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Before the main vegetable gardening season becomes really busy, consider a few tips to make it easier and increase production. These tips are from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, which are science-based and related to our area.Growing conditions are important to consider. Most vegetable crops require full sun for the best production. If grown in a shady location, plants may be weak, unproductive, and more susceptible to pests. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. An exception is lettuce, which will grow in light shade.Well-drained soil is required for growing vegetables. If the soil is not well-drained, then try growing them in raised beds to avoid the drainage problem.Avoid tilling wet soil. It is better to wait than to destroy the soil structure. The structure includes pore space for water and air among the solid parts of the soil.Clint Hardy, Daviess County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, cautions that tilling wet soil causes the formation of a compaction layer at the depth of the tilling. Compacted soil does not drain well and is hard for the roots to grow.Restoring soil structure is difficult. Walking in the garden while it is wet also compacts the soil and removes the pore space.A way to determine if you can till the soil is to take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball.Then drop the soil ball from waist high. If the ball shatters when dropped, the soil may be dry enough to work. Don’t till the soil to make it dry out faster. Wait until it is ready.Vegetable crops need nutrients. It is best to test the soil in the garden before planting to avoid under- or over-fertilization. Damage to crops can occur with improper application or excessive use. Plants that are over-fertilized are more susceptible to disease and insect pests.Too much nitrogen applied too early to tomato plants will result in beautiful green plants, but the fruit will not set. Applying fertilizer during the growing season, called sidedressing, is needed for certain vegetable crops.For more information about sidedressing vegetables, consult Table 17 in “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky” (ID-28) found at http://daviess.ca.uky.edu/content/horticulture or from a County Cooperative Extension Service Office.Watch for weeds. Hand pulling or hoeing out seedlings when young, 2 inches tall or less, are easiest to manage. The smaller the weed, the smaller the root system. When hoeing out weeds, scrape along the top of the soil with a sharp hoe to cut them off at ground level.The goal is to avoid losing too much soil and actually end up covering the weed with soil again and replanting it.Also, if the soil is tilled too deeply, the shallow roots of the vegetables may be injured and more weeds seeds are turned up, which results in more unwanted weeds growing.Avoid weeding when the soil is wet because the soil is difficult to remove from the roots and some of the roots may remain in the soil. Avoid walking in the garden and compacting the soil. Pulling weeds from raised beds may be easier as the soil should be loose. However, remember that raised beds require more water.For bigger weeds, after pulling them up, remove as much of the soil from the roots as possible and take them out of the garden to prevent them from growing again. Plants with a tap root like dandelions must be dug out of the soil, otherwise, if the root breaks off in the soil, the plant will grow again.In a bigger garden grown in the ground, a rototiller is helpful to control larger weeds between rows. Removing weeds is a season-long task but watching for them encourages scouting for insect pests and diseases.To continue to help manage the weeds, remove them before they go to seed, or in other words, before seeds are produced. For some weeds, the seeds remain viable and still germinate and grow after 20 years or more.Also, eliminate weeds around the border of the garden to prevent their seeds from getting into the growing area. Don’t forget to remove soil from the equipment used in the garden to avoid moving weed seeds to other areas and to protect the tools.Mulching the garden soil reduces weeds and soil erosion, and conserves moisture by 50% by slowing down evaporation. In addition, the mulch keeps the vegetables clean due to less contact with the soil.Organic mulches, such as lawn clippings from a lawn that was not treated with an herbicide to control weeds in the garden, and quality straw can be worked back into the soil at the end of the year. They should be applied at least 2 inches thick. Make sure rain penetrates through the mulch.In order to spread the clippings farther, place 6 sheets of newspaper on the soil and then spread the organic matter over it. Check under the newspaper to make sure that water is penetrating through the paper. Avoid grass clippings that contain weed seed heads to prevent the introduction of more weeds into the garden.For more information about growing vegetables, contact the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Service at 270-685-8480 or [email protected]’s TipMulching tomato plants is important to keep the soil evenly moist to manage blossom end rot. Blossom end rot occurs when environmental conditions prevent the distribution of calcium to the fruits. The fruit rots and is not usable.Annette Meyer Heisdorffer is the Daviess County extension agent for horticulture. Her column runs weekly on the Home & Garden page in Lifestyle. Email her at [email protected]

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