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Getting the most from your garden.

It's easy to grow careless about a garden, especially late in the summer, when the flowers are blooming and the vegetables are abundant and ripe. But this is no time to sit back and take things easy. Your hard-working flowers and vegetables need your support.

Your priority should be watering. Water flowers and vegetables early in the morning when they can use it most, and water deeply to encourage deep roots that won't get burned by the hot summer sun. Water applied during the heat of midday will only evaporate; water applied at night will probably cause fungus problems.

Keep cutting flowers for bouquets. Keeping your flowers cut prevents the plant from making seeds, and it encourages the plant to bloom more vigorously-your objective, of course, in growing flowering plants in your garden! Cutting also keeps your plants lush and bushy.

The best time to gather flowers is in the last hours of daylight, when the plants have their maximum food content. This food reserve helps prolong the flowers' lives after they are cut. Cut flowers with a sharp knife rather than with scissors, which squeeze the stem as they cut. Plunge the cut flowers immediately into a bucket of water, and cut the stems again underwater (at an angle to increase the water-conducting surface) before you arrange them. Make the initial cuts just above a node on the plant, and cut again just below a node prior to arranging. (Cut roses back to just above a leaf composed of five leaflets. This is the point on the stem that has the most potential to grow another flower.) Remove all leaves and flowers from below the water line in your vase. These few simple steps will keep your summer bouquets fresh and beautiful for a long time.

If you have a problem with insects in the garden (whiteflies and other summertime critters), try applying an insecticidal soap, available in most nurseries.

While you rest in your lawn chair during the summer months, your plants are working hard to produce flowers and vegetables and lush foliage for your continued pleasure. Don't forget to feed them about once a month, or they will dwindle. Liquid fertilizers sprayed onto the plant and absorbed through the foliage give your plants the boost they need to survive the summer in prime condition.

Harvest your vegetables at the peak of their flavor. If you don't keep them harvested, they will simply stop producing, because making the existing vegetables larger (and tougher) will have used up all their energy. So when you go on vacation, let a neighbor enjoy your harvest.

Bell peppers should be harvested when they are firm; if you want a snappier flavor, let them turn red first.

Cucumbers taste best when picked small (about six inches long). A bitter taste could reflect on your watering routine-if it has been uneven, this could be the problem, (Uneven watering will also cause blossom end rot on tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.)

Tomatoes are best picked when the fruit starts to turn red. They will ripen to perfection indoors on a countertop--not in the sun. Vine-ripened tomatoes lose vitamins and flavor if they mature in the hot sun.

Eggplants should be picked when the skin is glossy and when a pressure point made with your thumb does not spring back.

Melons are ready when the fruit slips away from the skin easily.

Harvest broccoli before the yellow flowers form, when the heads are compact and firm.

Corn is ready if a kernel squirts a milky liquid when you press it with your fingernail. For optimum flavor, corn should be delivered directly into a pot of boiling water.

Beans and berries should be covered with a damp cloth while you harvest them, to keep them cool and fresh.

Summer squash is at its peak of flavor when the skin is easily marked by your thumbnail. Spaghetti squash and winter squash are ready when the stems turn grayish and start to shrivel. (Be sure to bring them in before the frost.) Winter squash and pumpkins should be picked with two or three inches of stem; they will keep better in storage. Use the ones with soft stems as soon as possible, and store the ones you can't puncture with your thumbnail.

If you have nasturtiums in your summer garden, try adding them to your salads and appetizer trays for color and flavor. They are edible, with a wonderfully pungent flavor.

Be careful not to bruise vegetables when harvesting them because decay will start. The objective is to enjoy your vegetables at their peak.

If tomato, bean, or eggplant blossoms drop, the temperature may simply be too warm. When it cools down, production will start again. (The optimum temperature for tomato production is between 55 and 85 degrees F.)

No smoking if you are growing tomatoes ! Wash your hands before you work in your garden if you are a smoker. Tobacco mosaic virus can be transmitted by your hands, and it can cause withered leaves and stunted growth.

Keep tall plants staked so they don't sag and spoil your harvest or display. Late-summer storms can play havoc with unstaked plants.

Put up a scarecrow. It's good old fashioned garden fun!

Store away a supply of gold for next year's garden: put your grass clippings and other vegetation into the compost heap.

Be a garden sleuth: walk the garden daily to see what's doing and to stay ahead of problems and harvest.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1987
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