During long summer days, the garden tasks seem as long as the daylight hours. It can be overwhelming. Here’s how I prioritize what tasks get done, because it won’t all get done:
Trash Unplanted Annuals: Pitch the things you haven’t planted in favor of what you have planted. For me, this included several flats of Swiss-cheese bok choy, weedy leeks and some sad, sun-burnt lettuces. Those flats sit on tables in front of the garden, reminding me of what I haven’t done. It’s time to tip them into the compost pile and try again next year. From experience, many of those spring annuals won’t do well if planted in June. I grew old bok choy one summer only to have it bolt within days of going in the ground.
Set Up Infrastructure: Get those cukes, tomatoes and pole beans off the ground. They’ll grow without the structures, but oh man, will it get messy fast. Fruit becomes harder to spot and harvest. Pests find your hard-earned produce easily, and disease can take down whole plants if there’s not enough airflow. So, this weekend, if you need some T-posts, netting or twine, get it and use it. It’s better for your out-of-control tomatoes to crawl all over a tomato cage than to run along the ground—you’ve got a better chance of eating a tomato yourself instead of feeding local critters.
Kill Dying Plants: It’s hard, but it’s for the best. If something looks like it’s not going to recover, go ahead and rip it out and plant something else. Squash, tomatoes and cucumbers all are particularly susceptible to disease in the humid Southeast. If the plant isn’t producing new, green leaves while the mature leaves develop a white frost on its leaves, that’s a mildew that can quickly spread to your other plants. If you aren’t sure what’s happening, ask other Georgia gardeners in your circle, or call your local extension office for a verdict.
Harvest on Time: This is a big one if you want to eat the produce coming out of your garden. Maybe this is less of a goal for you—one neighbor looked at her garden produce, posted Facebook photos and then threw it into the compost bin. Did I judge her? Sure! But she loved working in the garden, not eating or cooking her produce, and she knew it. I use this lesson on a small scale: Not every ugly eggplant, wobbly squash or questionable tomato needs to be eaten. I toss most of the garden scraps to the goats or chickens, but I know the compost bin worms wriggle happily every time they receive squash marred by blossom-end rot. Harvesting on time does cut down on produce waste, and it isn’t onerous with a regular schedule. I like to harvest Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays.Weed Maintenance: Weeds rank last on this priority list for a reason—they should not be your focus. Are weeds choking producing plants? Weed it! If not, it’s probably OK. Investing in a stirrup hoe can take some of the back-bending sting out of weeding, as well. Weeds are going to happen. They do every year. The point is not to be without weeds, it’s to make them more manageable. Bermuda grass will, inevitably, invade. My partner and I disagreed about weeding the first year we had a big garden together. He thought the goal should be no weeds. My goal was not so many weeds that they killed our vegetable plants. Consequently, the argument led to no one regularly weeding and our overgrown garden attracting all sorts of pests. We’ve both softened our positions in following years with more success. The garden receives weekly weeding sessions, and I use rye grass, clover and vetch to cover spaces regularly invaded by Bermuda grass.
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