Late Spring Vegetable Garden Maintenance

By Published On: May 30th, 20234.5 min readCategories: Garden, Projects

As the vegetable garden hits high gear in late spring, it’s a good time to check the garden beds to make sure they’re ready to yield a big harvest

a vegetable garden in late spring

Sunflowers, corn and herbs are off to the races in late spring

Even though it’s been a rather gray May (common here in San Diego if you’re west of the foothills), the lengthening days and warmer nights are contributing to a garden shifting into high gear. Transplanted crops like the tomatoes and onions are really taking off, doubling in size from just a couple weeks ago. The direct-planted crops like the beans, sunflowers and corn are growing even faster.

How the Garden Grows: April-May 2023
South Beds

Those are the main beds in the center of the vegetable garden. There are also three beds to the north, and the new herb and flower garden (which, amdittely, also has sweet corn) just south of the main beds.

Herb & Flower Beds

Other than tying up the tomatoes to the support trellises, there isn’t too much work to do right now. The lack of rain and drip watering systems are keeping the weeds to a minimum. The inter-planting of beneficial (and edible) herbs and flowers such as dill, borage and marigolds, has done a pretty good jobs of keeping the insect pests to minimum, while the liberal use of my hot pepper spray repellent has kept the squirrels at bay.

If there’s one problem I am having, it’s gophers. I’ve trapped 11 so far, but two — one in the herb garden and another over by the bean trellis — have done a good job of eluding me. So far, I’ve only lost a couple of beans and a dill plant, so I’m not too worried about it. But if they do more damage, I’ll have to really go to war.

Soil testing before blooming starts

The one thing I am checking right now is soil condition. Once the plants get to blooming and fruiting, they’re going to suck up a lot of nutrients in a very short time, so it’s important to make sure they’re available beforehand.

While you can buy a soil test kit that’ll give you an idea of how much of the three essential elements (potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus) are available in your soil, I ‘ve got a simpler test that can be done without buying anything.

Worm count test

The number of worms lining in the soil is an indicator of how healthy the soil is overall. All you do is dig up a couple handfuls of soil from 4 to 6-inches down in the garden bed and count the count the number of worms you find.

If there are more than 8-10 worms, the soil is doing well. If there are fewer, some soil amendments will be needed based on whether your soil is too acidic or too alkaline.

worms and soil on a trowel

Worm count tells us this soil is healthy

A neutral soil has a pH of 7, but a slightly acidic soil in the range of 5.5 to 7 pH is best for the soil microbes, worms and other organisms that make nutrients easily accessible to the plants.

Soil acidity/alkalinity test

To check the soil’s condition, I do a simple vinegar / baking soda test. It’s a couple spoons of soil in two containers. To one container I add half a cup of white vinegar. To the other I add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda dissolved into half a cup of water.

If the soil in the vinegar fizzles, the soil is alkaline (aka: “sweet”). If the soil in the baking soda/water solution fizzes, it’s acidic. If nothing fizzes, it’s pH neutral. Because microbes like a slightly acidic soil, I’m looking for a little fizz (not a frothing container) in the baking soda test and little-to-no fizz in the vinegar test.

If the soil turns out to be too acidic, I add lime, or more often potash left over from the barbecue because a) it’s free, and b) it breaks down quickly.

A bucket filled with ash

Wood ash (potash) from a barbecue is good for adding “sweetness” to the soil

If the soil turns out to be too alkaline, I bring the pH down by adding organic matter like coffee grounds, pine needles and dried leaves. If none of that is available (which is unlikely given the amount of coffee I drink and the quantity of needles my pine trees drop), powdered sulfur (available at most garden centers) works as well.

spent coffee grounds on a coffee filter

Coffee grounds will help correct alkaline soils

In either case, I just mix a bit of the amendments into the top inch of two of soil and let nature do the work of making available to the plants.

Put the Garden on Autopilot

Other than keeping the pests down and ensuring the soil is in good condition, there’s not too much else to worry about at this point in the growing season. Mostly it’s just enjoying watching the garden come to life and anticipating a big harvest once summer (and the sun) finally arrive.

Patience, in this case, truly is a virtue.

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About the Author

author avatar
Sage Osterfeld
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.

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