The plants get gigantic during June and July and a lot more work goes into maintaining the garden this time of year. I usually spend about 15-20 minutes a day getting little things done like pulling any little weeds, trimming, tying up plants, replacing damaged stakes, pruning dead leaves from my plants, pest control, watching the plants for diseases, watering, and/or harvesting veggies. If I can manage it, I spend much, much more time just piddling around because I simply love to be out there. I trim the edge of all of my raised beds weekly with my riding mower when I mow the grass. I have a grass catcher that was well worth the investment attached to the back and I put all my grass clippings in my compost pile. I will use all of the material in my compost pile in the fall to fortify my garden.
I pull any weeds just as soon as they sprout, because young weeds are much easier to pull than mature weeds! Since I have a Lasagna bed, my weed problem isn't huge, but there are a few trailing plants and really hardy deep root plants that invade now and then. Weeds I occasionally have to remove from my garden are barn weed (spring, has a little purple flower), clover, crab grass, wild strawberries, poison ivy, poke weed, and the occasional pecan tree sprout.
The first week of June, I harvest a lot of broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and other cool weather vegetables for about the last time. I have been harvesting off of these plants for about a month now and all of them look pretty ragged. I will sometimes leave the plants in until they die naturally and let them feed my garden, but often times, I have already begun planting other things in around these and it is time to let these baby plants begin their time of reproduction. I pull up anything I feel needs to be pulled to let other plants grow. I try to plant later crops in amongst the early crops to give the late bloomers ample time to grow before the strong summer heat kicks into high gear. By mid-June, the early crops are totally gone and my late crops are pretty sizable.
Around the last two weeks of June, I harvest my first tomatoes, zucchini, spaghetti squash, cucumbers, green beans, and larger potatoes.There is nothing sweeter to me than my first tomato sandwich of the season. Last year, the day we were to leave on vacation around June 22, my garden gave me my first big pink Cherokee Purple tomato. I promptly had a tomato, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwich for breakfast. That same day, I pulled out two good sized Zucchini squash, a cucumber, a handful of green beans, and some green onions. By the time we got back, a week later, I had a dozen two foot zucchini squash, dozens of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers galore, and the potatoes plants had fallen over dead. The potato plants begin to look kind of pathetic that last part of June, but this is normal and as soon as they die back completely, I will harvest whatever is left in the hills.
The entire month of July is spent canning, canning, harvesting, canning, freezing, canning, cooking, canning, maintenance, pickling, playing in the sprinkler, and did I mention canning? My mother and I do a lot of canning together, because big projects go so much faster when you have a team! Last year we canned green beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, jellies, jams, pickles, peppers, apple sauce, apple butter, pumpkin, and hot sauce. You can find any number of things to make with a tomato! Anyway, I will dedicate an entire post just to canning sometime soon, but if your garden grows beyond what your family can eat or that you can give away without being annoying, then preserving food for later is definitely a great option.
Both June and July are filled with all sorts of visitors to my garden. Fungus, blight, beetles of all sorts, the occasional slug or snail, caterpillars, ants, mantises, bees, lady bugs, birds, squash bugs, spiders. Some of these are pests, others are wonderful additions to any garden. For most insect pests in my garden, Neem Oil concentrate works wonderfully. It is an organic pesticide that interrupts the mating cycle of most adult insects and kills most eggs and larvae as well. However, there are a few pretty hardy little guys that are harder to get rid of: Colorado Potato Beetles, caterpillars, and ants. For the ants, I have tried stone ground grits with a modicum of success. However, no chemical or natural treatment I have found works on the infernal beasts that are caterpillars and Colorado Potato Beetles. So... I squish 'em. I squish 'em good. The caterpillars like cauliflower and broccoli. Colorado Potato Beetles like... Potatoes. Or rather, their larvae like the foliage of the potato plant. They will ravage the leaves and can devastate whole fields of potatoes in great enough numbers. In larval form, they look like this:
Kind of like a bulbous misshapen spotless slimy ladybug...
When they grow up they turn into this:
It is a shame to me to kill all these really beautiful insects. I truly find them to be one of the prettiest beetles Ive ever seen. This is also my favorite picture from my garden last year. But squishing them seems to be the only solution. I squished every larva I could find last year.
The good critters that I transport to my garden whenever I find them are: lady bugs, worms, yellow orb spiders, lizards, and preying mantises. Getting over any fears of creepy crawlies is the first order of business in a garden. The orb spiders may freak you out, but the more orb spiders you have catching Japanese beetles on your beans and tomatoes, the fewer Japanese Beetles you will have on your tomatoes.
I plant out my sweet potatoes in July by pulling the sprouts from my sweet potato plant bed and digging a ridge somewhere in the garden to plant them. I plant them about 6 or 8 inches apart and have water on hand to pour directly on the root before I cover them up. This seems to give them a jump start as the roots begin to establish themselves.
By the end of July, my Zucchini begins to die back, the tomatoes are getting tougher and are good for juice and sauce, but not as good for eating, and most of the other crops are beginning to dwindle. I may get a few more pieces from the garden before all the fall crops are planted in August, but the prime time for my summer crops is nearly done.
Next up... August and September... To fall crop or not to fall crop.
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