Rip, amend, plan

     The staff, here at the nursery, have decided that Mighty Matoes are completely worth planting. The yields are great and the disease resistance is too. As with most tomatoes, mine, at home, have stopped setting fruit (curse you hot nights…stands shaking fists in the air). One variety just withered up and died, the rest are still green and flowering. I have thought about how much more effort I want to put into them, if I’m not getting any more fruit. Should I just cut them back and hope for them to regrow and bloom this fall? Cut my losses and rip them up? I just planted more cucumber seeds 10 days ago, and they are doing well. I could have more space for okra and squash. Ripping them up would give me the opportunity to get ready for the fall. 

Leave some behind

     It is not necessary to rip every inch of old roots out, when cleaning the beds. The big chunky stuff (stems, branches, etc) yes, those go into the compost bin. Little roots, small leaves, fallen fruit, no. By leaving those behind, you are adding organic matter to your soil. It’ll take some time for it to break down, but it will happen quicker than you think. Look at it this way, large-scale farmers just plough everything in. You can leave some behind too.

Add

     While your beds (or part of them) are empty, it’s a great time to add soil or amendments. If you had problems with your garden this spring, now is a great time to have a soil test done. You can pick up the test kits from us (for free), then you pay the lab for the tests you want done. The results will be back within a few weeks and we can help you interpret them, if needed. Have you got compost that’s ready for use, in your own compost bin? If you’re not good at turning it over and just keep adding to the top (I am guilty of that), scrape off the top and look at the stuff on the bottom. If you can’t tell what it was, it’s moist, crumbly and there are lots of earthworms in it…use it! Put the top, you scraped off, back into the bin and carry on. If you don’t have compost of your own, don’t worry. We always have Black Humus (bulk or bags) on hand. If your beds have sunken, compost alone may not be the answer. I use Landscape Mix in my raised beds. It’s ready to go, I just dump bags in and mix it a little. It drains well, I have never had a problem with over watering. Other types of compost are also available such as Mushroom Compost, Cotton Burr Compost, Cow Manure and Soil Conditioner. Each having its own benefits and champions. Rotating the compost, you add, will make your soil the best it can be.

     I admit it, I’m a lazy gardener (and frugal). I plant a lot of things from seed, straight in the Landscaping Mix… it all sprouts, no need to start seeds in pots. The only problem I have had with seedlings are the urban tree rats (aka squirrels) digging them up to bury nuts. I learned quickly to lay an old set of bed springs over the area to prevent these beasties from making me do things twice. Raise the springs off the ground an inch, so your seedlings don’t get damaged as they emerge. They will get plenty of sun and air circulation. Remove the springs when your plants are about an inch or two tall.

     Depending on what your soil test results are, you may decide to add other soil amendments. Products like Green Sand,  Gypsum, Volcanite, Humates and Dolomite add minerals back to the soil, that are depleted over time. These minerals will not be replenished by adding compost, they only come from different types of rocks and mineral deposits.

     Once you have added the compost, soils, sands or amendments you want, you need to stir it up. Whether you use a tiller, shovel, hoe, garden rake or your hands, it makes no difference. Just keep on mixing until your arms fall off…take a nap and then mix some more. Thoroughly, evenly mixed soil prevents hot or dead spots.

Turn up the heat

     One thing we hear lots of complaints about are weeds in your garden. Face it, weeds happen. How you deal with them, is the bigger issue. In your vegetable gardens, using a pre-emergent herbicide is not recommended. Most are not labeled for vegetable gardens and it means you can’t plant anything from seed. Using sprays is probably not a good idea either, even though glyphosate is probably one of the safest things you could use. (We will leave that conversation for another week.) Solarization is a safe alternative and the heat of the summer is the best time to do it. Water the soil really well first. Then completely cover the bed with heavy black plastic sheeting. Anchor the plastic to the ground with sod staples (we carry them). Cover the edge of the plastic sheeting with more soil or bags of compost (which you will use in the bed later). You are trying to get a good seal that will really keep the heat in. Allow to bake in the sun for a month to 6 weeks, you’ll need to open it up to add water occasionally. Try to keep the amount of time the plastic is open, as short as possible. The longer it stays open, the cooler it gets. A soaker hose laid in the bed (with the end sticking out) before you put the plastic on will do the job without opening the bed up.  The weed seeds will cook, nasty fungus’, bugs, their eggs and larva will bake, the organic matter will really break down quickly. I read an article that said this process would kill earthworms. Uh, they know how to survive and will dig deeper into cooler soil. After a month to 6 weeks, remove the plastic, turn the soil over and add compost or Landscaping mix, then mix some more.

This is not down time…

      While you’re cooking the soil and tending your hot weather veggies, start planning your fall garden. Fall tomatoes should be planted in August. Decide which beans, summer squash and arugula will go in at the same time. Try something new like endive or tomatillo. September is time for carrots, lettuce, potato, mustards and turnips. If you don’t already own a copy of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers For Metro Houston, by Bob Randall, Ph.D. you need one. We call it the veggie bible. It has everything you need to know to have a great garden in the Houston area. We will have more copies by this weekend. It makes a great gift for experienced and novice gardeners.