Finally, it’s time for summer vegetables in the garden
By Michael Obed Fine
Rowan Cooperative Extension
This spring, it has been challenging for vegetable gardeners to find windows of dry weather in order to prepare their ground for planting.
Record rainfalls in 2018 that then persisted into the new year kept many growers waiting for dry field conditions to allow for spring tilling, adding soil amendments and bedding. Fortunately, the last few weeks have presented gardeners with a chance to prepare their plots just in time for summer vegetable crops.
Planting is an exciting time and the work tends to be enjoyable for most folks as they anticipate the delicious produce that is just right around the corner. Success, however, takes more than just a place to grow the vegetables. They need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer and care.
Here are a few tips that can help you steer your garden in the right direction:
Choose a convenient site in full sun with easy access to water and fertile, well-drained soil. Avoid areas near trees and large shrubs that will compete with the garden for sunlight, water and nutrients. Most vegetables need at least eight hours of direct sunlight. Plants that we grow for their fruit, including tomatoes, squash and cucumbers, need at least eight and do better with 10 hours of sunlight.
One of the most important aspects of gardening is water, which makes up 90 percent of a plant’s weight. Water is heavy and difficult to move, so locate the garden near a potable water supply, making it easy to water the garden properly. Dragging a hose hundreds of feet or carrying buckets of water across the yard every few days makes having a garden a lot more work.
On average, vegetables need one inch of water per week, and you need to provide only what is not supplied by rain. Water the soil, not the plant. Many diseases are spread by water splashing on the leaves. Overwatering can also lead to insect and disease problems as well as washing nutrients away, converting a valuable garden resource into pollution in nearby streams.
Preparing the soil
Amend your soil with organic material first (either homemade compost or purchased certified compost). Then submit a soil sample to determine the pH and nutrient content of your soil. The N.C. Cooperative Extension center can provide a soil test kit to have your soil analyzed and obtain specific recommendations for growing vegetables.
Amend the soil based on the recommendations from the soil analysis. When forming your rows, try to form beds perpendicular to the slope of the terrain. This will reduce soil erosion and protect plants from being carried away during heavy rainstorms.
Space plants according to the label on the seed packet or plant tag. Allow space for the plant to mature, and leave space for airflow between plants to prevent disease. Plant seeds only two to three times as deep as the greatest diameter of the seed. Cover the seed and firm the soil lightly to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Many crops are preferred to culture from transplants due to their longer days to maturity. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and Brussels sprouts. Many other vegetable varieties are becoming more popular to transplant as folks see the benefits of ensuring a healthy plant before tying up garden space.
Once your transplants or seedlings are established, mulching around your desired plants can conserve soil moisture, reduce weeds and reduce erosion. Use shredded leaves, pine straw, newspaper or other organic matter that will break down and improve the soil.
Depending on your specific gardening style or the desired vegetable varieties, the culture of your garden can take on many different forms. A general guide to seasonal vegetable production, along with a useful planting calendar can be found at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs. These useful guides will give you the base information you can employ in your specific garden style.