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How To Maintain A Vegetable Garden

Part 2 of How To Start A Vegetable Garden

Last month we did a full story about How To Start A Vegetable Garden, so this month we are following up to see how the garden is doing 4 weeks later, and also talking about what we are doing to maintain our vegetable plants.

Since this is a good time, we'll also share some tips to help solve some common problems you may experience with your plants.

1 Month Later
Overall you can see the garden is doing very well since we planted it 1 month ago. (click image for larger view)

Last year we solarized the soil with black plastic (to see a picture of this, check out last month's story: How To Start A Vegetable Garden), and as you can see, there are no weeds!

We also have had some heat spikes in the weather, but our plants are thriving, because we prepped the soil properly with compost and fertilizer, and have planted in blocks to help conserve water.

Overall everything looks great, but let's take a closer look crop by crop.


Corn Plants

Overall
The corn is thriving. We have good, healthy growth and color.

Problem
We had a ground squirrel that was very interested in our corn seed!

Solution
We had to get rid of the ground squirrel, but once that was done, we re-planted the missing corn plants. You can see the even growth where the new plants are coming in.

Maintenance
We will side dress (fertilize) our corn twice during its lifetime:
1. When the corn reaches 6 - 8 inches (15-20 cm) tall
2. When the corn starts to tassel

We will also hill our corn twice during its lifetime:
1. When the corn is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) tall
2. When the corn is about 1 foot (30 cm) tall

Right now, our corn is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) tall, so we will both side dress it, and hill it. We do this because corn is a heavy feeder and needs extra nutrition as it grows, and hilling helps anchor the plant, making the stalk more rigid. A sturdier stalk helps when the plant is loaded with developing ears, and it helps it withstand wind.

Simply take some balanced fertilizer - here we are using an organic 5-5-5 complete fertilizer - although you can also use hydrolyzed fish or other balanced fertilizer, and lightly sprinkle it along the side of the plant. We lightly sprinkle it along both sides, but you can do just one side if you wish.

To hill, we carefully take soil from the pathway between the rows (don't dig too closely to the corn plant, you can damage roots) and pull it up to the base of the corn plant. We do this on both sides covering the fertilizer as we do go.

Water and care for the plant just as you normally would.

Potential Problems
We are not having any problems at this time, but here is a common one:

  1. Corn Earworm
    See our article on this insect and ways to get rid of it: Corn Earworm

  2. Patchy or unevenly filled out ears
    Lack of pollination is responsible for ears of corn don't fill out all the way, or only about half the cob is covered with kernals, or you see patchy spots.

    Rain and wind can affect good pollination - wind can blow the pollen away very easily, and rain can stick the silks together so that some of them do not get pollinated.

    Hand pollination solves the problem. Strip the pollen from the tassles and sprinkle it on the silks, especially on plants on the outside edges of the plot.

    The tassles are the male flowers located at the top of the stalk, and they drop their pollen onto the silks of the cobs. Each silk is connected to one kernal and so at least one pollen grain needs to land on each silk for germination to occur and thus the kernal to fill out properly.

    If you have only a few plants, then because the tassels form pollen a couple of weeks earlier than the silks appear, and the tassels only bear pollen for two weeks or so, you will find that late cobs may not get sufficient pollen to fill the cobs, even when the weather is great. So it pays to have a lot of corn plants instead of only a few.

    Also try planting your corn in blocks, instead of long rows.

For more, use our in-depth Growing Guide:

Growing Sweet Corn




Click pictures for larger image







Potato Plants

Overall
The plants look great: very healthy and ready for their first hilling.

Maintenance
We will hill our potatoes twice during their lifetime:
1. When the potatoes are 3 - 5 inches (7-13 cm) tall
2. When the plants are about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) tall

Potatoes produce above the potato seed that you planted, so the more loose soil you hill up around the plant, the softer and warmer the environment the plant has to sprout and grow new potatoes.

Cover the new growth completely; don't worry, more new growth will sprout right up through the mound of soil.

Lastly, hilling is great, because it smothers any weeds.




Click pictures for larger image



Squash and Pumpkin Plants

Overall
The squash are doing great. They have good growth and are setting flowers nicely.

Maintenance
We lightly fertilized with a liquid hydrolyzed fish and seaweed fertilizer at blossom time.

Potential Problems
We are not having any problems at this time, but here are two common ones:

  1. Plenty of flowers, but no fruit develops
    Squash plants have 2 types of flowers: male and female. Male flowers, which produce pollen, open about a week before the female flowers open. Female flowers can be distinguished by a squash-shaped bulge at the base of the flower.

    The solution here is a little bit of patience. So keep providing good growing conditions and wait for both flowers to develop. Once you see that both slender-stemmed male flowers and the bulbous-based female flowers are both open on the same plant, then you can look for small squashes to develop.

