The June Jubilee: Nurturing crops, pollinators, and harvest readiness

Published 9:14 am Thursday, June 13, 2024

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​​Why did the tomato turn red? Because it saw the salad dressing! As we step into the warm embrace of June, our gardens are dressing up in their summer best, and it’s our job to ensure they look and perform spectacularly throughout the season.

Summer Crop Care

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With the sun shining brightly and the days stretching longer, your summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini are likely to thrive. Here’s how to keep them healthy and productive:

Watering Wisely: As temperatures rise, so does your garden’s thirst. It’s crucial to water deeply and consistently, preferably in the early morning to reduce evaporation. This also helps plants develop stronger roots that can reach further into the soil for moisture during hotter days. Pay especially close to provide constant watering of tomatoes. Cracking and splitting of tomatoes come primarily from inconsistent watering.

Mulching: Apply a generous layer of organic mulch around your plants. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, keeps the roots cool, and suppresses weeds. Organic options like straw or grass clippings not only conserve water but also add nutrients back into the soil as they decompose.

Staking and Support: Tall crops like tomatoes and cucumbers will need support to grow properly and prevent diseases. Use stakes, cages, or trellises to keep them off the ground and promote good air circulation around the plants. A new trend is to cage squash plants – something I am trying myself for the first time this season.

Fertilization: Keep your plants well-fed. A balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied during the early stages of growth will support a robust harvest. Pay particular attention to signs of nutrient deficiencies – yellow leaves or stunted growth might signal that additional feed is necessary. Water soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro provides instantly available nutrients – use it often. 

Pollinators in the Garden

June is not just about your crops; it’s also a crucial time for the tiny workers that make a huge impact – our pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects are vital for pollination, which significantly affects the yield and quality of fruits and vegetables in your garden.

Attracting Pollinators: Plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season to provide continuous nectar sources. Flowers like lavender, zinnias, and sunflowers are excellent for attracting bees and butterflies. Also, consider herbs like dill, fennel, and thyme, which attract beneficial insects.

Providing Habitat: Besides food, pollinators need safe places to nest and lay eggs. Leave some areas of your garden a little wild, with natural debris and bare soil, to provide habitat. You can also install bee houses or small water dishes to help them thrive. Even allowing your lawn to be more “natural” will encourage flowering plants like clover and dandelion.

Avoiding Pesticides: Chemical pesticides can harm beneficial insects. Opt for organic pest control methods and only target the specific pests you are dealing with, rather than using broad-spectrum sprays. Physical barriers, like netting, can also prevent pests without harming pollinators. When you have to pull out pesticides, I like to start with all-natural Neem Oil.

Preparing for Harvest

As June unfolds, some of your crops might already be nudging you towards the first harvests of the season. Harvest time is rewarding, but knowing when and how to pick your vegetables and fruits can make a significant difference in their quality and the longevity of your plants’ productivity. Here are some tips to help you prepare for and manage the bounty:

Know When to Harvest: Each plant has its signs of readiness. For instance, tomatoes are best picked when they are uniformly colored and slightly soft to the touch. Once tomatoes start turning red, you might as well harvest. There is no nutritional or taste benefit to allow them to fully ripen on the vine. But the threat of insect damage increases the longer the fruit stays exposed. Cucumbers should be harvested when they are firm and green, before they start to yellow. Watermelons have a deep “thumping” sound, and their vine will start to shrivel. Learning the right time to harvest each type of crop will ensure the best flavor and quality.

Regular Checks: Frequent monitoring is key. Some vegetables, like zucchini and cucumbers, can grow extremely quickly and might need to be harvested every other day. The longer these fruits stay on the vine, the larger the seeds become, and the taste begins to drop off.

Tools and Techniques: Use the right tools for harvesting to avoid damaging the plants or the produce. Sharp scissors or pruning shears are perfect for cutting fruits and vegetables cleanly. For root crops, use a digging fork to loosen the soil around the plant to avoid bruising or breaking the produce.

Immediate Care: Once harvested, handle your produce with care. Many fruits and vegetables benefit from being cooled immediately, especially leafy greens, to maintain freshness. However, tomatoes prefer to stay at room temperature as cooling can diminish their flavor.

Storage Solutions: Understand the best ways to store your specific harvests. Potatoes, onions, and garlic prefer cool, dark, and dry places, while most fruits and leafy vegetables need the high humidity of a refrigerator. Proper storage not only extends the life of your harvest but also maintains the nutrients and flavors.

With your crops nearing harvest, this is also a great time to plan how you’ll use your bounty – whether you’ll consume it fresh, store it for future use, or share it with friends and family. Consider canning, freezing, or drying excess produce to enjoy your garden’s flavors all year round.

By preparing adequately for harvest, you can maximize the yield from your garden and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor at their peak. As you gather your crops, remember that each basketful represents the culmination of months of care and dedication. Happy harvesting!

In our next issue, we will dive deeper into effective methods for preserving your harvest and preparing your garden for the later summer months. Stay tuned to “The Appalachian Harvester” for more insights and inspiration.

Until we meet again, let’s cherish each day as an opportunity to grow, learn, and revel in the bounties of nature. Keep nurturing your mind and staying active with your hands. Here’s to joyful gardening, fulfilling farming, and, above all, a happy living!

(About the author: Jerry Agan is a devoted lifelong Carter Countian, deeply rooted in the soil of his beloved East Tennessee. As a dedicated husband and father of three, Jerry’s life is as rich and vibrant as the landscapes he cherishes. With a degree in Agriculture Education from Tennessee Technological University, Jerry has dedicated over a decade to teaching agriculture, nurturing the minds and hearts of the next generation of farmers and agriculturists. He currently teaches at Elizabethton High School. Connect with Jerry by email at