The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Q & A in the vegetable garden

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

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. We plan on a drought and we get floods. Here are a few common questions (or personal growth opportunities) about growing a vegetable garden.

My tomatoes look gross with brown wilted leaves hanging at the base of the plant. What's up?

If leaves have spots before they turn yellow and eventually brown, the problem is likely a fungal leaf spot disease. Common leaf diseases of tomatoes are septoria leaf spot and early blight. Both start as spots on lower leaves which can quickly turn yellow and then die but remain attached to the plant. Septoria causes small water-soaked spots. These spots become circular to angular with dark margins and grayish white centers. Early blight causes small brown leaf spots with a target-like series of concentric rings in each lesion. Fungicides can be helpful early in the disease cycle. Once the infection progresses it's difficult to manage. Tomatoes will continue to produce, but quality and quantity will be reduced.

What causes my radishes to be too hot?

The hotness of radishes generally results from the length of time they have grown rather than from their size. Radishes are a quick crop so harvest according to length of time listed on seed packet. Hot weather during growth may also produce hot tasting radishes.

Why are my cucumbers tasteless? Did they cross with my tasteless neighbor's tasteless 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 bean plants 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. Tomatoes can still be eaten but should not be used in canning. Blossom-end rot 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 and is often a short term problem as weather conditions change. 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.

Something is eating my kale. It looks like a green worm and I see white moths hanging around. What can I do?

My husband's answer "Let them have it; it's kale!" However if you are a lover of kale, broccoli, cabbage and related cole crops three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly seen during the day hovering over kale relatives. Remove caterpillars by hand picking or use BTK products such as Dipel.

My lettuce tastes bitter. What can I do?

Lettuce can become bitter during hot weather and at the end of harvest season when seed stalks form. Wash and store leaves in refrigerator for a day or two to reduce bitterness.

For more information on growing vegetables and answers to your gardening questions.

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