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HARVESTING AT THE RIGHT TIME

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published July 17, 2016

Vegetable gardening is a lot of work, but it is worth it to be able to pick fresh nutritious produce right from the garden. However, not everyone knows when or how to harvest vegetables at the “peak of perfection.” Since many warm season vegetables are starting to become ripe, let’s talk about harvesting and care of just-picked veggies.

Summer Squash: Zucchini and yellow summer squash are best harvested when they immature and only 4 to 7 inches long. To pick the fruit, cut them off the vine using garden shears or a knife. If allowed to grow larger and more mature, their skin gets tougher and the seeds get bigger and harder. After harvesting wash the fruit with clean water and then use immediately or store in vegetable bin of the refrigerator. They will only store for a week or less.

It is important to harvest your fruit as soon as they reach the right stage because it promotes the production of more fruit. However, you and I know there is always one zucchini on the plant that hides and grows to gargantuan proportions. Sometimes these are thrown out or given away, but creative cooks will remove the hardened seeds and stuff the fruit for baking, chop it up for use in soup, or grate it for adding to zucchini bread or tomato sauce.

Onions: Dry onions are ready to harvest when most of their tops have fallen over. When this happens, it means the onions are done bulbing and will not get any bigger. To harvest, carefully pull them out of the ground and shake off as much soil as possible. In heavier soils the onions may not pull easily so lift them out of the soil using a spading fork. Then “cure” or dry the harvested bulbs in a shaded location with good air circulation. Once their roots are dry and the skins become dry and papery, cut the tops off about two inches from the bulb and store them in mesh bags under dark, dry, cool (32 to 40 degrees) conditions. Keep in mind that sweet onions, such as Walla Walla Sweets, do not store well. Yellow onions store the best, followed by red and white onions. Of course, you do not need to worry about curing or storing the onions if you want to eat them immediately.

Both the green stems and immature bulbs of green onions or scallions are harvested whenever they reach the desired size. Wash green onions thoroughly with cool, clean water before eating. Because they are immature, green onions do not store well and should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week of harvest.

Cucumbers: Like their summer squash cousins, cucumbers are harvested when they are immature and before their seeds fully develop. Cut them off the vine leaving 1/4 inch of stem attached to the fruit. The correct size for harvesting depends on the cultivar and their intended end-use, with pickling cucumbers tending to be smaller than those cultivars for salads and fresh eating. Check the cultivar seed packet or catalog to find out the correct size for harvesting. Mature cucumbers are undesirable because they have tough skin, bigger seeds, and often a bitter flavor. Harvest your cukes regularly to promote continued bloom and fruit production. After harvesting, wash the fruit and then store them in the refrigerator for a week or less.

Harvesting melons can be tricky, so we will tackle that topic another time.

SUCCESS IN GROWING YOUR OWN TRANSPLANTS

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 21, 2016

Do you plan on growing your own vegetable transplants from seed this year? The keys to success are ordering your seed early, using the right potting mix, planting in clean containers, providing adequate light, and sowing the seeds at the right time.

Now is a good time to be buying seed both for growing transplants and for planting directly in the garden. First, take some time to carefully plan out your garden and decide what types and varieties you want to grow. If you are tight on space, look for varieties that are compact and recommended for containers or raised bed gardening. Select the types of veggies you like to eat and ones that are tastier when fresh picked or pricier when you buy them fresh at the market.

I often recommend using a quality potting mix when growing plants in containers and this is especially important when growing transplants from seed. Look for a well-drained soilless mix that contains peat moss or coconut coir fiber, perlite, and vermiculite and does not contain bark or compost.

Containers you use for starting seeds do not need to be fancy, just clean and with holes for good drainage. There are many seed starting containers available from local nurseries and mail-order companies, but you can save money by recycling various plastic containers, such as yogurt cups or margarine containers. Before using re-purposed containers or recycled pots, thoroughly clean and sterilize them by soaking them for 15 minutes in a (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) bleach solution. Finish by rinsing them well and letting them dry.

