Irrigation – Make sure you understand the watering needs of each crop you’re growing. Watering at root level is the best method of irrigation because it prevent rot problems and saves a huge amount of water. Lay soaker hoses or drip lines when creating your garden or add them later.
Fertilization – If you followed the compost method of starting a veggie garden then additional fertilization may not be necessary except for a spray of fish and seaweed emulsion every 2-3 weeks. This not only keeps everything healthy, but prolongs the storage life of crops either over winter or simply in your fridge. Adding a couple inches of organic compost each year before planting will keep your garden producing well. If supplemental feeding is needed, use organic fertilizers to maintain the ecology of your garden – beneficial insects, microbes, worms, etc.
Weeding – If you see weeds in your garden that means the mulch is not thick enough. Pull the weeds and add several more inches of mulch. Do not throw weeds into the compost pile.
Extending the Season – Floating row cover is an almost magical fabric which comes in several thicknesses. It can extend your growing season by protecting plants from the cold of early spring and late summer. Depending on the weight of the fabric you choose and the plants to be protected, you can either lay it loosely directly on the plants or erect a frame with wire hoops and secure it with metal pins or stones. From two to ten degrees of frost protection will result depending on the thickness of the fabric. Lighter weight row covers can be left on days, weeks, or even the entire season since rainfall and most available light will penetrate to the crop below. The heaviest covers must be removed during the day or the plants will suffer from lack of sunlight. Row covers will also keep out certain undesirable insects. For example, I place it over basil plants when I put them in to prevent Japanese beetles from devouring one of their favorite foods.
Disease Problems – Maintaining a well-composted and heavily-mulched garden with root-level irrigation will go a long way toward keeping disease at bay. Rotating crops is also important. This simply means not growing the same type of veggie in the same spot year after year. For example, the nightshade family (tomato, eggplant, potato, peppers) should be planted where the cole family (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale) or the cucurbita family (gourds, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers) grew the season before. Companion planting also helps plants thrive. If you find a sick plant, remove it immediately and discard. Do not throw it into your compost pile. Wash your hands thoroughly to avoid spreading the disease.
Insect Problems – By using organic compost and spraying regularly with fish and seaweed emulsion you will keep your plants and your entire garden environment in superb health. Since insects are attracted to ailing plants, these practices should help keep predation to a minimum. If you do see insect damage in your garden, consider first whether it is extensive enough to take steps against the bugs. A bite or two here and there is certainly something I can live with. If the predation is too widespread, then search for an organic cure. There’s no point in growing your own food if you’re going to douse it with deadly pesticides. For example, I use a variety of Bt (bacillus thuriengensis) to eliminate cabbage worms on my cole crops. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium which kills certain caterpillars and is harmless to all other insects, animals and humans. Another variety, Bt israelensis or Bti is used to get rid of Colorado potato beetle larvae. Japanese beetles are tougher customers. I keep them under control by hand-picking in the evening and throwing them into a container of soapy water. Mechanical barriers such as floating row covers can also be useful against insect predation. See Extending the Season above.
Harvesting – Pick your ripe veggies at their peak, after all that’s why you have a garden in the first place. Don’t forget to snack right in the garden. Nothing beats a sun-warmed cherry tomato or sweet and delicious peas just popped out of their pod. If you find too-big beans or flowering broccoli, pick them too and throw on the compost pile. That way the plants will keep producing. Kids can be a big help in harvesting, especially when it comes to getting at the veggies that grow low to the ground. And nothing makes them happier than proudly showing off the produce they picked with their own hands!
Succession Planting – Even in a short growing season region you can plant another crop when the first one is harvested. Lettuce is a cool weather veggie, so poke bean seeds in among lettuce plants as they begin to mature. By the time the lettuce is finished the beans will be well on their way. Radishes mature so quickly (in about 28 days) that you can easily pop them into places vacated by other veggies. To keep fresh produce on your table all summer long don’t plant all your beans or lettuce at once. Use small spaces, planting more seeds every two weeks. In long season areas your opportunities for succession plantings are even more diverse. Use your imagination and keep on planting!