The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Common vegetable gardening questions

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

Depending on your outlook, the curse or the beauty of gardening is it is never quite the same from year to year. Why did this happen? It didn't happen last year or the last fifteen years for that matter. 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 affect the flavor of the squash, cucumber or any number of veggies in the garden so cucumbers are not bitter or tasteless due to cross pollination. Cross-pollination only affects the resulting vegetable the next season if you are saving seed to replant next year. That's when you get a pumzinni or something to that effect.

Some of my small cucumbers are badly misshapen. Will they develop into normal cucumbers?

No. They should be removed from the vines so new ones may develop. As with many vegetables, misshapen cucumbers may result from poor pollination or low fertility. Fertilizing may help later cucumbers to develop normally. Misshapen fruits that reach mature size are safe to eat but are tough to peel.

Why do my cucumbers and squash fail to set fruit and yield properly?

Squash, cucumbers and melons have separate male and female flowers. The first flowers appearing on the plants are male flowers that provide pollen. These flowers normally drop off after blooming. The small cucumber or squash is evident as a bulge at the base of the female flower (even before it opens) and should develop into an edible fruit if properly pollinated. Anything that interferes with pollination (transfer of pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers) reduces fruit set and yield, including cold temperatures and rainy weather that hamper bee activity or improper use of insecticides that kill bees.

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 and tomatoes?

This condition is blossom-end rot that is actually more common in tomatoes. It is caused by a calcium deficiency brought on 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. Fruit is edible.

What can I do to prevent my tomatoes from cracking?

Cracking varies with the variety. Many of the newer varieties are resistant to cracking. Severe pruning increases cracking. Keep soil moisture uniform as the tomatoes develop and plant resistant varieties to minimize this problem.

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.

For more information on growing vegetables http://urbanext.illinois.edu/tog/ http://urbanext.illinois.edu/vegproblems/

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