By Janice Gestner, Master Gardener
Monitoring your vegetables daily or as often as possible will enable you to keep them healthy and give you a great harvest. Monitoring includes careful watering, weeding, mulching, insect and disease checks, and watching for overall plant development. If you have not already trellised, staked or caged plants that need support, do it as soon as possible.
Plants that benefit from trellises include pole beans, peas, cucumbers and other vine crops. Keeping these plants upright and off the ground keeps them healthy and better producers. Plants that benefit from the support of stakes include peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. Tomatoes also benefit from cages to help keep them contained.
Continue watering at a rate of one inch per week. If it does not rain an inch per week, water by hand so plants can continue to thrive. For gardeners with sandy soils, it is better to water twice a week at a rate of half an inch at a time (or more) because sandy soils do not retain water as well as loamy or clay type soils. To test the need for water, dig down two inches and evaluate the soil. If the soil is dry, water. It is best to water early in the day due to disease considerations, but if plants show stress and are wilting, water immediately. Buy a good watering wand so you can reach the plants at their base. Keep water spray low and on the ground to save water and keep plants healthy. Last, if you have not already done so, consider mulching to help the soil retain water.
Weeding is important because weeds have a way of stealing soil nutrients, water, and sun space. Diseases also can be transmitted more easily with weeds in the garden. Mulching also helps control weeds. Get the weeds pulled as they appear and before they go to seed.
Insect and disease checks are done by looking over plants carefully. Check under leaves, stems and plant bases. Although there are many beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and soldier beetles, other insects can do plant damage that the gardener should try to control. For example, aphids are common in most of our gardens and do damage that may not be life threatening to the plant, but they do weaken them. Aphids are often found under leaves as small pear-shaped insects that suck the sap out of plants and leave a sticky residue. They often can be eliminated by a good spray of water.
Squash borers are insect pests that gardeners should take very seriously since they can quickly kill a thriving, healthy squash. They emerge in the later part of June and lay eggs at the base of squash plants. Watch for their small, half-inch red/orange bodies. Check the plant bases for the little brown eggs and clean them off. Eggs on the bases of the summer or winter squash plants will hatch and bore into the stems in one week! Also check the underside of the squash leaves for squash bug eggs. These need to be eliminated as well because of the damage they can do.
Gardeners who have had trouble with leaf miners and flea beetles on spinach and arugula might want to consider floating row covers to keep leaves whole and clean. Row covers can also be used on squash, cucumbers, melons, and kohlrabi before the plants flower. Go to the University of Minnesota Extension website titled “Fruit and Vegetable Insects” at for a list of insect pests and how to handle them.