The Hippo


Jun 17, 2019








Veggie garden must-dos
Get on these tasks immediately

By Henry Homeyer

 OK, nobody likes to be told what they have to do or when they have to do it, and you don’t really have to do these things immediately — but doing them soon will help you later on.

It’s time to thin root crops, my least favorite task in the garden. But carrots, beets, parsnips and so forth need to be thinned in order for them to develop well.
You need to put in your tomato supports to keep the plants off the ground, either tying them to stakes or surrounding them with wire cages.
You need to hill up your potatoes if they have 6 to 12 inches of green growth by now.
Cut off those tall flower spikes from your rhubarb. Quick, easy, productive.
Let’s take a look at each of these tasks. First, it’s important to thin root crops that are too close. I’m assuming you planted these frost-hardy plants in late April or May, and they have gotten to be 3 inches or so tall by now. 
Carrots and beets can compete with each other just as they would have to compete with weeds. Nutrients from the soil, water, even sunshine is minimized if veggies are too close. So thin your carrots and beets to an inch apart now, and 2 to 3 inches in a month. Yes, you can get a crop without thinning, but the production is vastly reduced. And you can eat the thinnings.
Beets seeds are actually seed capsules with two to three seeds inside each one. So no matter how well you space your seeds, you will need to thin them. There are monogerm beets like Moneta from Johhnys Selected Seeds that only have one beet embryo per seed capsule, but those are rare. You can re-plant the thinnings, but it’s not always successful. Take a pencil, poke a hole, drop in the roots of the beet, and firm up the soil. Or you can just eat the beet greens.
When I was young and very busy raising kids, I didn’t stake up all my tomatoes. Some I let flop over and lay on piles of straw. Those on the ground suffered from diseases much more than those I caged. I now use four-legged cages that are 54 inches tall — the biggest commercially available.
This year a friend gave me a home-made cage made from sheep fencing. The fencing is made into a 24-inch cylinder that stands 48 inches tall. Each cage needs a 6-foot grade stake to keep it from tipping over and openings that are big enough for your hand to pass through to pick tomatoes. I’ll decide if this cage is worth replicating next year.
Depending on the weather and where you garden, it may be time to hill your potatoes. This means adding soil over the planted seed potatoes. Roots go down from the seed potato, and new potatoes form above the seed potatoes. If you want lots of potatoes, there has to be room for them to grow. So adding soil from the walkways or your compost pile is essential to having enough depth for good production. Another way to do that is to pile on a thick layer of hay or straw, a technique I am trying with some of my potatoes.
Rhubarb, I have heard, is one of the last flavors to be lost by the elderly as their senses diminish. That’s why, I suppose, homes for the elderly serve rhubarb desserts this time of the year. It’s very easy to grow; once established there is little to do other than occasionally add some compost to the soil, or to scratch in some organic fertilizer.
By now, however, rhubarb is sending up tall shoots with white flowers to produce seeds. They are quite spectacular as flowers go — they grow as fast as Jack’s proverbial beanstalks. But like all seeds, they consume energy and minerals from the soil, so it makes sense to cut them down.
Last, but not least, you need to weed. You know that. I find that if weeding becomes a regular part of your day — like brushing your teeth or making your bed — the weeds will not overcome your garden. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day will make a huge difference.
Right now I have been concentrating on tall, deep-rooted weeds like dandelions and burdock. I find that since the soil is moist down deep, it is easier to get these weeds now than later in the summer when the soil is dry. I use a garden fork to loosen the soil down a foot or more, then apply even, gentle pressure pulling on the top of the plant. Most come out all in one piece. That’s good, as a broken tap root will send a new plant up later.
Never let weeds go to flower or set seeds. If nothing else, snip or pull off the flowers to keep the weeds from producing seeds. If you have particularly virulent weeds like goutweed, dispose of the flower heads in the trash going to the incinerator or landfill. Some weeds can produce viable seeds even after being pulled or having their flowers cut off.
So get busy in your vegetable garden. There’s lots to do.

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