Previous columns will have prepared you for summer gardening. Soil nutrients should be in place, mulch has been sourced, pests have been identified and now the warm climate, sunshine and long summer days should be perfect for sun-loving tomatoes, beans, zucchini, eggplants, corn and melons. Unfortunately, summer gardening on the coast comes with winds, summer holidays absences, high temperatures and drought. But, once again, preparation can solve even these plant stresses.
Over the years I have learned a few gardening tricks that allows for a great variety of kitchen vegetables including using cloches for high temperatures, creating windbreaks, watering in the middle of the day to prevent wilting, and replanting to ensure a succession of vegetables. I have a stack of old curtains, as well as shade cloth. The curtains can be used with cloches to keep insect pests at bay, and the shade cloth can be applied when temperatures soar and plants need to be kept cool or an especially strong wind is brewing. Shade cloth is essential to protect new plantings of quick maturing vegetables. I always make sure the ground is damp, put the seedlings in after the sun has set and cover so the plants can get established.
Planting too many zucchini in October brings a glut and mildew. I remove the leaves showing signs of mildew and use a 1/10 mixture of milk/water spray to prevent mildew. I succession plant zucchini in January and February making sure that I pick the zucchini when they are small. Any larger ones are great for cakes, loaves, lasagne, soups – the uses are endless.
When going away, I first water the soil around the plant. Soaking newspapers in water produces a wet soggy mass, which becomes the first mulch, and on top of this goes a layer of compost followed by a thick layer of dried grass clippings. When well done, the soil stays damp for up to 14 days.
Be observant and look for the first multiplying insects – aphids, white fly and passion hoppers can all be kept in check with that soapy dish water. I keep green shield bugs down by planting lots of calendula. The seed heads act as trap plants for the first hatchings, and the slugs and snails I got under control with a head lamp and a bucket early in October. It took repeated forays for three nights.