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The Homeowners Column
Common Vegetable Garden Questions
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Depending on your outlook, the curse or the beauty of gardening is there are always questions. Why did this happen? It didn't happen last year or the last fifteen years for that matter. Just when you figure on drought, we get floods. Here are a few of the common questions (or personal growth opportunities) about growing a vegetable garden.
Can squash varieties cross-pollinate with one another or with pumpkins in the garden? Yes, and no. Squash varieties can pollinate each other if they are the same species. For example zucchini can cross-pollinate with Jack O‚ Lantern pumpkins or acorn squash. But butternut does not cross with zucchini. However the cross does not effect the flavor of the squash, cucumber or any number of veggies in the garden. Cross-pollination only effects the resulting vegetable if you are saving seed to replant next year. That's when you get a pumzinni or something to that effect.
What is a potomato? Potato and tomato plants are closely related and can be intergrafted. However the potomato or also called topato commonly advertised is just a tomato seed inserted into a potato tuber and planted together producing both a tomato and potato plant in the same hill. Mainly just weird and not all that wonderful.
What is a tree tomato? A treelike plant sold as a tree tomato, Cyphomandra betacea, is a different species than garden tomatoes. It is a woody tree that grows eight feet or taller and bears fruit after two years. The tree tomato is tropical plant and does not overwinter outside. The fruits are small one to two inches in diameter and are used primarily in stews rather than in salads. Some of the common vigorous indeterminate garden tomato varieties are suitable for training and pruning such as Ponderosa are also sold as climbing or tree tomatoes.
What causes my radishes to be too hot? The hotness of radishes results from the length of time they have grown rather than from their size. The radishes either grew too slowly or are too old.
My beans appear healthy but not very many beans have formed. Why not? The blossoms of beans as well as other crops such as tomato and green pepper drop and fail to form fruit during periods of hot dry winds.
What causes small, sunken black areas near the end of peppers? This condition is blossom-end rot that is actually more common in tomatoes. It is caused by drought, uneven water availability or pruning roots through deep cultivation. It is more prevalent during periods of high humidity. Regular irrigation and mulching can help to prevent this condition.
Seed stalks form in the center of my lettuce plants. What should I do? The formation of seedstalks is caused by a combination of long days, warm temperatures and age. When seed stalks begin to form, harvest your lettuce immediately and store in the refrigerator.
My lettuce tastes bitter. What can I do? Lettuce may become bitter during hot weather and when seed stalks begin to form. Wash and store the leaves in the refrigerator for a day or two. Much of the bitterness will disappear.
Don't forget, it's not too late to plant leaf lettuce, mustard greens, turnip, Chinese cabbage and spinach. These plants do well even when days grow cool in fall. You remember cool, don't you?
And when you are over blessed with vegetables, bring them to Schnucks Supermarket in Urbana each Saturday from 10-1 to donate your bounty to the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program. Master Gardeners are there to help to unload. All food goes to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.