It is early July and our gardens have been steadily growing since the spring – if you are like me, you may not have a ton of free time to spend in the garden everyday and as a result, things can get a bit messy by this time of year. July is a great time to take a good stroll through the garden and begin a midsummer assessment, taking special note of the things that are working well, and where there may be room for improvement.
While we have likely already begun harvesting some of the early-blooming plants, there is still time to make any necessary adjustments to ensure our success continues, and we can set ourselves up for an abundant end to the season.
Take note of the visitors
The weather can vary greatly in summer months depending on what region you are in – some regions are feeling the heat while others may be getting some refreshing summer showers and added humidity. Bugs can be out in full force with changing weather patterns, and so this is also a good time to take a closer look at your garden foliage to make sure any pests are not enjoying your vegetables before you even have a chance to.
Pests can be controlled with a little patience – observation and adjustments, instead of immediately resorting the chemical pesticides. Keep in mind that your garden is its own little ecosystem, that is home to different predators and prey. A good balance of beneficial bugs will help keep the more harmful ones under control – and often-times this can be achieved by ensuring the good variety of native plants and flowers that will keep the ecosystem running smoothly.
By now the local wildlife have also probably realized you have a pretty good thing going on. In addition to finding shelter or nesting among your plants, they may be digging up parts of your garden to feed their own furry or feathered families, much to your own frustration. If animals are getting into your garden and causing issues, consider adding a garden netting system or an electronic sound frequency emitter with a motion detector that will deter them from coming too close.
If you are on a tight budget – you can also purchase plastic (but realistic-looking) toy snakes from the dollar store and display them among your plants. This quirky technique works well for some gardeners that I know, and it can also provide some entertainment when a new human visitor walks through your garden and gets a startle.
Clean it up
If you have not been diligent about weeding, some of your garden plots may begin to look more like micro jungles, creating competition for nutrients in the soil and putting a strain on healthy root systems. With weeding, the longer you let it go, the more difficult it is to do without causing damage – so this is probably something you want to pay attention to sooner than later.
A bit at a time is the way to go, so that the situation does not get out of hand over the course of the summer. You can also experiment with spreading mulch between your flowers and veggies, to help snuff out weeds before they even have a chance to take root. Weeds such as dandelion and stinging nettle can be put aside and used in the kitchen. They contain lots of nutrients and antioxidants – so don’t be so quick to toss them during your weeding sessions!
Another way to clean up a garden that has gotten a bit overgrown, is by deadheading any flowers that may be spent. This will encourage more flowers to bloom on the same plant and give your garden a refreshed look. You can also prune your herbs to encourage bushier growth and prevent them from getting too spindly. In particular, if your basil is beginning to flower, be sure to prune just under the flowers to give some new life to the plant and allow it to fill out more. Throw the excess cuttings into the compost bin to lock in all those useful nutrients for later use as a rich homemade compost.
Give back to the ground
While the garden may have already blessed you with some bountiful gifts, it is important to assess its needs also and offer it some help if needed to ensure continued success. If you notice some plants growing slowly or starting to turn out yellowed foliage at the base – it may be time to focus on some soil amendments to give those plants a boost. Compost tea is a great low-cost way of sneaking in some nutrients during the growing season, without having to actually add more compost to your garden.
You can also use organic soil amendments like Kaytonik to increase microbial activity which will strengthen the plant and its roots. This amendment can also balance soil pH, while building its capacity to retain moisture which reduces watering needs, especially in sandy soil. Giving your garden a nutrient-boost halfway through the season can increase your end of season harvests and help to build the health of the soil for next growing season.
Replace and re-plant
Some of your earlier harvests may be over and done with by now, and you may even find yourself with some empty spaces that can be filled anew. Perhaps those quick-growing carrots and radishes have already been pulled and enjoyed in colorful summer salads. Or maybe that cucumber plant you had such high hopes for just didn’t make it this year and is now taking up useful space but not offering any return.
There are a number of crops that can be planted in mid-summer for a late fall harvest – so this is a great time to get out to your local nursery and pick up a new batch of seeds. Brussel sprouts, beets, leeks and turnip are all great choices for getting a head start on a plentiful fall harvest. You can also do a second planting of carrots, radish, kale or lettuce. Keep in mind the basics of companion planting to get the most out of the space you have, to improve soil health and keep pests at bay.
Getting out in the garden for a good assessment halfway through the growing season allows you to make changes that can positively impact your final harvest, as well as get a head start on next year’s garden by troubleshooting any issues before it is too late. Whatever adjustments you make during this time should be noted down to help with future garden planning, and to avoid repeating any potential mistakes.
Remember that gardening is an ongoing learning process – even for those of us that have a fair amount of experience. In the end, what you get out of your garden will be a result of how much time and energy you choose to pour into it. Happy Gardening!