Summer vegetable gardens can provide fresh produce at reasonable costs. Bright red tomatoes still warm from the sun and vibrant yellow squash keeping cool under big green leaves are some of the benefits that summer gardening offers. Seeds and soil come cheaper than store-bought, making growing your own vegetables even more alluring. For the beginner, planning such a garden can seem daunting. Keeping basic concepts in mind will help ensure successful harvests year after year.
Summer vegetable gardening involves growing vegetables that thrive in heat, like beans, peppers and zucchini. Full sun and well-drained soil are common requirements for summer vegetables. One pole bean variety features fruit with purple skin, certain eggplant varieties grow white fruit and tomatoes grow in smaller bite sizes and monsters weighing up to two pounds. Certain hybrid cultivars have been bred to be disease- and pest-resistant, and to enhance desirable physical characteristics. The first gardening challenge is choosing from the thousands of varieties.
Growing vegetables in fertile, well-tilled soil optimizes plant production. Conduct a soil test one year before planting by purchasing a kit from a county or parish extension agency and scooping a sample and sending it to experts to test. Amend soil according to the types of vegetables that are to be grown and recommendations provided by extension agencies.
Because summer vegetable plants typically do not weather frosts well, timing is essential for planting and growing. Planting must take place after all danger of frost has passed. Know which USDA hardiness zone you reside in and watch weather forecasts to determine when the last frost date is predicted. For successive planting, count back accordingly from the predicted first frost date of the fall to ensure certain plants sown later in the summer have enough time to mature. Some plants, like squash, grow best if planted as seeds into the ground. Others, like tomatoes, perform better as transplanted seedlings.
Summer vegetables need to be consistently watered, either naturally via downpours or manually by gardeners, particularly during lengthy dry spells and when plants are in bloom and producing fruit. Growing plants with fruit need more water than younger plants. Mulching helps retain soil moisture and protects plants with shallow root systems from damage. Keeping areas around plant bases weed free is essential because weeds sap soil nutrients away from plants and, if left to grow out of control, can strangle healthy vegetable cultivars.
Diseases and Pests
Summer's heat and humidity make it possible for plant diseases and pests to thrive. Inadequate care, like infrequent watering or too much moisture, can cause diseases to proliferate and pests to take up residence on plants. Decrease the chances of diseases and pests by planting disease- and pest-resistant varieties, watering at the base of plants, rotating crops each year and using pesticides.