The Lazy Gardener's Summer Checklist: Do These 10 Things NOW

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Watering seedlings

At this time of year the garden’s looking amazing, yet it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the growth and harvests. But don’t worry! There are some key jobs which, if we check them off them now, will make gardening life a breeze…

Hand-Pollinating Squash

In cooler summers it can be worth hand-pollinating squash family crops such as winter squash and zucchini to improve fruit set. This way we’ll get more, and often earlier, fruits.

First, look for a male flower. You can tell male flowers by the straight stem behind the flower. Pick off the flower and peel back the petals to reveal the pollen-carrying stamen at the center.

Hand-pollinating squash
Squashes sometimes need a helping hand to produce their fruits

Next, find your female flowers, easily identified by the bulge of the immature fruit behind the flower. To pollinate, simply dab the stamen into the middle of the female flower. Let nature take care of the rest! Each male flower should be able to pollinate at least three or four female flowers.

It's definitely worth growing at least two or three squash plants in the same area. This dramatically ups the odds of having both male and female flowers open at the same time, so insect pollination stands a greater chance of success. And cross-pollination between separate plants always leads to better fruit set than with just one lone plant.

Curing garlic
Handle garlic bulbs with care so they store for longer

Harvest and Store Garlic

Garlic is ready to lift and enjoy once over half of the leaves have started to turn yellow. At this point there will be no extra growth so it’s time to dig up your pungent haul. Don’t delay, because the bulbs will start to deteriorate if left in the ground beyond this point.

Use a hand fork to get in beneath the bulbs then carefully lift them up, handling with the utmost care to avoid damaging the bulbs. Shake off any excess soil then to cure the bulbs just lay the bulbs out in a single layer on a rack, or hang them up in bunches somewhere warm and dry.

Curing takes around two to four weeks. Once the foliage is completely rustle-dry you can move them to somewhere cool and dry, where they should store for several months.

Herb cuttings
Grocery store herbs can be easily propagated to save having to buy them ever again!

Take Herb Cuttings

Summer is a fantastic time for expanding your herb collection, and the easiest way to do that is by taking cuttings from grocery store packets of herbs.

Keep your herbs cool til you’re ready to use them, then open the bag and process them promptly. Cut sections of stems to about 4-6in (10-15cm) long, snipping just below a leaf node (where the leaves sprout from the stem). Remove the all but the topmost few leaves from each cutting. Most herbs can be popped into water to root, including fleshy herbs like basil and mint. Change the water regularly to keep the cuttings fresh. Once they have developed a decent root system, pot them up into containers of all-purpose potting mix to grow on until you’re ready to plant.

Woodier herbs like rosemary or thyme are best rooted straight into potting mix. For these guys I like to add a little grit or perlite to help with drainage, which they really appreciate. Keep the potting mix nice and moist then, once they’ve rooted, carefully split them apart and replant them into their own individual pots.

Drying herbs
Dry herbs now to enjoy the fresh flavor of summer for months to come

Harvest and Dry Herbs

At the same time as propagating new herbs we can be enjoying the herbs we’re cropping right now. It’s a good idea to also put some aside for later in the year when productivity will have ground to a halt. Woody, evergreen herbs will hang around all winter, so there’s no panic to preserve these, but it’s a good idea to bag yourself some of the bounty from herbs that die back when it gets cold, like mint.

Pick some stems, then pull off the leaves and spread them out onto dehydrator trays. Once dry, they can be flaked into an airtight jar to enjoy throughout the colder months. If you don’t have a dehydrator then a very low oven, perhaps with the door left ever so slightly ajar, will do a good job. Just check your leaves regularly to make sure they’re drying evenly and not burning.

Slug in grapefruit trap
Lure slugs into grapefruit halves to keep them away from your veggies

Watch Out for Slugs

The slugs in my garden have been relentless this year, forcing me to make several replacement sowings and plantings. If slugs are a bit of a nuisance in your garden, here are my tips to deal with them.