Inadequate light is often the reason why home gardeners experience failure when attempting to grow their own transplants. Once they germinate, plants need lots of light. Even the light on a sunny windowsill is often not enough. Gardeners who are serious about starting their own transplants provide supplemental lighting for their growing transplants. The easy, but expensive route, is buying a commercial plant stand with fluorescent lighting, but you can make your own with a two or four-tube fluorescent light fixture. To provide enough light for the plants, the bulbs should be kept 2 to 4 inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow. The lights should be kept on for 12 to 14 hours a day and turned off at night to give the plants a rest.

Germinating seeds and young plants need warmth, but not too much warmth. Daytime temperatures should be between 60 and 80 degrees and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees. Too little light or too warm temperatures will lead to weak and spindly growth.

A final factor in transplant growing success is planting seeds at the right time, not too early and not too late. Frost sensitive warm-season plants, like tomatoes, will not be planted out in the garden without protection until the danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. The average last date of frost for the Tri-Cities is in early May. Tomato seeds should be planted indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost, peppers 10 weeks, and eggplants 9 weeks. Squash, melons and cucumbers are also frost sensitive, warm-season plants, but they germinate and grow more quickly and only need planting 4 weeks before planting them outdoors.

NEW VEGETABLE VARIETIES JUDGED SUPERIOR

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 7, 2016

From time to time I have written about the All-America Selections (AAS). These are new flower and vegetable varieties that have been judged by AAS to be the best performing new varieties for home gardeners. All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization with the mission of “promoting new garden varieties with superior performance judged in impartial trials in North America.”

When gardeners start ordering seeds or plants they may see a variety that is “new and improved” or “better tasting,” but they have no way of knowing the truth of these claims. However, if a new variety is a national All America Selection (AAS) they can be assured that it is likely to perform well in their garden and offer something new or different than similar varieties currently available. In fact, not only must an AAS selection perform well in trials around North America, it must also “have at least two significantly improved qualities” over current varieties to be considered for selection.

While in the past flowers seemed to be the main focus of AAS selections, vegetables have been front and center in recent years. I suspect that is because many seed companies have been putting their energy into developing new and improved veggie varieties, the current focus of many home gardeners.

Let’s take a look at some of the new veggies winning the AAS designation for 2016. Since tomatoes are everyone’s favorites, I will begin with the two tomatoes that won the AAS award for this year. First is ‘Chef’s Choice Green F1.’ This is a modern hybrid that looks like an heirloom with large (9-10 oz.) beef-steak type fruit.

The fruit of Chef’s Choice Green F1 are very pretty with green and yellow-striping. The flesh has a sweet, citrusy taste and good texture. Existing varieties that it resembles are Aunt Ruby’s Green, an heirloom, and Fried Green F1. Other desirable characteristics of Chef’s Choice Green F1 include its “well-behaved” 5′ foot tall indeterminate vines and resistance to numerous diseases. Seed for this tomato can be purchased from Totally Tomatoes at http://www.totallytomato.com.

On the other end of the spectrum of fruit size is Candyland Red, a currant-type tomato with small .5″ red fruit. These little fruit are very sweet and richly flavored. Candyland Red resembles Sweet Pea and Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes but differs from other currant-type tomatoes because its growth is not as rampant, plus the fruit forms on the outside of the plant, making harvesting the tiny gems easier. While more compact in habit than similar varieties, these plants still grow 6-8′ tall and should be spaced 3′ apart with staking provided for support. Seed of Candyland Red is also available from Totally Tomatoes.

Other AAS 2016 vegetable selections include:
Pepitas F1 is a beautiful yellow-orange medium-sized pumpkin with green stripes, making it useful for fall decorating. In addition, its flesh can be baked and the naked or hulless seeds (pepitas) can be roasted and eaten. (Available in 2017.)

Prizm is a short kale (10-24″ tall) with bright green ruffled, curly leaves. The almost stemless leaves are tender with good flavor. The plants quickly re-leaf after harvesting. This kale is compact enough to be grown in containers and raised-beds. Remember kale is a cool-season plant and should be started early in the season. (Available in 2017.)

