As summer quickly approaches, the days are getting longer and the plants in your garden are starting to look like legitimate fruits and vegetables! Even if it’s only your first summer with the green thumb, watching your plants transform from seeds into recognizable produce under your watchful eye provides a sense of self-fulfilled excitement. As we head into the peak of produce season, heed the novice advice of gardening gurus and Travaasa Austin’s farm manager, Kim Grabosky, to ensure that you will have a happy and healthy garden for months to come.

Be in control of your space. If you are new to gardening it may be easy to get carried away with the wide variety of plant and seed options at your local nursery. If you have never been a fan of squash, don’t fool yourself into buying squash seeds just because it seems easy to grow. To make your selections, think of the types of produce that you enjoy eating on a daily basis. Focus on caring for a small amount of planting space and avoid planting varietals that take up a lot of ground space, like squash and corn for example. It is important to prioritize when growing your own garden and concentrate on the most desirable crops.

Be aware of sun exposure. Before planting your garden, acquaint yourself with the sun exposure of your garden site throughout the day. Some crops need a full day of sun, while others will tolerate or even thrive in some shade. Great shade-tolerant vegetables to consider planting include leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, mustard greens and root vegetables like beets, carrots and turnips. On the contrary, make sure to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash in direct sunlight as they need a full day of summer sunshine.

Know how often to water. New plants (less than one year old) need to be watered regularly so that they can develop properly. Even drought-tolerant plants need to be watered often until they are well established, which usually takes at least one growing season. A good rule of thumb is to water your plants when the soil is dry a half inch below the surface. Keep in mind that when temperatures creep up and the summer sun is hotter than average, your plants will need more water than normal. Be cognizant of your garden and respond accordingly.

Take action to protect your garden. No one likes finding insects in their home-grown fruits and vegetables. Use a few tips from Farmer Kim to keep the bugs at bay in your summer garden.

  • Plant Marigolds and other companion plants and flowers at the edge of your garden bed so that they do not attract pests in the center of your planting space.
  • Keep a watchful eye on your plants and take action immediately to prevent large bug outbreaks.
  • Spray your garden with an organic pesticide to eliminate infestation. Neem, garlic oil, white clay, and wood ash are all options for organic pest control.
  • Know when to give in. If you have kept a plant around well past its natural growing season, a bug infestation might be an indication that the plant is at the end of its lifecycle. Keep in mind, insects usually attack the least healthy plants first.
  • Consider saving your heirloom and open-pollinated seeds from plants that resisted damage from insects. This is a way to boost insect-resistant traits in the plants you grow year after year.
  • Leave the little black and orange (almost miniature salamander-looking) larva on your plants. They will eventually grow to become ladybugs that will eat the aphids for you.
  • Don’t under-estimate the power of hand-picking worms and stink bugs off.
  • If you have a prevalent pest in your garden, learn its patterns so you will know what is best to plant the next year to prevent the bug from becoming a regular presence.
  • DO NOT KILL: Spare the yellow, black and white caterpillars that form gold chrysalis. They will someday turn into beautiful Monarch Butterflies. Also, don’t hurt the Parsley Worm Caterpillars, they turn into Swallowtail Butterflies.

Remember all bugs play a role even if they don’t fit the gardener’s agenda so be thoughtful before you declare war. Happy gardening!