Keep grass short immediately around your growing areas so they have fewer places to hide. Remove dead leaves and weeds to keep the ground clear of debris, and head out after dark to pick them off by flashlight as they come out to feed. You can also set traps made of half grapefruit skins or coconut shells . They’ll love to hide under there, making it easy to scoop them up and pick them off periodically. With slugs, it’s really a matter of returning, again and again, to gradually deplete the local population.

Give your rhubarb a break from harvesting so it's raring to go again next year

Let Rhubarb Recover

Not only is rhubarb a fantastic ingredient for all sorts of crumbles, puddings and fools, it also happens to be a jolly handsome plant! And you can pull off a few leaves to place here and there on the soil to attract slugs, just like with grapefruit halves, to make it easy to dispose of them.

But as we move on into the second half of summer it’s time to take the last harvest of ruby-red stems and leave plants alone to recover and recharge the crown for next year.

Pollinate Corn

There’s a point in summer when you know you’re home and dry with your corn – and it’s earlier than you might think. The old saying “knee high by the fourth of July” neatly sums it up: if your corn’s that high by then, you’ll have good-sized plants a few weeks later and plenty of time for those cobs to set. Of course, for those of you gardening in the Southern Hemisphere it’s more like ‘knee high by the fourth of January’!

Sweet corn
Good pollination is needed for fully-filled cobs

Corn is wind pollinated, so it’s best to grow it in a block to maximize the chances of the pollen falling down from the tassels at the top of the plants onto the silks at the ends of the young cobs halfway down. Each strand of silk ripens one kernel on the cob, so if they don’t all get pollinated the cobs won’t be fully filled.

Because of this, if the weather is very still I like to help things along by tapping on the stems to release clouds of pollen. This simple act greatly improves the fill of the cobs, so there’ll be more kernels in each to enjoy. I really recommend doing this if your garden is very sheltered like mine.

Water Recent Transplants

Hopefully you’ll have plenty of follow-on or succession crops waiting in the wings to replace the first run of crops. It’s important to give them a good start, so if it’s dry I like to make the planting hole then water into that before I plant. This gets moisture right where it’s needed, at the roots.

Keep an eye on recent transplants and water before the soil fully dries out to help them establish quickly and unchecked.

Super-concentrated manure pellets will give your soil a boost

Top Up Soil Fertility

With the halfway point of the growing season upon us, there’s no time like now to top up soil fertility. A good dollop of organic matter like nutrient-rich garden compost applied earlier in the year should power plants along for much of season, but if you notice growth slowing, or feel that plants are not quite hitting their stride, it may be time to break out the organic fertilizer.

Chicken manure pellets are fantastically rich, with a higher concentration of nutrients than fresh manure. Tickle the pellets into the soil around actively growing crops at about 4-5 ounces per square yard (150g per square meter).

Another great option is fish, blood and bone, which promotes good root growth and, therefore, heavier cropping. You can apply it in much the same way as chicken manure pellets, though this time half as much by weight for the same area. As a very rough guide one handful is just over an ounce (35g). Lightly fork it into the surface.

If you’re not keen on using animal-derived fertilizers, keep an eye out for organic, plant-based alternatives which can be used in just the same way.

Alt text
Start sowing Chinese cabbage now

Sow Chinese Cabbage

I love Asian greens, including Chinese cabbage which I use to make my own kimchi (thoroughly recommended by the way!).

Start sowing Chinese cabbage now, and continue to make successive sowings over the next month or so. I’d suggest growing them somewhere that gets dappled shade, as they’re not keen on hot weather.

Sow seeds into plug trays of all-purpose potting mix, a few seeds into each. Cover them over with more potting mix, and water them. You can also sow directly where they will grow, but sowing into plugs means you can get seedlings started while other in-ground crops are still finishing off. Transplant the little seedlings about a foot (30cm) apart in both directions.

Like all Asian greens, Chinese cabbage needs to be kept moist and cool as it grows. Chinese cabbages can often look pretty scruffy at first glance, but peel back a few of the manky outer leaves and you’ll get down to that beautiful, crisp-and-crunchy white heart.

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