Hands in the Dirt: MLT gardening tips for June

Welcome to June, even though it kind of still feels like May with the rain and cool nights we’ve been having.

Nighttime temperatures are still hovering around the 50-degree mark, which means depending on your garden microclimate, tender plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant can still benefit from a little extra protection like a cloche or Wall-O-Water. Many gardens will be fine with no extra protection at this point. Cucumbers, summer, and winter squash can all still be direct sown early in the month, and can even outpace seeds sown last month that were stalled in the cooler weather.

As your tomatoes grow, there are a few things to be conscious of.

Number 1 – water from irrigation or rain can splash soil up onto the leaves which can lead to discolored leaves and spreading soil-borne diseases. You can combat this by pruning off the lower leaves as the plant grows.

Number 2 – indeterminate tomatoes send out suckers from the nodes between each leaf and the main branch.  You can let these grow, but they end up being a drain on the rest of the plant, and won’t necessarily lead to more fruit to harvest. Suckers can be removed by pinching with your fingers when they are small, or snipping with clippers when larger. (Note: suckers larger than 5 inches or so can be planted separately and will root and become a new tomato plant!) Double check before pruning smaller suckers – you don’t want to snip off a fruiting branch on accident!

Number 3 – most tomatoes benefit from trellising. There are many ways to trellis tomatoes, from the standard tomato cages found at any hardware store, to stakes and twine, to hanging string from an overhead post, to weaving the plants through mesh trellis. The right trellis will depend on your growing set up, but a simple cage or tall stake will work for most home gardeners. The big takeaway from all three of these tomato tips is that each will help prevent disease, promote airflow, and lead to a healthier plant with a better harvest.

You aren’t the only one needing a haircut – your herbs need one, too! Continually harvesting herbs like thyme, mint, and oregano will lead to bushy plants with lots of new growth. These plants all send out new branches from leaf nodes. Want more thyme or rosemary plants? Try layering by covering a section of branch with a bit of soil, pat down, and water. Check back in a couple of weeks and there should be new roots growing from the buried branch! At that time, simply cut the section from the main plant, dig up and replant. We are currently doing this with lemon thyme at the BOG.

It doesn’t feel like it this week, but it’ll soon be time to water the garden regularly. Mulching the veggie garden can help with water retention, in addition to helping prevent the issue above of soil splashing onto plants. Some common mulches include seed-free straw, pesticide- and herbicide-free grass clippings, and chopped or shredded leaves. Drip irrigation systems can be a water and time saver in the long run, even though there is a decent upfront cost to get one set up. Watch your seeds, though, as seeds need to be consistently moist in order to germinate, and some systems (like the one at my house) adequately water enough for plants, but not enough to keep the surface moist.  A drip system is on the BOG’s wish list for next year.

We are waiting until there is an official announcement that Snohomish County is in Phase 2 of reopening before hosting any events at the BOG. It looks like that may be happening soon, so keep your eyes peeled for notification about a work party! We have been authorized to expand in two areas, but we need your help to get those areas cleared of grass and weeds before we can do any planting. Hope you can join us.

Have a question about gardening? Ask it on our Facebook page (facebook.com/mltbog).

About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden (BOG) is a volunteer-led effort to develop a community garden at Ballinger Park. The BOG, in partnership with MLT Recreation & Parks and the MLT Senior Center and funded by a grant from the MLT Community Foundation, is currently in “Phase 0” while larger construction activities (creek restoration and trail installation) are completed. Phase 0 includes maintenance of the existing raised beds and a garden plot on the south side of the MLT Senior Center in Ballinger Park.  Phase 1 will involve installation of a larger garden with plots available for community members to maintain. Want to volunteer, or have an idea of what you want to see in the future garden? Please let us know.

To stay up to date on what is happening at the BOG, including what’s growing, work parties, and events, follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/mltbog) or Instagram (Instagram.com/mltbog).

— By Robyn Rice

Robyn Rice grew up in Eastern Washington, pulling weeds and picking up rotten fruit as dreaded chores assigned by her Master Gardener father.  Today, Robyn is a fisheries biologist for an environmental consulting firm, and has been gardening in the Seattle area since 2010.  Her science background leads to endless research about the “correct” way to do things, but her enthusiasm and sense of adventure leads her to garden fearlessly because hey, what’s the worst that could happen?




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