Many gardeners will see changes in the vegetable garden as we transition from spring to summer crops. Cool season crops that did so well a few weeks ago were hit with a spell of warm weather this month and that triggered the plant into thinking it was time to set flowers and produce seeds. Not only does warm weather signal the plant into seed production but the longer days affect them as well. Leafy crops such as lettuce, arugula and spinach will all of a sudden start to elongate and the flavour changes to a bitter or spicy flavour. Getting the most our of your salad crops depends when you planted them. Salad greens planted in early April have allowed you to enjoy many harvests by now. If you waited to plant in early May your plants will struggle if we get another warm spell.
Here is what you need to know if you live on the south coast of British Columbia. We are the only area in the country that can start planting in March and continue until early fall. Many experienced gardeners grow crops year round under cover. So we need to rid ourselves of the mindset that all vegetable crops are planted on the long weekend of May. Here in the lower mainland of British Columbia we can plant continuously all season long. We don’t plant everything in May and consider it done. You want your vegetable garden to be as productive as possible. You need to think about what you will plant once the lettuce has bolted and gone to seed. That lettuce may be removed and you’ll have a bare spot in the garden. Soil that’s left bare has a way of growing weeds pretty quickly so have another crop in mind to plant next.
If your salad greens are finished, plant some warm weather crops like beans or carrots. Grow what your family likes to eat. You can continue so sow crops such as peas until the end of June, beans all summer and carrots until the beginning of July. It’s important to make good use of the space you have for growing to maximize your harvest.
Here is an example from my garden. I have arugula which has just started to flower. It can be removed and I can sow another row of carrots in its place. Since I refreshed the soil in early spring I don’t have to do it again.
I also have a bed of garlic that will be ready to harvest in July. Since the garlic has been growing for nine months I will need to refresh the soil in this area with compost and organic fertilizer. Once that’s done I will plant beans, carrots or beets to enjoy from late summer to early fall. It could also be an opportunity to add a few short season tomatoes. When planting in the summer check the seed package for days to harvest. Choose seed that fits into the growing season you have left.
With summer heat soon to arrive it’s also time to think about mulching your garden. What will you use as mulch? You can add leaf mold, straw or untreated grass clippings to your garden as a mulch. Be sure to keep the mulch away from plant stems. Leaf mold is my preferred mulch for the garden. We shred our fallen leaves in the fall and add them to the garden before winter arrives and again in the summer to help retain soil moisture. If using straw be sure not to buy hay by mistake or you will have weeds seeds in the garden. Untreated grass clippings are useful in that they add nutrients to the soil. Just be sure to use a thin layer at a time as the clippings can mat easily.
Watering is key to having your garden survive. Plants are like your children. You need to nourish them regularly. You can’t plant a garden and go away for a week. You’ll return to a sad looking garden. Plants need water, sunlight, air and nutrients to survive. Do the finger test by feeling the soil a couple of inches down to see if its moist. If it’s dry it’s time to water deeply at soil level. If the soil is moist wait another day and check again. Before you go away on holiday water deeply and add a mulch a couple of inches thick to help retain moisture. Hire a friend to check on your garden. I’ve found that mulching keeps the garden moist for about five days in hot weather. Of course, the location of your garden will be a factor in how fast it dries out.
So remember these key points:
Plant successively and use every available spot in the garden.
Interplant quick growing crops among long season crops to maximize your harvest.
Mulch your gardens to retain moisture.
Water deeply and less often.