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Veggie Gardening Tips

By Dave Gregorski, KNOX Community Member

Tomatoes – Blossom-end  Rot

   Caused by a deficiency in calcium/magnesium;  just as the first flower buds appear, soak the soil around each plant with a mild Epsom salt solution.  You can also, a month or two before transplanting, bury some crushed egg shells in the tomato bed.

Tomatoes – Earlier Ripening –   Remove suckers early…these are the short growths in the angle between the main stem and a main branch.

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Tomato transplants – after the soil is warmed, transplant the tomato plants deeper, to just below the first set of genuine leaves.  Roots will form along the main stem, making for a stronger, healthier plant.

Tomato plant watering – even when mulched, the soil will dry quickly under the hot summer sun. Here’s a way to deliver water directly to the root zone. / Buy some golf club tubes (used to protect the grips) – the softer plastic ones will last longer than hard plastic.  Punch a couple of holes  around the circumference, 3-4 inches from the bottom.  Then bury the tube ~8 inches down, near the plant.  (The tube will probably need support.)  /  Every day or two, fill the tube to the top with water, once or more. Water should percolate/spread to where it’s needed most. If like me you plant plants in raised beds closer together than prescribed, you can space, e.g., two tubes for 3 plants.

Tomato ripening (on the vine) – as fall approaches, there will be tomatoes that are full-sized but still green; to speed up ripening when you can still maintain some flavor, cut back on watering…the plants will send their energy into the ripening process.  Also pick off any flowers and even tiny tomatoes.

Optimize sunlight – buy some white Styrofoam panels (used for home insulation projects);  support them on the north side, at an angle near the plants (taller-growing types), and/or line the soil underneath each plant. The reflected light enhances the growing process.

Squash Bug/Vine Borer (causes wilt then death of squash plant)

When the first flower buds appear (usually the male flowers), cut a strip of nylon sock/stocking about 2” wide by 10” long; wrap (completely cover) the plant stem from slightly below the dirt surface to several inches above;  the bug gets confused and will not lay her eggs on the lower stem.

Mexican Bean Beetle

Grow several  Royal Burgundy  bean plants among your green beans (including pole beans);  the purple bean plants repel the beetle (all my plantings are in beds, not rows).  Beans turn green when cooked.

Cucumber Beetle (causes wilt then death of plant)

Interplant other vine plants, like winter squash and melons; the mix of leaves may confuse the cuke beetle and they will leave your cuke plants alone.

Cutworm Collars (especially for brassicas…broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts)

Take the cardboard inside of a used-up toilet paper roll, and cut in thirds; surround the stems of very young plants starting at an inch below the dirt surface.

Warming Soil for Earlier Planting (early spring)

Cover tilled bed with clear plastic and secure (available in rolls from Home Depot, etc.); sun’s rays will penetrate and warm the soil, and weed seeds may sprout so the weeds  can be removed just before planting/transplanting  the bed.

Second Crop, Same Bed

Start seedlings of summer squash in pots; plant where lettuce and peas have finished providing (keep records for squash planting, to time the transplanting correctly). I plant my seeds June 1st.  I bury the pots in soil to slow drying out (be observant).  Also can plant carrot seeds in these beds..they should fully mature (I pick them just as the ground begins to freeze).

Slug Control  – While Orhto’s Bug Geta works, it’s more fun to:  load (and label!) a spray bottle with 50/50 water and household ammonia – will not harm plants; go on ‘slug patrol’ with a flashlight, spraying those slimers as you go…and watch them shrivel up. (I’ve seen at least 6 different kinds.)  And the nitrogen is a good  garden thing!

Bird Damage  –  Suspend unwanted CD’s on a string at appropriate height; flash will scare birds away.

Second crops – it works for me to plant carrot seeds when/where the lettuce is finished.  And summer squash in the radish, pea or broccoli beds (I start the squash seeds in quart-sized or larger containers – keep watered! – around the first week in June, and transplant when it’s time).   Also start a late crop of cabbage in containers around the first week in July. By late August/early September, there is usually a ‘tired’ plant  or two that can be pulled, opening up planting areas for the cabbage.

You Say Bolt?

by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager.

Plants are bolting nearly as fast as the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. Photo credit: http://www.biography.com/people/usain-bolt-20702091

One could say plants are bolting in this heat (nearly) as fast as Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Photo via biography.com.

