July 7, 2016
Give it a Rest
For most Florida gardeners, vegetable gardening season is coming to a close. Hopefully your harvest has been bountiful. If you are holding on to those last tomato plants that are trying to ripen a couple more fruit, let me encourage you to let it go. The longer they stay in the ground, the greater the pest and pathogen populations become on the old plants. It is ok to let go.
You might still have eggplant, hot peppers, and okra in the garden; they will hang in there for a while, but pest pressure can catch up to them in the heat of the summer. Sweet potatoes and your tropical vegetables can take the heat but the traditional spring crops should be wrapped up by July.
One of the most important things you can do to have a healthy garden is to know when to call it quits. Remove tired unproductive plants, pull all the weeds in the bed and put the garden to rest. Some raised-bed gardeners cover the whole bed with newspaper and then cover that with mulched leaves. This prevents weeds from growing and keeps the soil slightly moist.
Other gardeners choose to solarize their garden beds with clear plastic in June, July, or August. Solarization heats the soil temperatures high enough to kill off weed seeds, fungal spores, insects, and to reduce nematode populations. It is done in full sun during the heat of the summer for 4-6 weeks. To get started solarizing, read this document, Introduction of Soil Solarization.
Properly resting the garden beds prevents weeds, insects, fungal spores, and nematodes from proliferating in the summer. This is going to leave your garden in great shape for fall planting. You will thank yourself for putting it to rest.
-- Wendy Wilber