June is the gateway to Summer. With the solstice on June 20, we enter the most active and productive season of the year. That holds true for human beings, flowers, animals, plants, vegetable gardens, weeds, mosquitoes, and pests!
Since more and more people are venturing into vegetable gardening and more specifically organic gardening, this article will cover the growing season of the vegetable garden. By this time, most planting has already been done. In fact, the gardener has probably harvested and has been enjoying cool weather crops, such as peas, spinach, and lettuce. These can be planted again either in a shaded spot or for cool weather harvesting toward Fall. It’s time to stop harvesting asparagus and rhubarb. ( In June we enjoy strawberries.) It’s time to plant warm-weather crops such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, melons, squash, and cucumbers. Carrots, beets, radishes, and onions may require thinning now.
Once the planting is complete, maintenance begins and that mainly includes moisture management, weed, and pest control. Soaker hoses are a convenient way to maintain consistent moisture in the vegetable garden. Another way is with mulch and mid-June is a perfect time to mulch because the soil has warmed up and most seedlings are big enough. Whether you use straw, seedless hay, bark, black plastic, or other types, mulch provides moisture as well as weed control in your garden. It’s wise to control weeds before they germinate, but certainly before they go to seed or they’ll just show up again next year. If you are so inclined, weeds can be controlled with hand pulling and hoeing.
More damaging than weeds are the various pests and predators that can invade your vegetable garden. All manner of insects and wildlife will devour your delicious vegetables before you do, if you let them. Insects such as beetles, aphids, slugs, cutworms, caterpillars, and wildlife such as rabbits, woodchuck, and deer, all love the same greens you do! Many vegetable pests can be deterred by using floating row covers. Seal around the edges with soil. They are thin enough to let in water and light but they need to be removed for pollination of vine crops such as cucumbers, squash, and melons. Hand picking pests off your vegetables works well if you are not too squeamish. Insecticidal soaps, neem, and horticultural oil are all helpful in pest control.
Another long-practiced method is companion planting. Companion plants that deter insects are mostly herbs or flowers. For example, marigold is effective against aphids, Mexican bean beetle, nematodes, and other insects. Presumably, marigolds also keep out rabbits. Geranium deters most insects. Garlic deters Japanese beetle and also works against blight. Plant horseradish near potatoes to deter potato bugs. Basil makes a good companion plant, as do sage, rosemary, and thyme. The mint family makes a great companion plant but you need to keep it in check because it spreads quickly. Although we have all heard tips for keeping wildlife out of the garden, some more effective than others, the most reliable way to keep wildlife from eating in your garden is with a deep (for rabbits, woodchucks) and high (for deer) fence.
Your vegetables are your lunch and dinner. Keep your garden organic, keep it safe and most of all harvest at the peak of maturity and enjoy your vegetables raw, cooked, or preserved.
By Anna D’Andrea, Master Gardener-June 2012 Newsline
This educational blog is a series of informative articles from the Penn State Master Gardeners volunteers plus news concerning the group and their activities. For more information, click here.