started summer squash, cucumbers, malabar spinach and green peppers.  When I was doing it I thought to myself, “I’ll remember what is in each pot.”

Famous last words.

As the seeds started to sprout it occurred to me that I would have no idea which plant was which.  Since I had specific places I wanted each thing to be planted, this was going to be a problem.

For instance, summer squash and cucumbers can become the plants that took over the world so it’s very important to put them where they won’t encroach other plants.

I think I have my cowpots figured out now, but I wish I would have labeled them.

Don’t do what I did.