The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Q & A in the vegetable garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Gardeners need basic tools: hoes, trowels, gloves, etc. No tool is as essential as a resilient spirit. We vacillate from grandeur and glory to headache and heartbreak all in one season and sometimes all in one day. Just about the time we think we have it figured out the game changes. We plan on a drought and we get floods. Here are a few common questions (or personal growth opportunities) about growing a vegetable garden.

I harvested my onions in late summer and they began to rot by fall. Why?

Onions may rot at either the base or neck. Rotting at the base may be caused by soilborne fungi or damage during harvest, but it is usually caused by damage from root maggots. If onion bulbs rot at the neck, either they have been cured insufficiently before storage or the leaves have been severely infected by fungi during the growing season. Onions that were "hilled" or covered with soil before harvest often start to rot soon after harvest. Many of the "sweet" varieties are very poor keepers and should be enjoyed fresh soon after harvest, as no method of storage keeps them from rotting for very long.

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.

Why are my cucumbers tasteless? Did they cross with the tasteless neighbor's melons?

Contrary to popular myth, cucumbers do not cross-pollinate with muskmelons or watermelons and cause them to become bitter, tasteless or off-flavor. Flavor has more to do with the variety, how cucumbers were grown, and weather conditions.

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 pepper drop and fail to form fruit during temperatures above 95 degrees especially with hot dry winds. Once the weather changes, flowers and resulting fruit will form.

What causes small, sunken black areas near the end of peppers and tomatoes?

This condition is blossom-end rot that is quite common in tomatoes. It is caused by a calcium deficiency brought on by drought, uneven water availability, severe pruning, or pruning roots during deep cultivation. It is more prevalent during periods of heat and high humidity. Regular irrigation and mulching can help to prevent it. Soil applications of calcium seldom helps, though foliar calcium sprays may minimize the occurrence of the problem. Make sure the formulation is designed for foliar application or severe damage could result. Spray when tomatoes are young, about grape size. Once the blackened ends appear, affected fruits cannot be saved. Remove so that healthy fruit setting later can develop more quickly.

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.

My potato plants flowered and formed green fruits that resemble small tomatoes. What are they?

These are the fruits that contain the true potato seeds. They are not edible.

What causes my carrots to turn green on the crown (top) of the root?

This condition is called "sunburning." It causes an off flavor and dark green pieces in the cooked product. Cut away the green portion and use the rest of the root. When the tops are healthy, sunburning can be avoided by pulling a small amount of loose soil up to the row when the roots are swelling (about 40 to 50 days after planting).

For more information on growing vegetables http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/ or learn about ornamental and edible plants and their problems http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/hortanswers/

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