It can be a long wait -- three months for some home or community garden-grown fruits and veggies. The corn. The tomatoes. The eggplants. Let's not even get talking about watermelons. Growing those requires the patience of Job. It seems like your dreams of ratatouille will get squashed--or rather, it seems like the squash will never be ready for the ratatouille! Summer gardening is a far cry from spring gardening, when having fresh lettuce leaves for that evening's dinner was as easy as walking out your door and snipping the outer leaves so the rest of the plant could keep growing for the next day, and the next, and the next.
Hang in there. Reports all across Facebook (gardeners post photos of their harvests like they are their babies) indicate that the first of the summer crops are coming in right about now here in metro-Atlanta. If past experiences from seasoned gardeners are any indication, that means you'll soon be knee-deep in cukes and zucchini whether you grow them or not -- a friend or neighbor is sure to be leaving them at your doorstep, or in the open window of your car if you're not careful.
Now that the waiting is almost over, here are three things you can do right now in the garden to ensure your dinner plate is plentiful with the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.
1. Observe daily. Take a walk around your garden and check for signs of disease, decay and destruction. Remove dying leaves. Squash eggs and hand-pick bugs from leaves (drop them in soapy water). This means the dreaded tomato hornworm as well. Don't want to touch the squishy fellows? (Trust me--they are not for the faint of heart.) Snip the branch on which they are perched right into a cup of soapy water or feed them to your chickens.
2. Stake and support. Those tomato cages you put around your tomato plants when they were young and innocent may be straining to hold the explosion of growth that happened after the latest rains. Also, perhaps you didn't realize that you planted the pole beans and not the bush beans, or quite how robust your cucumber vines would be. All of these situations call for reinforcements. Add trellises, bamboo poles, and even an old folding ladder or two to your garden to provide strong support. Also, spend a few minutes helping your plants know where they should go. Direct vines to fences, poles, trellises and other supports you may have already added to the garden by wrapping their little tendrils around the support. You may even be surprised to find a pattypan squash or pickling cucumber ready for the picking.
3. Pick often. Most plants like to be picked often and will actually increase production when you do this. Once they start producing, those Kentucky Wonder beans, cherry tomatoes and lemon cucumbers will be happy to make it into camp lunch boxes daily. Check your fruit trees, too, as you might be surprised to find ripe fruit hiding beneath the leaves. Look the other way when you get to the butternut squash, melons, and pumpkins, however. They need to go the distance yet. As for your okra? Pick often at your own risk--those plants produce like nothing you've ever seen! When you get to the point when you simply can't face them again, you have options: pick and share them with your local food pantry; pick and dehydrate them to save for your winter stews; and let them grow really big, pick them, let them dry, and save them for holiday crafts. I say "and" instead of "or" because chances are you'll need to do all of those suggestions just to use them up.
Need more advice? Be sure to check out www.farmerd.com, follow us on Facebook and Twitter (and yes, we love to see photos of your fresh harvest "babies"), and come into our store on Briarcliff Road to chat about your specific gardening challenges and how we can help.