7 essential summer tasks for a raised bed vegetable garden

Originally appeared at National Gardening Bureau and All-America Selections.

The key to a high-yielding raised bed vegetable garden is to grow healthy plants.

Vegetable plants that are provided with plenty of sun, consistent moisture, and a steady supply of nutrients are more likely to produce a heavy crop.

The great thing about gardening in raised beds is that they offer so many advantages to a vegetable gardener. The soil warms up earlier in spring, they can be planted intensively, and they often have fewer weed issues than in-ground gardens. Depending on your soil and climate, I find raised beds do need to be watered more frequently as the soil is well-draining. However, mulching with a material like straw helps retain soil moisture.

Written by Niki Jabbour
Savvy Gardening

Here are my seven essential summer tasks for a raised bed vegetable garden:

1.)  Watering

Watering is an essential task in the summer vegetable garden as plants need a consistent supply of moisture to grow and produce well. I mulch be-tween my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash with straw or shredded leaves to help the soil retain moisture. When watering I try to water the soil, not the plant. This helps reduce the spread of soil-borne diseases like early blight on tomatoes. To minimize watering time, you can set up an automated watering system but I prefer to water by hand. It doesn’t take very long and allows me to keep a close eye on my plants for any signs of insect or disease damage.

2.)  Weeding

When I transitioned my garden from an in-ground plot to raised beds, my time spent weeding was slashed significantly. Why? First, we never walk on the soil of our raised beds so the earth is not compacted. Composted soil invites weeds. Secondly, I plant each bed intensively, not leaving open space where weeds could grow. And, if I spot any weeds (which sometimes pop up when I amend the soil with aged manure or compost), they’re quickly removed. I NEVER let weeds go to seed in my raised beds. I also use mulches like shredded leaves and straw on the soil surface to reduce weed growth.

3.) Thinning

Not all vegetables need to be thinned but those that are direct seeded often need to be properly spaced once the seedlings emerge and are growing well. Spacing information is listed on the seed packet, but I aim to space carrots one and a half to two inches apart, beets two to three inches apart, and turnips two to three inches apart. I also thin bush beans to three to four inches apart. To thin plants that are quite entwined, like beets, I use small scissors or herb snips. I don’t want to accidentally remove the seedlings I wish to keep as I pull out the extras. Also, I never leave the discarded seed-lings behind. In the case of carrots seedlings, leaving them to decompose on the soil surface could attract a pest like carrot rust fly. Instead, bury the thinning in your compost pile or the soil.

4.) Fertilizing

‘Feed the soil, not your plants’ is a common mantra among gardeners and for good reason! Healthy soil results in healthy plants. And healthy plants can produce a maximum harvest. I try to feed my soil with plenty of compost and aged manure, but I also work in an organic granular fertilizer at planting time. As my vegetables grow, especially long-term crops like tomatoes and peppers, I apply a monthly dose of liquid kelp or fish emulsion.

5.)  Staking

I grow a lot of vertical vegetables in my raised beds to maximize production and the way they are supported depends on the type of crop and how it grows.

Indeterminate tomatoes – Vining tomatoes like AAS Winners Mountain RougeFire Fly, and Valentine can grow six feet tall or more! I support them with a one by two inches by seven-foot-long wooden stakes. I tie new growth weekly to the stake.

Cucumbers – I like to grow cucumber plants, like AAS Winners Green Light and Diva vertically on metal mesh trellises like cattle panels. Cucumbers climb without any extra help.

Peas – Pea plants like AAS Winners Mr. Big and Sugan Snap can be supported on netting or trellises. The plants will be heavy so be sure to choose a sturdy support.

Pole beans – I love growing pole beans, like AAS Winners Seychelles and Kentucky Blue on my metal mesh tunnels that arch above the pathways between my raised beds. Pole beans can also be grown up bamboo posts or on trellises.

6.)  Succession Planting

In my region, the question in late May is, “Did you get your garden in?”, referring to whether one has had a chance to plant all their vegetables. But as a year-round vegetable gardener, my garden is always in, as I constantly succession plant new seeds or seedlings as crops are harvested. For example, in spring the beds are filled with early greens and root vegetables. As these are eaten, they’re replaced with bush beans, squash, and cucumbers for summer. These are followed by fall beets, carrots, and lettuce. And in winter, we harvest cold-tolerant vegetables beneath cold frames and mini hoop tunnels. Succession planting allows you to significantly boost production and I keep seeds on hand for successive crops.

7.)  Bug Patrol

Spoiler alert: you WILL see bugs in your vegetable garden. That said, most of the bugs you spot are either beneficial or neutral. Sure there are some bad guys to watch out for like squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and Colorado potato beetles, but you don’t need to panic at the sight of a bug. The first step is figuring out what type of bug you have. Many pests can be handpicked and dropped in a bucket of soapy water. As an organic gardener, I avoid spraying, even natural pesticides as I don’t wish to harm pollinators and beneficial insects. I also include a variety of flowers and herbs in my raised vegetable beds to entice pollinating and predatory bugs.

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