Growing Melons and Okra in the Summer Food Garden
June is an ideal month to plant melons and okra. Both like to be planted in warm soil and air temperatures. It is important to not delay getting them into the garden because melons have a long days-to-maturity (DTM) and because okra's heaviest production is during our warmest months. Choose a melon you typically won't find in supermarkets...there are hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties from which to choose. Since melon seeds germinate quickly, check out the rarer varieties available from seed companies paying particular attention to the taste description as well as the DTM to accommodate your microclimate. Okra starts are a little harder to find but local nurseries with larger supplies of vegetables will carry them. The okra flower preceding the fruit may be one of the most beautiful in the food garden. But, once you see the flowers, keep your eye out for the edible vegetables that develop very quickly--they are best harvested small (2 to 4 inches).
To learn more about growing melons from Master Gardener Sara Malone, click here.
To learn more about growing okra from Master Gardener Ellie Samuel, click here.
In the Garden
Spring Into Summer
In Sonoma County we are fortunate to be able to garden twelve months of the year. But planning and a variety of gardening techniques are required for a successful succession garden. A succession garden is a bit different than succession planting, companion planting and intercropping. A number of people use the terms interchangeably and, in fact, may practice all four at the same time when transitioning their kitchen garden each growing season. Learn more and improve your garden's spring into summer.
Save the Dates for Free Fall and Winter Food Gardening Workshops
Don't miss planting a fall and winter garden. August is not too early to start in Sonoma County! And, if you don't plant a fall/winter garden, learn how to put your garden to bed as well as strategies to improve your soil over the winter. Save the following dates (look for descriptions on the calendar this summer; Saturday workshops are from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.):
- August 4, Fall into Food Gardening, Sebastopol Regional Library
- August 25, Fall Food Gardening, Harvest for the Hungry Garden, Santa Rosa
- September 8, The Transitional Fall/Winter Food Garden, Windsor Community Garden
- September 15, Fall/Winter Food Gardening, Bayer Farm Community Garden, Santa Rosa.
Plus, the Food Gardening Specialists and Kendall Jackson Winery will offer a special for-fee event on Sunday, September 30 in the Kendall Jackson Winery food garden. Stay tuned for more details about this fun and informative day. Designated funds from this event will support the all-volunteer Sonoma County Master Gardener program, allowing us to continue to provide free science-based, sustainable gardening education and consultation to county home and community gardeners.
TOMATOES: The. Most. Popular. Vegetable.
Why else would we have so many articles on our website?!
Low-Water Herb Garden
Master Gardener Jason Robinson shares which herbs you can grow to spice up your meals without expending an inordinate amount of water. Not only are they perennial plants in Sonoma County, these herbs also have the advantage of deterring critters like deer with their aroma and/or leaf texture. If you buy nursery starts, protect them for a few weeks until their delicious saltiness (from the liquid fertilizers that nurseries tend to use) dissipates. Regular water will be required until the the plants are established. Read more.
Food Garden Specialists
Food Garden Specialists (FGS) are volunteers in the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. They have a passion for and extra training in sustainable food gardening. In addition to offering food gardening workshops, they provide free advice and consultation services to community gardens throughout Sonoma County. Read more.
Food Garden Tips
June Food Garden Tasks and Tips
For what to grow this month, click here.
- Summer officially arrives on June 20. This month’s full moon is called a Strawberry Moon as it signaled the Algonquin tribes that it was time to gather wild strawberries.
- Weed and weed some more. Add more mulch (to 3-4” deep), as necessary, to suppress weeds and to retain moisture. Keep mulch away from plant stems.
- As the weather warms up, the evapotranspiration (ET) rate increases – which affects the amount of moisture your food garden needs. ON AVERAGE, during the summer – your garden needs 1 inch of water per square foot per week. How much is 1 inch of water in a square foot? About 2/3 gallon (0.623 gallon to be more exact). Here is some advice on using water efficiently - we can’t afford to waste water with our hot, dry summers:
- Rely on compost to feed your soil. That and mulch will retain soil moisture.
- Water daily if possible – adjust the weekly water needs to a daily figure if not watering daily. In general, vegetables perform better when there is even moisture in the soil in the Sonoma County hot, dry summer.
- Water only the active root zone. For most veggies, this is 6 to 12 inches deep; in deep soil in an open field or in double-dug beds, this may be 18 inches deep; for many fruit trees, this is 2 to 3 feet deep.
- Use a drip system, which is the most efficient application of water. Keep it in good repair. This requires regularly checking for leaks and plugged-up emitters.
- For 1/2 gallon emitters spaced 1’ apart, running the system for 11 minutes per day achieves the recommended 0.623 gallons/week.
- In a system with multiple dripper runs, consider installing an on/off valve at the head of each long dripper line; this allows you to easily cut off water to plants like tomatoes once they start producing, or to alliums when they get close to harvest.
- Irrigate in the early morning or the cool of the evening – not mid-day when evaporation rates are at their highest.
- Water only when needed – if the ET rate drops below average, you can decrease irrigation. Check the moisture in your soil regularly, monitor your plants’ appearance, and adjust your irrigation accordingly. Actual watering schedules will depend on soil type, container vs. in-ground, plant age (leaf/plant size), mulch, exposure and, especially, temperature.
- Stake tomatoes (and use soft ties), or use cages if they were not installed at the time of planting. Don’t handle tomato plants in the morning when they are wet from dew – disease can spread and you can bruise the plant. The stems will bend more easily in the afternoon.
- As you finish your transition from a spring to summer garden, choose early vegetable varieties with shorter “days to maturity,” that have high yields, and/or that are “drought-tolerant” or “drought-resistant” to efficiently use water. Note that “heat-resistant” refers to air temperature and does not mean that the variety performs well with less water.
- When apple, pear, peach, and nectarine trees have formed small fruit, thin them to about 4 to 6 inches apart -- about the space between your thumb and pinky finger. Less fruit requires less water and the fruit will grow bigger.
- During the spring bloom period, fertilize citrus. Typically, mature trees use up to 3 lbs of urea or 20-30 lbs of animal manure per year (reduce for smaller trees); split the application into three parts, applied during April, June and August.
- Remember to look at your planting calendar, annotated with days to maturity, so that you harvest your crops at their peak of flavor.
- Incorporate information from the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site in your garden planning to avoid food garden problems. For example, when planning a food garden, consider that members of the same plant family are susceptible to the same diseases and pests—calling for crop rotation. Plants in the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers) should be rotated as much as possible.
- Fight critters with critters – build a bat or owl house. Bats eat moths like the ones that lay eggs on vegetables, eggs that turn into hungry caterpillars. Voles are a tasty treat for owls.
- Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. Use yellow sticky tape to control whiteflies or apply insecticidal soap to the undersides of leaves. Larger pests such as hornworms and squash bugs can be handpicked and dropped into a container of soapy water or cut worms in half with garden shears.
- Know what pest you are fighting so that you can select effective pest management strategies. Check out University of California’s natural enemies gallery.
- Good cultural practices (i.e., the correct location, light, water, pruning, fertilizer, planting date) contribute to healthy plants. Sanitation is an important aspect of disease prevention. Clear garden debris and, then, clean and disinfect tools with Lysol or alcohol.