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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.