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Getting the most from you garden

No matter how good looking a row of bush beans or a line of strapping tomato plants may be, a robust crop is the goal of every vegetable gardener. Here are some suggestions for a bountiful harvest:

  • Plan a garden that you can manage. Start small; you can grow a lot in a single bed.
  • Choose disease-resistant varieties. Healthy plants will produce an impressive harvest.
  • Pay attention to spacing. Good air circulation keeps plants healthy. When plants are crowded, production suffers.
  • Keep weeds under control. Weed thoroughly early in the season, when plants are small. As they grow, they will themselves help shade weeds out. Early weeding is especially important for peas, cucumbers, and eggplants; weeding around larger plants damages their roots.
  • Mulch. An organic mulch (crushed leaves, compost, straw, or grass clippings, as long as you do not use herbicide or pesticide on the lawn) will help control weeds, keep the soil temperature consistent, and help maintain moisture in the soil. Mulches also add nutrients to the soil.
  • Support your plants. Tomatoes and cucumbers are more productive and easier to take care of when they have some support. Grow cucumbers on a trellis or just on a chain-link fence; tomatoes need large cages or tall, strong stakes. Strips of old fabric tied to the stakes will gently support tomato vines.
  • Water your crops, but do not over-water. Poke your finger into the soil; if it feels moist, wait to water. When you water, water deeply. Watering early in the day gives the sun a chance to dry the leaves.
  • Keep an eye out for bugs and blights. If you check your garden every day, you’ll spot potential problems before they get out of hand. Pick cucumber beetles off plants in the morning. Watch for clusters of tiny squash vine borer eggs on the undersides of leaves of squash plants, for tomato hornworms on tomato plants, and for caterpillars on broccoli foliage. They’re easy to pick off.
  • Enjoy the results. Beans, cucumbers, okra, squash, and many other vegetables will produce more fruit if you pick regularly; in midsummer, you may need to pick vegetables every day. Garden-fresh lettuce can be harvested from even tiny plants. Pick tomatoes as soon as they are ripe; some gardeners pick tomatoes at the first blush of red and let them ripen indoors. When you pick every day, you’re harvesting your crops at the absolute peak of their perfection. There’s nothing fresher or more delicious.
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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • New gardeners can’t go wrong with annual flowers. Planted in average soil and deeply watered once a week, annuals will provide a summer’s worth of wonderful blooms. Started from seed or set out as transplants, these winners will really perform if a few inches of compost are worked into the soil before planting.

    Try wax-leaf begonia in partial shade. Cleome is perfect for the background where it gets full sun. Impatiens is wonderful in the shade. Lantana loves hot weather with flowers from yellow to orange to lavender. Torenia, or wishbone flower, is a relatively new ""toughie."" It grows best in partial shade loves heat. Zinnias are tough sun lovers that really put on a show in a variety of colors.