The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Q & A in the vegetable garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
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 and the players change. Here are a few common questions (or personal growth opportunities) about growing a vegetable garden.

Q. What causes small plants, poor heading or early flowering of my broccoli?

Yellow flowers may appear before the heads are ready to harvest during periods of high temperatures and when planted too late in the spring. Premature flower development or small head development called "buttons" may be caused by interrupted growth resulting from extended chilling of young plants, extremely early planting, poor nutrition, holding plants in a garden center until they are too old or too dry, and severe drought conditions.

Q. 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 were left growing in the garden too long.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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 help, 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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, check out UI Extension's A Taste of Gardening http://urbanext.illinois.edu/tog/

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