Look for these and the other 2016 and previous years’ AAS selections when buying your garden seed. They are varieties that should do well in your garden because they are “Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®,” All-America Selection’s tagline.

Photos from All America Selections are available at: http://all-americaselections.org/image_center/index.cfm

THE YEAR OF THE PULSES (DRY BEANS)

GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written January 31, 2016

I bet most of you do not know that the United Nations General Assembly has declared this year as the International Year of Pulses. What are pulses? Pulses are grain legumes and include dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

Legumes are important crops around the world because they are part of a nutritious human diet, providing protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Also, 25% of the pulses grown in the world are used for feeding livestock. The UN is recognizing pulses in 2016 not only for the nutrition they provide humans and livestock, but also because they are very sustainable crops. It only takes 43 gallons of water to grow one pound of pulses and they fix nitrogen, enriching the soils in which they are grown.

One way to observe the Year of the Pulses is to add more dry beans, chickpeas and lentils to your diet. It is certainly a healthy way to celebrate considering that dry beans can help lower cholesterol and aid in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease when they are regular part of your diet.

Another way take part in this special year of recognition is by growing some dry beans in your garden. Dry beans are an easy crop to grow. The most difficult part may be deciding what varieties to plant. There are hundreds available with a rich diversity of different types including the better known black, kidney, pink, red kidney, small white navy, and pinto beans to the lesser known cranberry, soldier, yellow eye, Jacob’s cattle markings, purplish, flageolet, and more.

Check out seed catalogs from companies that offer a wide selection of dry bean seed, including heirloom varieties that are a continuing trend in food gardening. It is a treat just to see the pretty pictures of the dry beans. One catalog you should peruse comes from the Vermont Bean Seed Company at www.vermontbean.com. As their name implies, they specialize in beans and in their catalog they offer information on what type of cooking is best for each type of bean. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) and Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org) also offer a selection of dry bean varieties.

If you are wondering how difficult it is do grow dry beans, do not worry. If you can grow green beans, you can grow dry beans. Like green beans, there are bush type dry beans that stay more compact and pole types that will need some kind of support such as poles or a trellis. Also like green beans, they are a warm season crop. Wait to plant dry beans until after the danger of frost is past, the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees F, and the average air temperature is above 50 F degrees.

One big difference in growing dry beans is the need to innoculate the seed with a soil bacterium that works with the bean plants’ roots to capture nitrogen from the air and “fix” it so it can be used for plant growth. Because you can not tell if your soil already has this natural bacterium present, experts recommend mixing your dry bean seed with Rhizobium leguminosarum, the specific innoculate needed for beans. You can obtain this innoculate from Vermont Bean Seed Company, other seed companies, or your local farm store or specialty nursery. Just make sure it contains the specific innoculate needed for beans.
Want to learn more about growing dry beans? Check out the WSU Extension Fact Sheet 135E “Growing Dry Beans in Home Gardens” available at http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS135E/FS135E.pdf. Enjoy the Year of the Pulses!

Sidebar: Our own state already does its part in celebrating pulses by growing 115,000 acres of pulse crops, ranking seventh in the nation in pulse production. Plus, 43% of the lentils grown in the US are grown in Washington, making our state number one in US lentil production!

Ripening Green Tomatoes

GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written October 2, 2015

Frost is coming and it is likely to be soon. The average date of the first killing fall frost in our area is October 15, but earlier for cooler spots. Before that happens and perhaps even a little earlier, gardeners should start picking mature green tomatoes. As we discussed last week, some types of mature fruit will ripen after picking. Tomatoes are one of them.

Our tendency as gardeners is to leave tomatoes on the vine in the fall until frost threatens and then quickly pick everything we can find that has some color. Some gardeners cover their vines with clear plastic to make a sort of greenhouse to keep the plants and fruit warmer during the day and protect them from frost at night.

However, covering plants with plastic or blankets is not going to help much because the fruit is injured by cool night temperatures below 50 degrees. Exposure to repeated chilly nights will damage the fruit, resulting in more fruit loss from decay. Once night temperatures start dropping below 40 degrees the damage is even greater.

