General Garden Care

Once you’ve planted your seeds and seedlings into the garden beds, your gardening focus changes from planting to caring for your plants.

Plants do best when their growth, from planting to harvest, is steady and interrupted. Although vegetable plants might yield some sort of a harvest even if you might not be as meticulous as you should be, to get the earliest, biggest and best-tasting harvest you’ll need to properly cater for your plants’ needs.

This means supplying water whenever there is insufficient rainfall, keeping out weeds that compete for the air, light, and moisture, and applying mulches to help create a favorable environment for continuous growth.

Your approach here should be proactive first and reactive second. You should try to prevent and avoid problems, and if you fail to act quickly enough you must try to remedy the negative effects.

This guide is split into three sections: Part 1 deals with watering, Part 2 with weeding, and Part 3 with mulching.

 

Part 1. Watering

Vegetable plants need water for germination, photosynthesis, nutrient transfer and transpiration. Whenever a plant has less water that it needs, it suffers, its growth slows or stops, and the plant becomes less healthy and palatable. Its leaves get tough and bitter, its fruits less tasty, it goes to seed prematurely, and it ultimately becomes a magnet for pests and diseases.

By the time you see signs of water stress, such as wilting, the plant is already in trouble and is suffering physical damage. That’s why you want to act preemptively and water the plant before it shows signs of water stress.

Keeping up your watering is one of the most important things you can do to make your vegetables thrive.

 

What you’ll need?

Watering tools:

  • Watering can.
  • Shutoff valve.
  • Watering wand.
  • Moisture meter (optional but preferable).

STEP 1: Check the Soil Moisture

The best way to predict when the plants will need watering is to pay close attention to the soil moisture. You can do this with: (A) your hand, or (B) a moisture meter tool.

(A) By hand.

  1. Take a handful of soil from the garden bed you’re interested in.
  2. Squeeze the soil in your hand and check the moisture.

–> If you squeeze it and water comes out, the soil is too wet. If the clod of soil comes apart in lumps rather than crumbling, it’s still a little too wet.

–> If the clod just falls part by itself, the soil is too dry.

–> If it crumbles into small granules, it’s close to being just right moisture.

(B) Moisture meter tool.

  1. Insert the soil moisture meter to the desirable depth.
  2. Check the reading that indicates the moisture condition.

STEP 2: Water timely

Decide on the best time to undertake your watering based on your soil condition, the local weather pattern and other factors.

Try to avoid watering too late in the day as that may leave plants wet overnight, and thus susceptible to diseases such as mold and rot. Middle-of-the-day watering during hot weather is also not recommended as evaporation is high, which leads to a loss of water before plants can make use of it.

The best time to water your plants is in the late afternoon or early morning. This helps you avoid evaporation losses and excessively damp conditions.

Note: Seedlings and seedbeds might need extra watering in the morning to be sure they don’t get too dry during the day.

STEP 3: Water appropriately

Different plants have different water needs according to their root system and stage of lifecycle.

Germinating Seeds

The seedbed needs to be evenly and consistently moist until the plants sprout. Plants get off to the best start if germination occurs as quickly as possible.

Small seeds such as carrots, celery, and brassicas that are seeded close to the surface (about ¼ in/6 mm deep) may need light watering once a day or, in dry periods, twice or even three times a day.
Large seeds such as beans, peas, corn and other corps that are sown deeper (about 1 in/2.5 cm or more) need to absorb a lot more water. Water well and keep the seedbed evenly moist during the entire germination period.

Note: You probably won’t need to water the seedbeds during rainy periods, but make sure the beds are moist/deep enough by checking the soil and the soil moisture (Step 1).

Seedlings

Water needs for seedlings start to differ according to the type of root system they develop.

Vegetables that have compact root systems close to the soil surface, such as onions, garlic, and celery, need continually moist soil. This is especially the case in the early stages of their development, during the first two- or three-weeks post planting.

Vegetables that have a mix of shallow and deep roots, such as the brassica family, can tolerate some surface dryness but they need moderate, even moisture more deeply. Water deeply to encourage the growth of deep roots.

Vegetables that are starting to develop very wide, deep root systems, such as beets and carrots, are not bothered by surface dryness, and can go longer without water. Water deeply in the case of a long rainless period.

Mature Plants

All mature plants need good soaking from time to time. A good rule of thumb is “1 in/25mm a week” – so whenever a week or so has passed without about an inch (25 mm) or so of rainfall, give your whole garden a good watering, making sure that water permeates deeply into the soil.

Note: Stop watering if the water sits on the surface without penetrating for more than 15 seconds. In good draining soils this is a sign that the soil pores are completely filled with water.

Part 2: Weeding

Weeds are unwanted plants that compete with garden plants for growing space, nutrients, water, and sunlight. In general they germinate and grow faster that the garden plants, so that’s why they always become an issue in a garden.

Ideally, you should prevent them from growing in the first place by using no-till practices, sheet mulching the entire beds prior to planting, and using weed-free compost as the top layer, but some level of weeding will always be necessary.

