I absolutely HATE working in the garden in the summertime. Once the thermometer hits 90, I become a gardening hermit and stay inside except for the first and last hours of the day. I also like to fish in the summer and would much rather be on the water than pulling weeds and tying up plants. For these reasons and many more, I put a lot of effort into making my gardens as self sufficient as possible before the heat of summer arrives.
Let’s start with the garden layout I have developed. I use raised beds and containers almost exclusively for growing most everything. The only plants I have in the ground are on the perimeters of my garden space. The paths between my beds are covered in landscape fabric and a thick layer of wood chip mulch. This keeps the weeds down significantly in the paths and makes working in the garden a much cleaner and refined affair.
When I plant my tomatoes, I make sure to plant them as deeply as possible by pinching off all of the leaves except for those leaves near the growing tip. I dig a very deep hole and bury the entire stem. I also add a few tablespoons of TomatoTone and some Bone Meal to nourish my plants during their first month or two in the ground. By planting deeply, I reduce the need to water my plants as often during the summer. I rarely water more than once a week and often go 10-12 days between waterings.
Another thing I do to reduce the need to water is by using plastic film mulch. I’ve used Red and Black film, but really like to use the Silver Reflective Mulch Film. Any color of film (except clear) will work to retain water. Black will warm the soil more, white will keep it cooler, Red is supposed to be good for tomatoes, but Silver is my go to color because of its added insect (aphid) repelling qualities. The plastic film eliminates a great deal of evaporation of water from the soil. It is also excellent at keeping your soil from washing out and keeping your plants drier when we have heavy rains. Finally, plastic film virtually eliminates weeding chores. You’ll have the occasional weed on the edges of your beds and one or two around the stems of your plants, but 95% of your beds will be weed free all year long.
When using plastic film you need some sort of irrigation system installed or you’ll need to hand water each plant at the base. I’ve tried using soaker hose under the film and it works ok, but it doesn’t not work with my rain barrels as soaker hoses need higher pressure than rain barrels can deliver. I now use drip irrigation and really like the products from DripWorks for their ease of use and excellent selection of products. I place a 1 gallon per hour drip emitter at each plant and can now water the entire garden with the turn of a valve. It takes a LOT of work to install the drip system, but once it is in, your watering chores for the rest of the year are simplified. I also have a fertilizer injector I can hook up to my drip system so I can fertilize the entire garden with one easy additional step when needed.
The final thing I do to save me a lot of work in the summer is to use tomato cages. Properly installed cages virtually eliminate the need to tie up plants all summer long as the cage hold the plants in very well and you only need to move an occasional branch that gets out of place. I really like my Texas Tomato Cages, but they are a bit more expensive than concrete reinforcing wire cages. You can use cattle panel fencing or stakes, but you’ll have to tie your plants up every few days and will likely have to do some pruning to keep your plants manageable. With cages, the only thing I prune is the bottom leaves that touch the ground. I want lots of air circulation to avoid fungal problems so I prune the bottom of the plants.
Countless hours of garden work in May allows me to spend June, July, August and September out of the garden and on the water. Try some of these techniques to free up your summertime from the drudgery of gardening in the heat!
I’ve created a FaceBook page for the 3rd Annual Tomato Tasting Event. Please RSVP!
I’ll have pics of the garden in the next week or so…until then, enjoy the beginning of Summer!