Friday, May 30, 2008

June Gardening Chores

Pardon my French, but where I live, summer is one hot bitch, and I don't mean sexy. You've never enjoyed a real Deep South Summer Day until you've worked your garden in 98 degree weather with full-on, take your breath and make you feel like you're drowning, 90+% humidity at 9 AM. I'm talking about the kind of heat that makes your toenails sweat, and makes you feel like laying down and dying in the dirt. It makes even the most industrious folks feel like lazy old porch dogs. Ahhhh, summer in Alabama. The old cliche is true, you know. Here you have Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer, and ICE.

So, anyway. Here are some things that can and/or should be done in and around the garden in June. I took some from the web, some from my Old Farmer's Almanac, and some from my garden diary.

**Get your gardening done in the early morning or late evening to avoid the excessive heat and humidity if you're in the south. And yes, we drink out of the garden hose. Gasp!

**Keep all of your new plants well watered, but avoid watering mid-day, and try not to water "over", or across the tops of the plants. Try to water at the base and let the plants do their jobs. The best time to water is always early morning. Watering at night may allow water to stand on plants all night long and encourage fungi and other infections to spread.

**And on that note, make sure everything is still well-mulched. The soil loses lots of moisture through evaporation. You'll conserve water this way, and save yourself a ton of trouble.

**Give your plants a little extra love with a side dress of compost or manure. In case you don't live on a farm like me and aren't lucky enough to have all the fresh cow poop you can stand, and didn't already know this, you don't need to keep a cow in your garage for manure. You can buy it in bags!

**Check plant foliage for signs of disease or nutrient deficiency, and treat accordingly, preferably without chemicals. :)

**Give the compost a good turn, if you haven't lately.

**"Deadhead Ornamentals for long season bloom." This really works.

**"Pinch back tall growing fall bloomers like asters and monarda." So does this.

**"Stop harvesting asparagus and rhubarb." Or else. Okay, I know you're supposed to wait and harvest them in their second year, but have no idea why you should stop harvesting them in June. I found the tip and thought it sounded ominous, so I was afraid to not post it, else the vegetable police come and beat me with a club. I've never grown asparagus because ... well ... because it just seems like too much trouble to me after seeing my mother-in-law (very seasoned gardener) struggle with it, but I love the way the creepy little pointy stalks just shoot up right out of the ground. I found this article from Texas A&M that might help you, if you need asparagus help. My advice on rhubarb is: Google it, man! Other than that, you're own your own.

**Get any remaining warm season vegetables in the ground. This is important. Where I live (north Alabama), this means bush, pole, and snap beans (by mid-month), corn (by mid-month), 'slicing' cucumbers, okra, sweet potatoes, field peas, peppers, summer and winter squash, tomatoes (also by mid-month) and sweet potatoes. The further south you go, the earlier the planting deadlines, and so on. There are many things you can plant/replant from late July to September, but we'll get to them later.

**Keep tomato plants staked as they grow and you might want to pinch out the "suckers" (sideshoots that grow from the 'crotch' above a leaf branch) from the top half of indeterminate tomato plants for bigger fruit. You want to encourage a strong "main stem", and left unchecked the suckers will grow out just like the main stem and produce flowers and fruit, which might sound like a good thing, but the main stem feeds the entire plant during its life and a bunch of babies growing off the side will sap the plant (I know how this feels) and can cause high yields of smaller fruit.

**"Put a couple of drops of mineral oil on corn silks within a week after they appear, to prevent corn earworm." I've never tried this, but I'm going to.

**Be prepared for ‘June Drop’ of fruit from fruit trees, and don't panic. They’re just thinning out to a manageable crop size. Clean up any fallen fruit to prevent possible reinfestating of fungi (like brown rot on peaches .. spores can release their nastiness right back up into the tree) and other diseases, and because rotten fruit lying around all over the place stinks, attracts bugs, and is just gross.

**Protect ripening berries with nets or row covers, if you don't want to share with the birds and bugs.

**If you want to prune or shear your evergreens, do so as soon as the new growth starts to turn a darker green. Once the wisteria finishes blooming, you can do a maintenance pruning to keep it in check, if needed. I accidentally "weed-eated" my beloved's baby wisteria vine (a 5 year old baby, I am compelled to note, hmmmm) to the ground a couple of weeks ago, and he moved what was left of the poor thing to the other side of the garden. Guess what? It's growing like a little weed! :D

**Summer is bug time! Be vigilant! I'll post my natural insect repellent recipe later on, when I think of it (which could possibly be next Thanksgiving).

**Keep watch for bug damage, and pinch those pesky little boogers off! It really is the best way to get rid of them while keeping the chemicals off your plants. Someday I also hope to blog about natural pest control and "good bugs", but not today!

**The Japanese Beetles are back in June, oh-joy-to-my-soul. I think I might hate them worse than mosquitos.

**Begin to cut back on mowing, YEAH! My second favorite thing about summer, after a big juicy tomato fresh from the garden! Oooh, over a big plate of homemade biscuits and gravy .. I promise they are worth every single Weight Watchers point! ;)

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