I recently took a trip down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit an old childhood friend. I love travelling there. The city is vitally rich with food and friendliness…not to mention the gorgeous old live oaks (Quercus virginiana) who get their name from being an evergreen species of oak. This means that instead of going dormant and losing their leaves in the winter, these oaks actively photosynthesize and remain green year-round. They are not true evergreens, though, as live oaks still lose their leaves in the spring before budding new ones.

As much as I love the city of Charleston, one thing keeps me from wanting to live there: the oppressive heat combined with stifling humidity that plagues the city for half of the year. Just not my bag. The heat was why I scheduled my visit for late May when the weather oscillates around a refreshing 83 degrees with cool ocean breezes. Sounds perfect, right?

Here was my expectation: Go down South, feel a little heat and sunshine, then come back up North to slowly transition into summer.

Here’s what actually happened: My plane touched down at Bradley late Tuesday night, and by 8:00 am Wednesday morning, it was already 90 degrees and climbing in Hartford. Hotter in Hartford than in Charleston?! I did a quick re-think on the 50-mile bike ride I had planned out for the day once I stepped outside and immediately felt like I needed a nap.

By now, we’re starting to get used to1 the push and pull of seasonal temperatures. For us humans, this is a matter of pulling the shorts and t-shirts out of the closet or firing up the air conditioners. Our consciousness allows us to transcend the physiological responses of our bodies, ie: we’ve invented fans we can use to blow cold air on our sweating faces so that we can endure.

Plants, lacking this level of entrepreneurship as well as opposable thumbs2, react differently to the heat. If you’re like me, you came back to your garden after a couple of 90-degree days to see your tiny lettuce and spinach seedlings fully grown and sprouting flowers. In the horticulture world, this phenomenon is called bolting.

Bolting is a hormonal response by a plant that prematurely produces flowers in an attempt to rapidly reproduce. This process is stimulated when a plant is in stress, induced by changes in daylight, extreme temperatures, or a lack of water or nutrients. The plant releases hormones in the gibberellin family, which regulate developmental processes.

The mentality is this: the plant recognizes it is under stress. It does not know if this stress will kill it. In a proactive attempt to maintain genetic presence, gibberellins are released and the plant produces an elongated stem and flower structure, which in turn produces seeds for dispersal. Plants have this survival of the fittest thing down pat.

When bolting occurs, the plant diverts all of its energy into producing these reproductive structures. It abandons leaf and root development. As such, the leaves generally become woody and bitter, lacking the usual flow of water and sugars that keep your salad greens tasting crisp and fresh. Though the greens may look the same — take a bite. I’m a fan of weirdly fermented foods and all things bitter or sour. But an accidental bite of a bolted vegetable will make me gag and promptly wash my mouth out with water!

Lettuce bolted fast over the weekend at KNOX.

Lettuce bolted fast over the weekend at KNOX.

Common plants that bolt? Lettuces, onions, spinach, any of the Brassicas, broccoli, and celery.

Unfortunately, once bolting occurs, there is not too much you can do about it. On most lettuces and broccoli, you can break off the flowering stem at the base, giving yourself a few more days to harvest. But you can’t reverse the process.

Hey, gives you an excuse to invite a bunch of friends over for a salad party. BYOD3

Basil presents an interesting exception. Generally, if you break off the flowering stem on a basil plant after it has bolted, the plant will revert back to putting its energy into leaf growth, and you will be able to keep grinding up the pesto.

Best thing to do? Harvest regularly once your lettuces, etc. are mature. Keep an eye on the extended forecast. If you see a temperature shift coming, harvest early. Interestingly, soil temperature has a more potent effect on the release of the gibberellins than air temperature, so adding mulch or a cover crop around bolt-prone plants can stave off the occurrence.

All of this to say, if you are taking a vacation this summer, even if it is just for a long weekend, do yourself a favor and harvest your greens prior to embarking.


Footnotes:

  1. I use ‘get used to’ in a purely colloquial sense here. It is logically contradictory to actually assimilate to the effects of climate change due to its indelibly unpredictable nature. All we can do is adapt.
  2. Note: I am not denying plant consciousness. There is scientific research that suggests a unique form of physiological response to emotive stimuli.
  3. Bring Your Own Dressing