By Paula White
Vegetable gardening tips for the backyard gardener
The Bay Area is a great place to garden, because you can do it year round! If this is your first time cultivating vegetables, that can be very reassuring, since you can always try again later if something goes wrong. Don’t be afraid to experiment and you might find it helpful to keep a gardening journal with notes about the date you planted seeds and other observations. Today’s tips are focused on caring for your plants after planting. If you haven’t yet started a garden and want to, check out our How to Plant a Garden video.
As we head into drier and hotter weather, regular watering is key to keeping your plants happy and healthy.
When: Early morning is best, but any time of day is better than never.
How much: The soil should be damp, but not waterlogged. Larger plants need more water and plants grown in containers will dry out faster than plants planted in the ground. Plan on daily watering during the dry season.
Dos and don’ts: Hand watering with a watering can or hose works well and is relatively simple. The goal is to let the water slowly soak into the soil–never blast the plant with water. Avoid getting water on the leaves if possible to prevent the leaves from getting sunburned. Water that’s splashed on leaves can also spread diseases.
Watering conservation systems: If you want to grow a lot of plants and are concerned about your water bill or just want to be more efficient, there are some great tools out there. Watch our rainwater harvesting video and learn how to connect your downspout to a rain barrel so you can harvest rain from your roof during the rainy season and use it to water your plants during the dry season.
Your plants are going to love all this water–and so are the weeds. Why should you be concerned? For one thing, weeds compete with plants for soil nutrients and water. Secondly, weeds can act as a freeway to your plants for pests. The photo below shows a bean plant growing in the middle of weedy grasses. Notice the yellowed leaves from lack of nutrients (the grasses got it all), holes caused by slugs munching on the leaves, and dried out leaves from water getting on them.
Which brings me to the next topic: pests. I’m going to mention just two that I encounter frequently, snails and slugs. These slimy pests are active at night and like to hide in moist spots. Cleaning out debris where they can hide helps. When you find a snail, smash its shell and bury it or put it in your compost. Don’t just throw it into your neighbor’s yard because it will come back! You can also protect young seedlings which are favored by these pests by placing a strawberry basket weighted with a rock over the young plant. And though it might be tempting to head to the hardware store for some slug killer, chemical pesticides can harm bees and other beneficial insects and should be avoided at all costs! For more information about other common garden pests and how to control them with beneficial insects, consult our fact sheet. To learn how to fight diseases and pests the natural way tune into a webinar about organic gardening from an integrated pest management perspective on June 18.
Pro tip: Attract bees and other beneficial insects through strategic planting of native plants. Or go permaculture and train pole beans to climb up the stalks of sunflowers, a favorite of honey bees.
I have found that gardening is habit forming. Each year, I want to grow more and know more. Fortunately there are plenty of resources. In addition to Youtube, I have found Pam Peirce’s Golden Gate Gardening to be a comprehensive and helpful book about gardening in the Bay Area. The Contra Costa County Master Gardeners website has a wealth of information, including a staffed help desk (check for current availability of the service). Finally, be sure to check our gardening resources webpage again soon for updates. Good luck with your harvest!