Although we had record rainfall amounts in June, July might be different. It is essential to keep plants watered consistently during the heat of summer. On average, plants need one inch of water per week and this may need to be stepped up to one inch every five days during the heat of summer. Watering is the most important maintenance item, so don't skimp on it. Soak the soil thoroughly to a depth of at least 6 inches rather than sprinkling the garden lightly.
If you did not mulch in spring, consider doing it now. Most vegetables benefit from mulching, including tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beans, and potatoes. Besides controlling weeds, the mulch will save moisture, keep the soil temperature more even, and keep the fruits clean. The many types of mulch include leaves, grass clippings, straw, newspaper, and black plastic.
Pests are one the biggest frustration for home vegetable gardeners. When possible, use disease-resistant varieties. Crop rotation every 3 to 4 years is also very effective for many insect and diseases problems. This is done by moving vegetable types to other areas of the garden or yard.
If you do encounter insect or disease problems, our Master Gardener help-line can help. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to noon at (309) 685-3140 ext. 13 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Help is also available in Lewistown at 309-547-3711, Havana at 309-543-3308, and Pekin at 309-347-6614.
New gardeners sometimes wonder when they should begin harvesting their product. This varies from crop to crop, but there are some tips that will help the produce stay fresh and tasty longer. Avoid bruising or damaging them, because injury encourages decay. Most vegetables last longer if they are place in cool storage immediately. In particular, sweet corn loses its sweet flavor quickly if it is not cooled as soon as possible.
If you have harvested part of your garden, now is the time to begin your fall garden. A fall garden extends your supply of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, a successful fall garden demands additional work and planning at a time when you are busiest. Irrigation is usually necessary and weeds grow quickly at this time. But the pleasure you can derive from a fall garden far outweighs the extra effort involved in planning and planting it.
The midsummer planting usually takes place from July 10-20 and could include snap beans, beets, broccoli plants, cabbage plants, carrot, cauliflower plants, and okra. From August 1-10 you could also add many cool-crops such as lettuce, mustard greens, turnips, and winter radishes. Spring radishes, spinach, and more leaf lettuce can go in as late as August 25 to September 5.
To learn more, attend Master Gardener Lee Maki's "Late Summer and Fall Vegetable Garden" presentation at ICC in E. Peoria on July 25th at 10:00 a.m. Or visit the University of Illinois Extension website "Watch Your Garden Grow" at http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/.