A lot of people who don’t garden think the definition of gardening is putting plants in the ground. While that’s a logical assumption to make - it’s like calling stirring a pot, cooking.
The truth of the matter is, pushing some soil aside and sticking a plant in a hole is only the teeniest, tiniest part of what gardening is. Keeping that plant alive? THAT’S GARDENING.
I need you to understand two things right now about the upcoming gardening season if you’re new to this vegetable growing stuff.
1. You will suddenly realize that nothing in the world is as miraculous as planting a seed, having it burst forth with life and then a few months later eating it with ketchup.
2. You will flip between moods of euphoria and despair often within seconds of each other.
The euphoria is the result of spending hours nurturing plants and growing your own food.
The despair is the result of spending hours nurturing plants and growing your own food -only to have it assaulted by pests and disease right before your very eyes.
That my friends, is gardening. If you think you can handle all of that, you’re ready to move onto the next step in creating your vegetable garden.
Welcome to June, the first month of keeping things alive.
What to Expect From June
By June all the plants are hopefully in the ground. The next few gardening months are dedicated to keeping the bugs, animals, weeds and disease at bay. And yes, no matter where you live you will find animals like this in your the garden.
If you get behind on any of these gardening tasks it's hard to come back from it.
But if you dedicate just a few minutes every day to each of these things you’ll have everything 100% completely under control all summer long. (hahahaha)
I rarely have things 100% under control all summer long and neither will you. And that's O.K. You're not growing an imaginary Pinterest garden. You're growing a real one.
BUT you really do need to keep on top of things. In just a few days two or three weeds can turn into a scene from Apocalypse Now.
Just trust me on this. In June, July and August it’s much easier to keep control of everything if you never let it get out of control.
There are people up at my garden who can be there the whole day and still look like they’d be able to go out for dinner straight from the garden. With the Queen. I became this mess after 4.5 seconds in my plot.
GARDEN TASKS FOR JUNE
Keeping Everything Alive
- Weed regularly, check for pests and use the control measures I'm teaching you.
- Stake and tie up plants as they need it.
- Stop harvesting asparagus so it can build up strength for the next year’s growth.
- If you have any last heat loving plants that still need to be planted get those into the ground.
- If you’re growing basil, pinch the top of the plant back. It will turn your leggy, spindly basil into a compact bush. As long as your basil is at least 8” high it’s ready to pinch.
Weed EVERY time you’re in the garden. I'm going to keep saying that.
I figured out a few years ago that the best way to weed is to do it in short bursts. So every time I’m at the garden no matter how short that time is, I weed.
Doing this one thing reduces weeds through the whole season plus it reduces them for the next year.
The more years you get rid of weeds BEFORE they flower and go to seed, the less and less weeds you’ll have every year.
The MOST important thing to keep in mind when you’re weeding is YOU HAVE TO PULL THE WEED BEFORE IT GOES TO SEED.
If the weed is flowering it needs to get ripped out NOW. Because as soon as it flowers, it will go to seed, drops those seeds and then you’re done for. You’ve just started an entirely new generation of weeds.
PESTS AND SOLUTIONS
The pests and solutions will be the same this month as they were last month so reference that article if you need reminding. But here are 3 big ones I want to remind you about.
June is when the bugs really start marching around like they own the place. Particularly invasive and destructive in this month are cucumber beetles, cabbage moth and cutworm.
If you haven’t put netting over your plants to protect them from cucumber beetles, do your best to hand pick them off. Cucumber beetles can eat entire small seedlings almost overnight if they’re travelling in packs.
Later in the season when your cucumbers are just ripening the vine will develop wilt for what appears like no reason at all and entirely die within a couple of days.
It’s caused called bacterial wilt and it’s caused by the mere presence of cucumber beetles. And there’s nothing you can do to save your plant if it gets the disease. So deal with the cucumber beetles when you see them.
Plants affected: cucumbers, beans, squash, pumpkin.
Now is when you’ll notice the small, erratically flying white moth flitting around your garden. In your former life when you didn’t know better you probably thought they were cute.
They’ll lay eggs on all your brassica plants and those eggs will hatch into tiny green caterpillars which eventually turn into large green caterpillars that will eat and poop alllllll over your vegetables.
They often do so much damage the plant can’t recover. Either that or you can’t recover after seeing a juicy caterpillar peek its head out at you as you shove a floret of your newly grown broccoli into your mouth.
Netting is your best solution but a once to twice a month spray of BTK on your brassicas (top and bottom of leaves) can help a lot.
Plants affected: kale, cabbage, broccoli, swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower.
Cutworm are actually caterpillars from various moths. They overwinter under soil and then peep up at night to go out for dinner. They’re not particularly adventurous so they eat the first thing they bump their head into which is usually the stem of your seedlings.
Then they just start chewing until they’ve literally chewed through every stem they’ve come into contact with. It will look just like someone took scissors to your plants.
Since these live in the earth row cover will do nothing to deter them.
Instead, cut a plastic bottle off at the top and bottom and place it over the seedling to act like a collar. It will prevent the cutworm from getting to the stem.
You can do the same thing by wrapping cardboard or a toilet paper roll around the stem but the cardboard will get soggy and stop doing its job over time. Hopefully by then your plant will be large enough to survive cutworm damage.
Plants affected: beans, corn, lettuce, cabbage.
But the best solution you can have for bugs? Frogs. Frogs and toads will take care of a lot of bugs so make your garden toad and frog friendly by propping a few upside down clay pots around so they can use them as shelter and keeping some dishes of water around for them to soak in.
You’ll have all the same standard tools as I mentioned last month (dutch hoe, clippers, trowel, shovel, gardening gloves, stakes/cages, row cover, compost bin) you’ll just be using them more often this month.
- Run your weeding hoe over the garden for at least 10 minutes a day to keep weeds in check.
- Clip off any dead or already diseased leaves/branches.
- Stake your tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and anything else that climbs to keep it off of the ground. This goes a long way to preventing disease and inevitable death. For the plant I mean of course.
- Check your row cover for holes and patch them or pinch them together with clips.
- When you throw things into your compost bin, if you have time, cut stems etc. into smaller pieces. The smaller the pieces the fast it will compost. And TURN your compost. Just heave it around. Turning your compost is the key to creating fast compost.
If you have a small compost pile this DIY compost turner works great. If you have a BIG compost pile, use a fork to move and turn it over.
WHAT CAN BE PLANTED THIS MONTH
The only things you might still need to plant are really heat loving seeds and plants like sweet potatoes (here’s an entire guide to growing sweet potatoes), luffa (here's an entire guide to growing luffa) and corn. All of these things benefit from laying down some biodegradable thermal mulch on the soil a week or two before planting. It heats the soil up by 10 degrees which these particular plants LOVE.
Things are going to get interesting next month when I introduce you to the wonderful world of pest control … via snakes.