Summer Vegetable Tips

By Paul James

This is a time of transition in the vegetable garden, and I face it with mixed emotions. I’m forced to rip out lettuce, spinach, and other greens (no more fresh salads!) that have bolted due to the heat, but I look forward to harvesting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and the like. And here’s what I’m doing now to make sure all goes according to plan.

Beans – Harvest often, perhaps even daily, but don’t worry about fertilizing. Beans are legumes, which means they fix nitrogen from the air and store it in root nodules. Bean beetles, which look sort of like ladybeetles but with yellowish green to light orange bodies, can be a nuisance; control them with a product containing Spinosad (I like Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew).

Corn – The real trick to getting a good crop of corn in a small veggie garden is to shake the stalks regularly so that the pollen at the top of the plants drops down to the silks on the cobs. Corn is pollinated by wind, not insects, and in a small plot it often needs our help. Once the silks have begun to brown, add a few drops of Bt, an all natural insecticide, to the tips of the cobs to control earworms, ugly caterpillars that always seem to find their way into corn and leave behind a gross mess.

Cucumbers – Cukes need lots of moisture and sunlight, and they should be fertilized as fruits begin to grow. Espoma Plant-Tone provides all the nutrients they need. Watch out for cucumber beetles, which also look like ladybeetles but have bright yellow bodies with black spots or stripes; treat plants with Spinosad.

Eggplant – To maximize production, fertilize when flowers appear and harvest often. Smaller fruits tend to have far fewer seeds and are less bitter. Be on the lookout for shotgun-like holes in the leaves caused by flea beetles. Treat with Spinosad.

Garlic – Assuming you planted garlic last fall, it should be close to harvest time. If scapes have formed (curly stems with a flower bud at the end), remove them to force more energy into bulb development (and either grill them or use them to make pesto!). Once a half dozen or so of the lower leaves have turned brown, carefully lift the plants out of the ground and store them in a shady spot that gets good air circulation. In about ten days, cut the top growth and store the now cured bulbs in a cool, dry place.

Okra – Just keep it watered. That’s about all there is to it. Harvest when the pods are roughly three-inches long, and plan on harvesting darn near every day.

Peppers – Provided they get lots and lots of sun, peppers generally aren’t bothered by pests and diseases. Try not to overwater them, however, especially if growing hot varieties. Periods of drought tend to make them hotter.

Potatoes – Although a cool-season crop, potatoes are usually harvested in early summer. Once flowers appear, you can begin harvesting new potatoes. If you let the vines turn brown before harvesting, the tubers will last longer in storage.

Squash – Squash is so often ravaged by squash beetles and squash vine borers that for me anyway it’s the toughest veggie to grow. Still, I plant a few hills every year and hope for the best. Squash bugs can be controlled with pesticides if you catch them in their nymph stage, but adults are a different story. Look for reddish-brown egg masses on the underside of leaves and “squash” them to reduce the population. Female squash vine borers look like red and black wasps. They lay their eggs in the vine or stem of the plant, and the emerging caterpillars feed from the inside, making them hard to detect, often until it’s too late. If you see “frass” (caterpillar poop) on the main stems, that’s a sure sign that your squash is in trouble. Make a small slit in the stem and pour some Bt into it, then cover with soil and cross your fingers.

Melons – Melons can be tricky to grow as well, because they’re susceptible to various insects and fungal diseases. But they’re still easier than squash! Make sure you’ve got Spinosad on hand for the bugs and a great, all natural fungicide called Serenade for the diseases. Harvest watermelon and cantaloupe when the underside turns from white to pale yellow and the melon feels heavier than you would expect.

Tomatoes – Despite their enormous popularity, tomatoes can be challenging to grow thanks to bugs, viral and bacterial diseases, birds and squirrels, and excessive heat, which can shut down fruit production. Still, I doubt there’s anything I could say to discourage you from trying, right? Perhaps the most important thing to do is water frequently. Erratic swings in the moisture level can cause blossom-end rot and cracking.

And don’t forget the next transition – from summer to fall – when planting starts all over again!