How to reap the greatest rewards from your vegetable garden – Kansas City Star

Growing vegetables can be rewarding. No matter how big or small, a vegetable garden provides fresh, nutritious and flavorful food, and harvesting your bounty is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Vegetable gardening can be even more rewarding when there are abundant crops to harvest. These simple tips will help your garden not only survive but thrive during our unpredictable Kansas City summers.

▪ Water evenly: While ample rain has fallen the last few weeks, there is no guarantee it will continue into July and August. Kansas City usually receives timely rains through the end of June. Then the pattern becomes less frequent, leaving garden crops needing water.

Vegetables have a very short time in which to produce before the season ends. Your best harvest will result when the plants are not drought-stressed. The textbook recommendation is to provide 1 inch of water per week.

There are several tricks to know if you’ve applied the right amount. Place a rain gauge in the garden and simply measure. Sometimes the best method is to just dig into the soil a few inches and if it’s dry, water. The plants will also show signs of stress when it is time to water.

It is best to water so the foliage is dry before nightfall. This reduces disease. It is also best to apply this amount in one or two applications per week so the soil is more deeply soaked.

▪ Fertilize: Spring rains, while beneficial for good growth, have also leached needed nutrients out of the root zone. A light application of fertilizer will provide the boost summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and vine crops need to produce well into fall.

You don’t need much, just enough to keep the plants growing strong. Individual plants such as tomatoes and peppers may require only about 1 to 2 teaspoons of a general garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or similar. For row crops, sprinkle this same amount along about 10 feet of row. This would be ideal for crops such as green beans.

Once the fertilizer is applied, thoroughly water into the soil to activate. This summer feeding should be sufficient to keep the plants growing through frost. A fertilizer program can be more tailored for your garden needs by getting a soil test through your local extension office. Soil testing will reveal which nutrients are needed for growth and how to properly apply.

▪ Reap the bounty: It should go without saying, but harvest in a timely manner. The fruits and vegetables we grow are really the offspring of the plant, the seeds for the next generation. If fruits are allowed to remain on the plant, the plant puts its energy into setting seed, not growing more fruits to eat.

Harvesting on a timely basis not only means you are picking at the peak of flavor but also encouraging the plant to set more flowers and fruits to enjoy.

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