We're into July and August, the holidays are around the corner and your vegetable patch has reached its productive peak: what should you do? The vegetable patch should never be left to itself, especially in the hottest months of summer; regular watering is essential if you want to avoid losing part of your harvest.
If you plan to go on holiday, the best solution would be to have a neighbour, friend or relative take care of your vegetable patch—or at least give it the once-over now and then—but we know this is not always possible.
First priority: water the vegetable patch
In the summer, watering is a top priority in the vegetable patch: everything depends on water, and that goes for plants as well as people. Plants, including vegetables, consist mostly of water and all their vital functions rely on it.
But that is not a problem if you have an automatic irrigation system watering your vegetable patch while you are away. The best system for the vegetable patch is drip irrigation rather than a sprinkler, which also dampens the foliage and vegetables, facilitating the onset of disease. Drip irrigation is a gradual, waste-free watering method that is localised on the roots. Before heading off on holiday you can set up a DIY drip irrigation system for the vegetable patch: you can easily find ready-to-install kits online and in the shops.
Do you have a small vegetable patch and use a hose or watering can to water it? If so, then depending on how long the vegetable patch can survive without being watered, you can confidently estimate how many days you can be away and what to expect when you return. In this case, the evening before setting off, remember to water the vegetable patch copiously so that the soil can absorb as much moisture as possible.
Without water, your vegetable patch can survive quite easily for a weekend, up to a maximum of 3-4 days. Whereas, a week without water will test the resistance of most vegetables, depending on:
Climate: i.e. typical rainfall and temperatures.
Soil quality: specifically the soil’s water-holding capacity.
Types of plants: each variety has a differing need for water and an ability to procure it independently, also depending on its stage of life.
To draw the water needed to irrigate your vegetable patch from a canal or rainwater butt, you can use a petrol-powered self-priming water pump. By the way, if you click the following link you can find out how to use a self-priming water pump for irrigation.
Watering the vegetable patch is essential, but not enough on its own. Before leaving on holiday, collect any ripe vegetables and—depending on how long you will be away for—those that are nearly mature, to prevent falling fruit from rotting and contaminating your vegetable patch. You can keep vegetables in the fridge or cellar, give them away, freeze them either raw or cooked or, if you have more time, turn them into sauces and preserves.
Keep an eye out for pests and diseases: if you only spot them on returning from holiday it might already be too late. Also check the tightness of gardening stakes to avoid the risk of plants in full production buckling under the weight of the vegetables.
Weeding and mulching the vegetable patch: why do it
The ideal would be to be able to schedule your holiday first and then organise seeding and transplanting so that your absence does not coincide with the projected harvest time, or the production peak, which may also occur in the hottest and driest weeks. We understand, however, that you can’t always plan ahead as much as you would like to.
So, before taking a few days off, watering the vegetable patch with drip irrigation or traditional systems is key to guaranteeing its survival. There are, however, a series of precautions that you can follow so that the water does not disperse once absorbed into the soil. It is not an infinite resource, so it must be optimised: this is the purpose of mulching and weeding the vegetable patch.
Vegetable patch mulch—prepared with natural materials or plastic sheeting—helps to ensure that water does not evaporate from the soil, keeping it moist and cooler. You can limit mulching to the base of vegetable plants such as tomatoes, green beans, peppers and aubergines, or use protective earthing, by heaping soil around the base of the plants.
Here you can find our tips on how to mulch and what materials to use. If you use black tarpaulin sheets for mulching, it is important that the holes for the plants to grow through are large enough (but not too large, so as to prevent weeds from thriving). That way the plants won’t be damaged by touching the overheated plastic.
Wherever you don’t use mulching, you can work on the topsoil of your vegetable patch by occasionally turning over the earth with a hoe or other digging tools. This hoeing serves to block the capillary rise of water from deep soil and therefore hinder its evaporation. When hoeing and mulching in the vegetable patch, make sure that the soil does not form a crust due to drought, scorching sun and showers. Also, both mulching and hoeing rid the vegetable patch of weeds, which draw water away from your vegetables.
In the vegetable patch in July and August you can also prepare the ground for sowing and transplanting the vegetables you want to harvest in autumn and winter. First eliminate spring/summer crops that have reached the end of their production cycle, then till the soil with a rotary tiller. When watering the vegetable patch, pay special attention to young plants, which are more vulnerable to water stress due to their underdeveloped roots.
Protect the vegetable patch from heat and sun
It’s not only a lack of water that is problematic for your vegetable patch, excessive prolonged heat can also put vegetables in jeopardy. And the most popular months to go on holiday—July and August—are also the hottest part of the summer, when leaves wither or even end up drying out. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, on the other hand, can suffer actual burns from sun exposure.
To protect plants from excessive heat and the side-effects of sunlight, you can use shading nets propped up with bamboo canes, which are also useful in the event of hail downpours and strong storms. Or you can create covers from reed or cane mats, also supported by simple bamboo structures. For shorter or developing plants, you can use upturned wooden fruit crates.
In all seasons, not only in summer, an excellent gardening companion is a transporter: versatile and convenient, it can effortlessly haul crops harvested from the vegetable patch and orchard, plant care tools and materials of all kinds, and other heavy and bulky loads. We talk about these machines in our blog article explaining why you should choose a tracked transporter.
Now you know what to do in your vegetable patch before going on holiday. But what about the lawn? Find out how to mow the lawn in summer: all the tricks for helping the grass cope better with heat and water shortages.