10 golden rules of the summer veggie patch

Author: Mat Pember

Water: water is everything come summer, and that's not just in the veggie patch. The key to a summer of successful veggie gardening is every time you think about water - going to the beach, taking a dip in the pool, dunking your head in a bucket - think about your veggie patch and give it a drink. In almost every garden setting, particularly small spaces filled with pots, it's nearly impossible to over-water, but oh so easy to under do it.
  
Water timing: now that you're thinking of water, it's important to get your timing right. While it may feel natural to wander into the garden late afternoon, cool beverage in hand, and deluge your plants with a jet stream of hydration, a plant demands water first thing in the morning. That's because our plants use the moisture throughout the long hot days - not at night - so you need to have them full and ready to cope with what's coming. Get into a morning routine of watering, coffee or tea in hand.
  
Mulch: to many people, mulching seems like an extra circular activity for those that like to go the extra distance, but it's a fundamental gardening task and never more important than over summer. Mulching with either pea straw, lucerne hay or sugar cane not only helps hold the moisture in the soil for longer - giving the plants an extended period to draw from it - but will help suppress competing weeds, regulate soil temperature and feed those hungry summer crops.

Mat Pember in the veggie patch.

Netting: if there's one way to spoil the aesthetic of a beautifully presented veggie patch it's netting. But it's also the one way to guarantee the protection of your prized summer bounty from the multitude of pests that roam the garden. It may not look fashionable but birds, possums, white cabbage moths and even mischievous children will all be deterred by a soundly constructed netting system.

Rats: while most think it's those cute, fluffy possums doing the bulk of the damage, more often than not it's a new nemesis, the rat. Like all pests, rats have a season when they are hungry, thirsty and looking for cover - summer. Unfortunately the veggie patch provides most of these things in spades. If you have a net, they will simply tunnel under or chew through, so we need to reinvent our defenses. Little scent bombs of spearmint concentrate positioned in likely hiding places have proven relatively effective, but to compound the effect maybe consider either a cat, python or owl as a new pet.

Holidays: the only problem with holidays is that they come at the peak produce time for the veggie patch and often signal an end to all your efforts. Without an automated watering system your tomatoes will turn to dust. Make sure you set up some form of watering that will see the patch survive the break or invest in some self-watering beds such as wicking gardens, which h draw from a reservoir of water below and pull moisture through the soil to the roots of the vegetables, so they can access it as required. 

Heat-loving varieties: if you're choosing some plants for the patch now, select those that really thrive in these conditions. Chillies, eggplants and capsicum sit at the highest end of the temperature scale, when the soil is loaded full of the sun's rays, and are perfectly suited to summer planting. This however does not mean they don't require the basic rights of all plants, namely water, mulch and a little bit of attention.

Short and sharp: if you're not after a long term summer commitment, there are plenty of varieties suited to a summer fling. Leafy greens and root vegetables such as beetroot, carrots and radishes are happy to find a home in the patch at any time of the year, even now. Rather than the 3-4 month slow burn, you'll be harvesting within a matter of a few weeks. As close to instantaneous gratification as you will find in the veggie patch.

Picking: it may seem strange to have to say this, but picking food is an important process in keeping the plants productive. Whether it's laziness, busyness or simply admiring the produce for too long, plants often stay overloaded and become stressed when holding to its root, fruit or foliage for too long. Make sure to pick regularly, it's in everyone's best interest.

Make sugo: if you truly want to get in the swing of the summer garden - Italian style - make pasta sauce over the summer period. Find a garage, some copper drums and a pseudo Italian family for a day and indulge in what is the quintessential summer garden party. Next step? Spaghetti and meatballs. 







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