tomatoHow was your holiday season? Mine was enjoyable because for the first time ever I carefully orchestrated it to be as stress-free as possible. Consequently, apart from having to shed a kilo or two as we all do at this time of year, I'm feeling great. Not so some of my friends who went all-out – too much drink, too much spending, too many visitors, and not enough good food and relaxation. Now they're yawning, sporting cold sores, and are generally run down. That's stress for you!

Interestingly, plants are exactly the same. Stress them for any reason, and they end up looking jaded and unhealthy. They're unlikely to perform as they should, and sometimes their 'immune system' is so run down they succumb to any pest or disease that so much as looks at them. Mid to late summer is one of the most important times to watch your vegetable garden for signs of stress. It can be caused by any one of a number of factors, and manifest itself in a wide-range of complaints.

Just like us, vegetables (especially the root variety) get stressed-out by being overcrowded so keep on top of thinning, and make the job a rewarding one by eating any baby roots you pull out of the ground. Drying out is another big stressor in the edible garden. Not only does it cause the obvious problems of wilting, but in vine crops (especially melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers) it can also result in blossom-drop. No flowers equals no fruit – not what you want! Summer is also a hungry time of year as vegetables put on leaf growth and form heads and fruit. Left unfed, many plants will begin to show signs of stress with brassicas, especially, developing a grey or red tinge to their leaves and forming button (tiny) heads. Regular liquid feeding with a brew of compost, manure and seaweed is the best way to avoid this happening.

All stressed plants, whether they're too wet or dry, too hot or cold, to hungry or too crowded will very like respond by running to seed (they feel like they're about to die and so want to produce the next generation as quickly as possible). They're also not in a position to defend themselves from disease and insect attack. Healthy plants, with the help of beneficial insects, are in a position to fight off pests such as aphids and white fly but once they are stressed and run-down, they quickly succumb.

If it all seems a bit much to defend your garden from so much that can go wrong at this time of year, don't panic. Simply think of your vegetables' health as you do your own. Like you, all your edibles require to be stress-free is good food and drink, space to be themselves, and a healthy dose of warm weather. Nature will take care of the rest.

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