Getting the most from your summer garden

Did you plant tomatoes and other edibles in the spring? If so, you’re probably enjoying the fruits of your labors. Isn’t it tempting to let the zucchini do its thing while you lounge around in the hammock?
Not so fast.
Many gardening magazines and books will tell you that this is a slow season with little to do except prepare for the slow, cool fall ahead. This is good advice for readers in Des Moines and points east: not so much for those in Long Beach and Signal Hill.
Southern California occupies a unique place in the garden world. Our fall does not begin until November– sometimes in late November, when the days start to cool and rain is a possibility. September and October can be brutally hot.
That means you have plenty of time to plant heat-lovers like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Until the end of July, you can even start them from seed if you can’t find transplants.
Got a shady spot? Sow lettuce, radish and carrot seeds.
Mixing flowers with vegetables encourages good bugs to visit. I did that this year and have had great results. Thanks to the busy bees that do the fertilization, I’ve got more tomatoes and squash than usual. Just toss in some nasturtium seeds or transplants of cosmos and rudbekia.
Having trouble with powdery mildew? That’s the stuff all over your squash. Every few days, spray affected plants with a 1:9 solution of skim milk and water. The mildew disappears quickly and the plants appreciate the calcium, too.
Worms are attempting to tunnel through my vegetables and flowers, but I’m after ‘em with a two-part plan. First, I examine the plants, paying particular attention to the underside of the leaves. This is a lot of work, but, fortunately, I have live-in help. Snap is a 15-pound tomcat who takes his gardening duty seriously. Every day, we lie on our backs together and gaze up into sunlit tomato leaves. When I see a worm, I remove it and squash it.
When Snap and I are busy with other duties, I rely on bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is a biological control that disrupts the digestive system of worms; it doesn’t affect other bugs or humans. I mix it with water and spray vulnerable plants once a week. You’ll find it at Home Depot.
Do you like Target’s plant department? Me, too. Load up soon, though. The big-box retailer is doing away with horticulture to make room for groceries.

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