I forget all about the sweatin’ and diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a biggun
Guy Clark – Home Grown Tomatoes
Another season of planting has now faded into history. The soil has been dug up, amended, and fertilized; seeds, bulbs, roots, etc. have long been planted; and are now (we hope) actively growing and producing strong and healthy plants that are beginning to flower and may even be producing fruit. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief that your hard labor is beginning to pay off.
But wait! Your work is not yet done! Far from it! Your garden’s labor requirements may have eased, but they are by no means non-existent. Now is the time to begin the work of maintaining that garden that you worked so hard to plant. Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. For without proper care those laurels – as well as those tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn, etc. – will wither away and die.
So what efforts are required of you now?
First of all, there is the critical task of watering. Mother Nature may have been generous with rain in April, May, and possibly in June. But come July, she starts becoming rather stingy with her water supply. So you must become Aquarius and start bearing water to your garden. If you applied mulch to your garden in the spring, you can reduce your watering chores somewhat. You can further reduce your watering labors by installing an irrigation system and hooking it up to a water timer that will turn the irrigation system on and off for you. But you still have to check to make sure that your plants are getting sufficient water. No irrigation system or water timer is going to do that for you. You still have to get your hands dirty. Because if you fail here, you will have nothing to show for all your spring labors but dead plants. No fresh tomatoes in your future!
And speaking of getting your hands dirty, the next critical task is weeding. Yes, I know you don’t want to hear it. It’s not a task that makes people want to jump with joy. It’s hard, dirty, laborious work that causes you to sweat more moisture than Niagara Falls, and, if you fail to apply the proper protection, fries your skin redder than a stoplight. But it must be done. If you applied mulch in the springtime, your weeding chores will be reduced considerably. But mulch is not a cure-all. Some weeds here and there are bound to get through, and you will still have to pull them or hoe them.
Failure to weed will make your garden look unsightly, spread insects and disease to your garden vegetable plants, and in general, rob your garden vegetable plants of nutrients, water and light. It may not kill your garden outright, but it will considerably reduce the yield you would have otherwise gotten if you had put in the effort to remove those unsightly weeds.
Other necessary tasks include, but are not limited to checking the leaves of your plants (both top and bottom) for insect damage, applying supplemental fertilizer to give your plants a nutrient boost to help them through the long hot summer days, and protecting your plants from pests of the Insecta, Lagomorpha, and Mammalia variety.
And as much as we all look forward to harvesting, even that requires some muscular exertion on our part. Tomatoes do not leap off the vine and jump onto your plate by themselves (if they do, may I humbly suggest that you cut back on your consumption of alcohol, cannabis, and other mind-altering chemicals?). Harvesting also requires judgement and timing. We have to know when to pick those fruits and vegetables and when to leave them on the vine or in the ground a little longer.
And I won’t even get into the garden work that needs to be done in the fall, and the planning for next year’s garden that takes place in the winter. In short, the work of the gardener is never done. But it is work that, if done well, yields a wonderful reward of sweet, crunchy, nutritious, fruits and vegetables. And that makes it all worthwhile!