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Getting vegetable gardens ready for the summer bake
 
By Urban Harvest

The climate right now in most of the U.S. except the most southern and western areas is just perfect for the vegetables that we have been growing from fall through winter and early spring. And we are just about finished with lettuce, kale, collards, beets, carrots, spinach, chard and all the other leafy delights. This is the time of year when we grudgingly give up the abundance of nutritious vegetables that easily grow in the cooler seasons. We don't want to, and often we allow these plants to continue growing even though they are going to flower and have lost their good taste. We hope for just one more week of harvest, then just one more day.

In order to have our spring and summer crops, we have been transitioning for the past six weeks into tomatoes, peppers, squash and green beans. Now that the overnight temperatures are in the 60s, we are either planting or will soon plant cucumbers, okra, eggplant, edamame, basil, sunchokes, Malabar and perpetual spinaches, Sylvetta arugula, cream peas and long beans. These are our summer crops. There are not as many vegetables to grow, but enough to make for a very productive summer.

The way we garden is also changing, as the temperature rises. From fall through early spring, we are usually in the garden once temperatures become comfortable in late morning. As temperatures rise into the 80s and 90s, we will switch to early morning and late afternoon gardening, when temperatures are the lowest. Daytime gardening in the summer is doable but not so good for our health.

Just as we need to make adjustments according to the outside temperature, so do plants. We need to help plants from being roasted, and soil life from being dried out and killed. Mulch is the great Band-Aid. Mulch your gardens with about 2" to 3" of alfalfa hay or native mulch or well composted leaves. Place this material on all bare soil and within an inch of all plants. It will help keep water evaporation down and maintain soil life and the health of plants. Our vegetables will be more productive and live longer.

The watering technique also changes as we move into spring and summer. Prior to spring, we had no problem spraying water over entire plants, but many of our spring and summer vegetables do not like water on their leaves, rather water needs to be applied to the ground around the plant and totally away from the leaves. The reason is mainly to avoid spreading disease, which is a real issue with tomatoes, peppers and beans. In the spring and summer, we switch from using a hose fan nozzle to a rose nozzle, which easily reaches under plants and avoids leaves.

We as gardeners are getting ready too for summer. A wide brimmed hat, long sleeve shirt and long pants will keep us from getting too much sun. Adjust times to be in the garden and drink lots of water regularly. And most of all, delight in the new tastes of the spring and summer vegetables.

This column is produced by Urban Harvest. Learn about gardening classes, community gardens and orchards, farmers markets and more at www.urbanharvest.org. The author of the article is Ray Sher who is a gardening and permaculture instructor, vegetable and fruit garden consultant, and works his large intensive home vegetable, fruit and herb garden using organic methods.