Pests

Since your crops are practically cash in the bank, you don't want to lose any of them to pests. Be on the watch for slugs, cutworms, rabbits, or anything that could get to your crops before you do. Put up those protective cages ahead of time. Even more important, check your garden daily. Learn to look for unusual situations.

A wooden frame covered with chicken wire offers the most positive protection from hungry rabbits.

Develop the ability to spot trouble before it happens. For example, a blank spot in the garden; leaves that are droopy, half-eaten, or have holes or ragged edges; silver trails from slugs and snails who visited the night before — all are warning signals that can be detected by an observant gardener. A square foot gardener, that is. A con— ventional, single row garden can't be observed this closely because it's just too big.

Peppers grow up through the wire frame for support. Add the wire when plants are half-grown, bending it to the shape and height desired. The wire can be the same size that you used for growing tomatoes vertically.

Supports

Another way to keep your work load down and your production up is to provide supports for your plants. Oh, I don't mean stakes and ties and all that stuff. Just stretch some large-opening wire mesh over each bed when the plants are still small and staple it to the wooden frames; they'll grow right through it and support themselves. Then let them do the work you just take it easy.

Think ahead; try to picture the plants that usually fall over when they'refull grown and heavy with harvest (peppers and eggplants, to name two). These are the crops that will need a helping hand. Of course all your vertical crops are being supported by the same wire, except they're growing straight up on their vertical frames.

Mulching

If you could assure your soil of constant moisture and adequate nutrients, if you could keep it weed-free and protected from pounding rains or the baking sun, if you could maintain a more even temperature throughout each day, your plants would produce much better. How to accomplish all that? Put a mulch down. Mulch is defined as any material that comes between your soil and the weather. Once your plants are established, a layer of almost any kind of material will provide a buffer to break up the force of the rain; it will also protect the soil from the dryingeffects of the sun and act as insulation to keep the soil's temperature more uniform. Many organic materials, such as hay, chopped leaves, or dried grass clippings, are free or inexpensive to buy. Many man-made materials, such as black plastic and outdoor carpeting, do just as good a job and look even neater. The organic materials have the added advantage of gradually decomposing and adding even more nutrients and humus to the soil. They should be applied as soon as the soil warms up and your plants are in the ground.

Mulch bet-ween your beds will prevent weeds from growing there.

Maintains Even Moisture

Another big advantage of mulching is that it maintains an even moisture level in the soil. When the weather is hot, the ground moisture doesn't evaporate as quickly; when it rains, the water doesn't flood the soil, but filters through the mulch at a slower rate.

Many people believe that mulch, which creates cool, moist conditions, will attract slugs, crickets, and other bugs. This question has caused controversy among the experts. In my garden, I have never experienced an increase in any of the "bad" bugs due to the use of mulch. In fact, I've experimented side-by-side with and without mulch and could really see no difference as far as pest damage was concerned.

One good thing the mulch will attract is earthworms. They love the cool, moist conditions and will spend more time tunneling through your soil digesting all that compost and turning it into even richer material.

Growing Lettuce

What if your plants get too much sun, or it's too hot for them to grow, as with lettuce, which quickly bolts to seed in the summer? Well, with just a little common sense and ingenuity, you can grow lettuce in just about any part of the country, even in the summer. That is hard to believe at first, but it's very easy to do. Let's imagine that it's you and not the lettuce who's sitting in the garden all day under the hot summer sun. What could I get for you? Some shade, and a drink, and some cool soil to dig your feet into. So all you have to do is grow your lettuce under a shade film supported by one of those wire cages. Make sure you plant in a saucer-shaped depression, provide perfect soil which drains well and is filled with moisture-holding humus, cover that soil with a thick mulch to keep out the hot sun, and water about twice as often as usual. You'll see that it can be done.

While I was in Florida giving a lecture, a lady came up to me and said she followed all the advice in my first book and was now able to grow lettuce in Florida in the middle of the summer. Everyone listened, not unappreciatively, but I think they were shaking their heads. But she knows that it can be done, and you will too. What's more, just think how it will improve your profits.

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