Last year the pandemic inspired many people to plant their first vegetable garden. This year, people may feel able to take a vacation but are wondering how to leave for a period of time without coming home to find zucchini the size of watermelon, broccoli and lettuce gone to seed, and weeds overgrowing everything.
First, remove peas, lettuce, radishes and spinach and other salad greens from the garden. A short hot spell will render them worthless anyway. As soon as you return home you can use the space to plant beans, carrots or late cabbage.
Next, pick all the blossoms from beans, zucchini and cucumbers. While you are gone, the plants will be revitalized and produce more blossoms and will deliver a crop just as large later when you are home to gather the harvest.
If tomatoes are starting to ripen, pick them and wrap them in newspaper. Store them in the refrigerator. Take them out to ripen on the windowsill when you return. If left on the plant, they will become overripe and slow the development of younger fruit.
If there are heads, even small ones, on broccoli and cauliflower, cut them off and freeze them for later use. Broccoli will form lateral heads that will be ready when you return from vacation. If you leave the main head on the plant, it may go into full blossom while you’re gone, leaving the plant totally worthless.
Don’t worry about root crops such as onions, potatoes, carrots and turnips. The exception is spring beets which may bolt to seed, ruining the texture of the root. Beets should be pulled and stored in the refrigerator.
Go through the garden and remove any plants or plant parts that look diseased. Plant diseases can spread quickly and by removing affected leaves and stems you lessen the possibility of coming home to a catastrophe.
Remove all weeds. Ha! You knew that one was coming, didn’t you? Do a good job, pulling up the entire weed, roots and all. Then mulch the garden, covering any area where there is bare soil. For this you can use grass clippings, pine needles, hay, straw or a purchased mulch.
Finally, unless it just rained, water thoroughly before you leave, soaking the soil with more than the normal amount of water. If you have been mulching all along, you might not have to water at all.
Many of the same methods can be used to keep your flower gardens happy while you’re gone. Weeding, deadheading and a thorough watering are a must. Container plants should be moved to the coolest spot you can find in full shade and out of the wind.
Of course, the best plan is to have a good neighbor, friend or family member take over while you’re away. If you allow them to keep all the produce they harvest while you are gone, they’ll be happy to help out.