Welcome to the July lesson of Kitchen Garden School at Cornell Farm. This month, we hope that you can have as much fun as we're having planting, watering, and harvesting from our kitchen gardens, even as temperatures approach — and exceed — 90ºF. It's amazing to watch how quickly our plants are growing, from our eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers to our watermelons and cucumbers, and plenty of other veggies and herbs besides. With this heat, it's more important than ever to ensure that we're implementing best practices for watering to support healthy growth in our plants. (And don't forget that gardeners need to stay hydrated, too!) Keep reading and watching as our lead kitchen gardener, Cynthia DuVal, helps us brush up on our watering basics and walks us through a few other tasks to do in the garden this month.
In the video above, Cynthia outlines best practices for watering vegetables and fruit trees in the heat of the summer. A few good rules of thumb to consider when watering your kitchen garden this time of year are:
1) Water your plants' roots, not their leaves. Wet leaves encourage all sorts of fungal diseases to spread and take hold in your kitchen garden, which is not only unsightly, but can greatly diminish the productivity of your crops. This is why careful hand watering or opting to use a soaker hose at ground level is far preferred to an overhead sprinkler system.
2) Water early in the morning, if possible. This is best for multiple reasons: Because the soil is still relatively cool, your watering efforts are more efficient than in the heat of the day, when more water is lost to evaporation and transpiration. At the same time, any water that gets on your plants' leaves will dry more quickly than it would at night, helping to to keep both fungal diseases and moisture-loving nocturnal pests like slugs and snails at bay.
3) Water deeply rather than shallowly. As Cynthia notes, the roots of most garden plants are found within the top 18" of soil, and we want to encourage those roots to reach as deep as possible. Since roots will grow to seek out water and nutrients, watering deeply helps our plants develop the robust roots systems they need to be resilient in the face of fluctuating temperatures and moisture levels.
4) Keep an eye on the weather and adjust your watering accordingly. On a hot or windy day, plants require more water than when it's cool and overcast outside. In Portland, summer rain showers are few and far between, so don't count on too much help from Mother Nature in the watering department. And even if it does rain, this moisture may not penetrate very far into the ground, so it's always a good idea to check your soil like Cynthia demonstrates. Additionally, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the forecast: If exceptionally high temperatures are on the horizon, be sure to give your plants — including established trees — a good drink in the lead-up, which will help them to be more resilient in the face of extreme heat.
5) Know your plants and their watering needs. Gardening is in large part an exercise in careful observation. As you garden, you will intuitively develop an better-and-better sense of how the plants in your beds respond to water and the schedule they prefer. (If they start to droop after a couple of days, don't be afraid to increase your frequency!) Of course, some plants simply prefer more baseline moisture than others, and some — like tomatoes and melons — want to dry out a little more as they begin to set fruit. And where your plants are growing matters, as well. Plants in pots, for instance, will tend to dry out more quickly than those in the ground. It's a good idea to keep all of these things in mind when laying out your kitchen garden.
Armed with all of these tips, you're sure to enjoy a bountiful harvest from your garden this summer and beyond! And to help you out, check out our online selection of watering supplies — or stop by the Farm to browse in person.
Other Activities & Resources
Check out a few of the tasks you can undertake in the kitchen garden right now, along with the following "recommended reading."
- Read the July chapter of The Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening Guide from Tilth Alliance (pages 68-77 in the second edition). In this short chapter, we learn about when and what we can plant in July and looking ahead. There are also segments on collecting and preserving seeds and using flowers to attract beneficial insects!
- Check out the chapter in Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat by Meg McAndrews Cowden titled "Garden Renewal: Succession Planting in Summer," which can be found on pages 243 - 261. Here, the author talks about which veggies can be planted and harvested in July, August, and September, counting back from the projected first frost date for any given area. At the Farm, our first frost date is November 22, but this varies depending on where in town you live. (The Old Farmer's Almanac has an easy-to-use frost date lookup tool based on your zip-code.)
- The harvest is ongoing, and there are many plants ready to be picked this time of year! The garlic and shallots we planted last October are ready, and our succession plantings of lettuce, beet greens, and sugar snap peas are ready to go on our summer salads.
- As we prepare for a continued harvest, why not look up recipes to make good use of some of these fresh ingredients — or consider pickling or canning them! (Cynthia is personally looking forward to trying out a new recipe for hot-and-spicy pickled green beans.)
- The first fruit harvests are coming around. Here at the Farm, we've just harvested our red and white currants, as well as the first blueberries!
Check out the host of plants that can go in the ground now that summer is here.
- Consider planting heat-tolerant lettuce varieties in the shade of other plants! Batavia and Romaine are both performing well in the heat for us this summer.
- You can still add fruit trees and shrubs to your landscape, be sure to keep them well-watered their first two years in the ground — especially this time of year. A tree bag or watering donut like the one Cynthia demonstrates in this month's lesson is a great tool to help you water a new tree as it gets established.
- Many plants can be sown outdoors for harvest this fall. Check out the The Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening Guide for ideas! (Transplants can go out later in the summer.)
- Don't forget about other flowering edibles that can be grown in your kitchen garden to attract pollinators, including sunflowers, borage, calendula, nasturtiums, marigolds, scented geraniums, and more.
- We have a good selection of mosquito-repelling plants for summer nights outside! Check them out in our Kitchen Garden Greenhouse.
Connect With Us
If you have questions about edible gardening or would like help selecting plants, our knowledgeable team is always happy to assist you in the Kitchen Garden Greenhouse. Cynthia often gives informal tours of our display beds, so feel free to stop by for a quick walk-around! For help from afar, you can reach out to Cynthia and our Kitchen Garden team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also excited to share that, for those wanting more individualized assistance with their kitchen gardens, Cynthia is also available for personalized 90-minute Garden Coaching Sessions held in your very own garden.