If you fail to prevent them, you can anticipate them and perform preventative weeding as or before they germinate (option 1), and if they start growing you can eradicate them physically with tools (option 2), and, if they establish, with your hands (option 3). The earlier in their lifecycle you can kill them, the easier the weeding will be for you.

 

What you’ll need?

Equipment/Tools:

  • Propane torch weed burner.
  • Swan or colinear hoe.
  • Circle or wire hoe.
  • Stirrup or scuffle hoe (optional).

OPTION 1. Flame weeding – immediately after seedling

This is a good option for weeding seeded beds. The beds are moist and the weeds’ seeds germinate readily. They’ll do so faster than your sowed crops so you have a narrow window to do a preemergence flaming.

With flaming you use a propane flame to kill the weed seedlings as they emerge. Ideally, they should be less than 1 in (2.5 cm) tall. The heat intensity from the flaming for one second is enough to melt the protein cells in small weeds so they will wilt and die an hour or two after being flamed.

The not-yet-emerged crop seeds are insulated from the heat of the flame by the soil, so timing is key with this weeding method.

Note that the preemergence flaming works the best for crops that take a while to germinate, such as carrots, onions, or parsley. For quick-germinating salads such as lettuce or arugula, there isn’t much time for weeds to germinate ahead of the crop.

–>Action step: Take the weed burner and flame the bed as soon as you see the first signs of weed seedling emergence.

 

OPTION 2. Cultivation – early weed growth phase

Flaming is very effective for eradicating small weeds in seeded beds, but if you are starting with transplants it’s too dangerous to perform the flaming as it can kill off your vegetable plants as well. Also, once weed seedlings grow beyond a certain point it becomes harder to burn them (more fuel and time required). Then, the best method of weeding is cultivation.

Cultivation is a shallow stirring of the surface soil in order to cut off small weeds and prevent the appearance of new ones. As with flaming you should do this just after weeds germinate and before they grow too large (1 in/2.5 cm tall).

The best tools for this job are collinear and wire hoes. Both of these are designed for dispatching small weeds accurately, efficiently, and rapidly.

Wire or circle hoe

The fastest and most efficient way to erase all the small, newly germinated weeds is with a wire hoe. A wire hoe doesn’t look like any other hoe. It has a slicing blade that allows for the precision removal of weeds with the least possible soil disturbance.

The blade is not sharp so it won’t cut the stems of transplants if you accidentally bump into them. This way you can erase even the smallest weeds close to the stem by placing the hoe blade up against the stem and pulling them towards you.

Swan or colinear hoes.

This cultivating hoe has a thin, narrow blade attached to the handle at a 70° angle, allowing you to move the blade easily along the soil, parallel to the surface and just below it. This way you can uproot weeds with precision without disturbing the soil too much. This tool is the real weed killer!

Stirrup or scuffle hoe (optional).

For walkways and bigger areas with tougher weeds you can use a stirrup, or scuffle hoe. This tool has two sharpened edges, allowing it to cut in both directions, on both its push and pull strokes, shearing weeds off slightly beneath the soil surface.

Using the hoes:

  • Stand upright in a comfortable, relaxed position.
  • Hold the hoe handle with your thumbs pointing up the handle like you would hold a broom to sweep.
  • Place the hoe on the soil and shave just under the surface back toward you.
  • When you’ve cut all the weeds in that one area, move the blade forward another 3 in/10 cm and repeat.

 

OPTION 3. Hand weeding by pulling out the weeds – late weed growth phase

When you let weeds grow large and coarse, the weeding becomes much more difficult and involves significantly more physical work.

As a last resort, when the weeds get a good run of undisturbed growth, you can always use your hands to pull them from the ground.

  • Pull out the weed, shake off the soil from its root and dispose of it into your compost bin.

 

Part 3: Mulching

Mulching in the gardening context helps remedy watering and weeding issues as it simultaneously reduces the evaporation and suppresses the weed growth.

Additionally, it can moderate the soil temperature, keeping the soil cooler or warming it up and certain forms of mulch can provide additional nutrients.

 

What you’ll need?

You have a variety of mulches, both organic and inorganic, to choose from, so select the ones that are appropriate for the type of vegetable bed in question.

ORGANIC MULCHES – dead plant materials: compost, straw, hay, grass clippings, leaves, bark, cardboard or newspaper.

INORGANIC MULCHES – plastic mulch and landscape fabric.

Some notes on mulch:

  • To keep the soil cool, apply a layer of grass clippings, straw, or seed-free hay.
  • To keep soil warm, use a plastic mulch or landscape fabric. Use this for heat-loving crops only.
  • To suppress weeds, use an opaque plastic mulch or a very thick organic mulch.
  • For additional nutrients, if the crop you’re mulching is a heavy feeder such as squash, use compost.
  • Some of the plastic mulches don’t allow water to penetrate into the soil.
  • Moreover, some organic mulches such as leaves, cardboard, and newspaper can make it harder for water to soak into the soil quickly, particularly during periods of heavy rain.

 

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