  2. Fruits are shriveled or don't develop all the way
    This is when the plant looks healthy, and has flowers, but the fruit turns yellow, shrivels, or doesn't form at all.

    Lack of pollination causes female flowers to drop without forming fruits, and incomplete pollination produces fruit that start to grow, then shrivel. The reason for lack of pollination is often lack of bee activity; which can occur from cold, wet weather or the use of pesticides.

    You can help the plants by hand pollinating. This is fast and easy. Pick a male flower and use it to spread pollen onto the yellow cushion in the middle of the female flower.

For more, use our in-depth Growing Guides:

Growing Pumpkins
Growing Summer Squash
Growing Winter Squash




Click pictures for larger image





Bean and Pea Plants

Overall
Overall our plants are growing great. Notice how the block planting has crowded out any weeds that might have sprouted. This really helps cut down on the weeding, which we think is a wonderful thing! The plants are also self-supporting, so no stakes or trellises were needed.

Also during the couple of heat spikes we had, the foliage of the peas and beans has nicely shaded the soil, keeping it cooler and from drying out as fast.

Maintenance
Watering

For more, use our in-depth Growing Guides:

Growing Dried Beans
Growing Fresh Beans
Growing Peas




Click pictures for larger image





Tomato Plants

Overall
They are thriving. We planted them all on their sides and see how nicely they have straightened up. With the extra roots that formed by planting them on their sides, we have very sturdy, healthy plants that withstand the heat much better.

We are growing determinate tomatoes, meaning they will stop growing. Indeterminate tomatoes don't stop growing and are normally put in a cage or trellis to support them.

This is your choice. We have grown both types of tomatoes, and no matter what kind they are, we let them sprawl on the ground. We have very few insect or disease problems and the plants thrive. If, however, you live in a moist area where mildew or insects like slugs and snails may be a problem, then by all means stake your tomatoes!

Maintenance
We side dressed them once, when the plants started to set flowers, using a complete 5-5-5 organic fertilizer.

Potential Problems
We are not having any problems at this time, but here are some common ones:

  1. Cat-facing
    This is when irregular shapes and lines, especially at the top of the tomato, are caused by temperature shifts at flowering time. There is nothing you can do about it. The tomato will still taste great.

  2. Blossom-end rot
    This is due to lack of even moisture. If you live in a super hot area, you need to mulch around your tomatoes to keep them from drying out. They like nice even moisture. If you have this, remove any rotted or diseased tomatoes.

  3. Sunscald
    This can happen any time there is a real spike in the heat. If the fruit is far from ripe, chances are that the entire fruit will rot. Remove damaged tomatoes.

  4. Split skin
    This can happen any time the plants experience accelerated growth, which can be brought on by a sudden increase in moisture after being too dry. Another reason is that the fruit is overripe. There is nothing wrong with these, just keep them picked.

  5. Flowers form, but few or no fruit develops
    Tomato flowers fall off prematurely when there is a sudden change in the weather because it is too cool, or too hot, or the soil is too dry.

    Improve the growing conditions. Mulch to keep the soil moisture even.

    Use Blossom Set, which is a product that is all-natural, and environmentally friendly. It's a natural plant hormone that helps blossoms set fruit in spite of poor weather conditions, and produces larger, meatier tomatoes with fewer seeds.

    Use early in the season and get tomatoes up to three weeks earlier. When tomato flowers are fully open, spray regularly for bigger yields all season. It can also be used to increase fruit set on cucumbers, melons, eggplants, strawberries, and peppers.

  6. Tomato Hornworm
    See our article on this insect and ways to get rid of it: Tomato Hornworm.

For more, use our in-depth Growing Guides:

Growing Tomatoes
Growing Tomatoes & Tomato Growing Tips




Click pictures for larger image













Conclusion

So that wraps up our first month in our vegetable garden.

As was mentioned in the last article: How To Start A Vegetable Garden, we did downsize this year and didn't plant peppers or eggplant, because we felt we had enough to keep us busy this year.

Next year, we may upsize again and grow many more interesting things, but that's the great thing about gardening: every year you can try out as many different plants as you feel like challenging yourself with.

Later on, as our vegetable garden progresses, we'll bring you updates and we'll also get into harvesting techniques. Until then, enjoy your time in the garden!

Link to continuing article, Vegetable & Fruit Harvest Guide is below

Link: Vegetable & Fruit Harvest Guide


Hilary Rinaldi is a certified organic grower, and has a very real interest in making gardening enjoyable and successful for everyone. She is a professional public speaker and educator in the horticulture industry, and loves to give out as many gardening tips as she can.


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