Vegetable gardening, termed the return of the Victory Garden during the pandemic, is rewarding. It provides exercise and a place to take out frustrations on the weeds. There are many resources providing gardening advice. The information from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is science-based and relates to our growing conditions. A few gardening tips for the early growing season are provided below.
After planting vegetable seeds, remember to thin out the plants. This means removing some of the seedlings, according to the spacing listed on the back of the seed packet. More information about plant spacing is available in Table 4 of Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky (ID-128) found at http://daviess.ca.uky.edu/content/horticulture. Thinning out the seedlings improves air circulation around the plants, which reduces disease development and allows space for the plant to mature. More seeds than needed are planted because not every seed germinates and grows. It may be hard to thin out the seedlings, but this benefits the other plants.
Generally, vegetable crops require full sun for the best production. If grown in a shady location, plants may be weak, unproductive, and more susceptible to pests. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Lettuce will grow in light shade.
Vegetable crops need nutrients. It is best to test the soil in the garden before planting to avoid under- or over-fertilization. Damage to crops can occur by improper application or excessive use of fertilizer. Plants that are over-fertilized are more susceptible to disease and insect pests. Too much nitrogen applied too early to tomato plants will result in beautiful green plants, but the fruit will not set. Applying fertilizer during the growing season is needed. For tomato plants growing in the ground, fertilize the plants, also called sidedressing, 1 or 2 weeks before the first picking and again 2 weeks after the first picking with 5 tablespoons of a high nitrogen analysis fertilizer such as 33-0-0 per 10 feet of row. The amount of fertilizer used in raised beds depends on the type of soil or soilless media used. For information about sidedressing other vegetables, consult Table 17 in Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky (ID-128) at http://daviess.ca.uky.edu/content/horticulture.
Watch for weeds. Hand pulling or hoeing out weeds when young, 2 inches tall or less, is easiest to manage. The smaller the weed, the smaller the root system and the easier to remove. When hoeing out weeds, scrape a sharp hoe along the top of the soil to cut them off at the ground level. The goal is to avoid loosening too much soil so you don’t end up covering the weed with soil again and replanting it. If the soil is tilled too deeply, the shallow roots of the vegetables may be injured and more weed seeds are turned up, resulting in more unwanted weeds growing.
Avoid weeding when the soil is wet because it is difficult to remove from the roots and some of the roots may remain in the soil. We also want to avoid walking in the garden and compacting the soil. Pulling weeds from raised beds may be easier as the soil should be loose. However, a raised bed requires more water.
After pulling up bigger weeds, remove as much soil from the roots as possible, and take them out of the garden to prevent them from growing again. Plants with a tap root like dandelions must be dug out of the soil; otherwise, if the root breaks off in the soil, the plant will grow again.
In a bigger garden grown in the ground, a rototiller is helpful to control larger weeds between rows. Removing weeds is a season-long task, but watching for them encourages us to scout for insect pests and diseases.
To continue to help manage the weeds, remove them before they go to seed, or in other words, before seeds are produced. For some weeds, the seeds remain viable and still germinate and grow after 20 years or more. Also, eliminate weeds around the border of the garden to prevent their seeds from getting into the growing area. Don’t forget to remove soil from the equipment used in the garden to avoid moving weed seeds to other areas and to protect the tools.
Mulching the garden soil reduces weeds and soil erosion and conserves moisture by 50% by slowing down evaporation. In addition, mulch keeps the vegetables clean due to less contact with the soil. Organic mulches, such as lawn clippings from a lawn that was not treated with an herbicide to control weeds and quality straw, can be worked back into the soil in the garden at the end of the year. They should be applied at least 2 inches thick. Make sure that rain is penetrating through the mulch. In order to spread the clippings and straw farther, place 6 sheets of newspaper on the soil and spread the organic matter over it. Check under the newspaper to make sure water is penetrating through the paper. Make sure the grass clippings do not contain weed seed heads to avoid introducing more weeds into the garden.
For more information about growing vegetables, contact the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Service by leaving a message at 270-685-8480 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mulching tomato plants is important to keep the soil evenly moist to manage blossom end rot. Blossom end rot occurs when environmental conditions prevent the distribution of calcium to the fruits. The fruit rots and is not usable.