Growing summer vegetables here in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit tricky, not just for new gardeners, but for experienced gardeners as well. Our frequent warm and sunny days in early spring lure us out to shop for plants, and with tomato and basil starts for sale right out front at many big box stores it is easy to be tempted into a purchase. The hard truth is that without some kind of protection for these plants until summer arrives, their health and productivity is likely to be reduced. This year was the perfect example; we had five 80-plus degree days in May with nights above 50 degrees, but, as Western Oregon’s weather is prone to do in spring, we had returned to cool temps and chilly nights by month’s end. Summer vegetables do not like these conditions, and their growth may be arrested as a result. Perhaps even more importantly, plants in less than ideal conditions are more prone to disease throughout the growing season. The good news is that these issues are easily avoided by waiting to plant your summer vegetables until nights are consistently 50 degrees or above, which on average happens in the month of June.
What does that mean? It means that it is absolutely not too late to plant summer vegetables! June is actually the ideal time to plant many crops, including tomatoes, squash and zucchini, melon, peppers, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, basil, and many other herbs. If you have summer crops that you planted early and you fear they are struggling, consider replacing them with new starts. Keep in mind that if you purchased a tomato plant that had been sitting outside of a retail store in chilly, spring conditions, it was likely affected by the cold for days or even weeks before you purchased it. Starts that are available for sale now have surely seen more sun and warmer temps that those that were offered for sale back in April.
Now that you know it is not too late to plant a summer garden, be sure to prepare your planting area by adding compost and an organic fertilizer (follow the package instructions). We recommend and carry planting compost and fertilizer from E.B. Stone. If your soil is not heavily compacted, such as in a raised bed or undisturbed area of your yard, there is no need to rototill or dig excessively to loosen the soil, in fact, excessive disturbance to the soil is becoming increasingly discouraged as we learn more and more about its complex web of life. Using a tool like a flat fork (which looks similar to a pitchfork but with flattened rather than rounded tines), simply insert the fork approximately every 6 inches and gently rock it back and forth. Not only is this technique easy on the soil's organisms, but it does a fine job or dispersing the compost and fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil for planting. Now, simply plant your starts and water them in thoroughly. With the benefit of warm temperatures already having arrived, you’ll be enjoying fresh food from your garden in no time!