The good news is that mature green tomatoes will ripen very well off the vine and still provide you with the wonderful flavor of homegrown vine-ripened tomatoes. There is no need to pick smaller green tomatoes that have no chance of ripening. Only pick mature green tomatoes. Telling the difference is a little tricky, but not hard. Generally, the fruit should be at least three-quarters the mature size expected for the variety. They will have turned from a bright green to a lighter green or whitish color. They do not need to have started turning red or the expected mature color yet.

Once the fruit are harvested, take them indoors and prepare them for ripening. This is done by first washing them with cool clean water and then allowing them to air dry completely. If any are cracked or split, they are more likely to rot before ripening so throw them out or use them in a recipe that calls for green tomatoes.

After roguing out the damaged tomatoes, you may want to sort those you have left. The ones that have developed a tinge of color will ripen first. Put these in one group, and then sort by “greenness.” The next step for many gardeners varies depending on just how many tomatoes they have and their capacity for storage. I recommend placing them in single layers in covered cardboard boxes. (Leave a little space between tomatoes.) Some folks wrap each fruit with newspaper and then place them in a box, but this is tedious and makes it difficult to check for both ripe or rotten fruit.

Tomatoes are the type of fruit that will ripen after picking and produce ethylene gas as they ripen. Exposure to ethylene gas from another source will speed up the process. If you are in a hurry for ripe tomatoes, place some of your green ones in a closed bag with some ripe bananas or tomatoes because they produce ethylene gas.

Our mothers and grandmothers placed their green tomatoes on the windowsill thinking that exposure to light was needed for ripening. Actually, they need the warmth not the light from the windowsill. Tomatoes will take about two weeks to ripen when kept at a temperature around 65 to 70 degrees. Cooler temperatures, but above 50 degrees, will result in slower ripening.

A chills is in the air so start harvesting your green tomatoes for ripening. Now is the time for action!

The Dilemma of Determining Fruit Maturity and Ripeness

GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written September 27, 2015

Gardeners are often faced with the dilemma of knowing when to harvest their fruits and vegetables. When is the right time to pick them and will they ripen afterwards? At the risk of revealing that I am a botany nerd, technically fruit are the protective female organs of flowering plants that contain their “babies” or seeds. The protective fruit may be fleshy structures like apples or dry structures like nuts. Apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, and melons are all examples of fleshy fruit.
Physiologically, fruit are mature when their seeds are fully developed. However, if you have ever encountered a humongous fully mature zucchini you will know that the desirable stage for harvesting and eating this “fruit” is when they are much smaller with tender skin and undeveloped seeds. As consumers, there are some vegetable fruits that we prefer to eat when they are immature, like summer squash, and others when fully mature, like melons. When it comes to tree fruit like apples or peaches, we usually find the fruit much tastier when fully mature and ripe.
Ripening is also a physiological process. It involves changes in the fruit, such as the flesh becoming softer and sweeter and the skin changing from one color (often green) to another. A variety of chemical changes can occur during ripening, including the breakdown of starches into sugars leading to a sweeter flavor. Softening results from a change of insoluble pectin in the cell walls to soluble pectin. The acid content of the flesh also decreases as the fruit ripen.
Now back to the original question of when to pick fruit and if they will ripen off the plant. The answer is some do and some do not. Because of this, horticulturists divide fruit into two groups. The group that do not ripen after picking tend to produce only small quantities of ethylene gas as they ripen. Ethylene is an odorless naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas. It is sometimes referred to as a plant aging hormone. Fruit that do not ripen after picking include cherries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, other berries, watermelon, and citrus fruits. These are picked when fully mature and ripe.
The second group are fruit that produce greater amounts of ethylene as they ripen and do ripen after picking. These include apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cantaloupes, bananas, and tomatoes. These fruit should be harvested at the “right” stage of ripeness after becoming fully mature. I am sometimes asked how to determine when to pick homegrown apples. It is tricky as the timing is based on the color of the skin, how easy it is to detach from the tree, flavor, and softness.
Commercial fruit growers have equipment for testing skin color, amounts of sugar, and flesh firmness. Gardeners should periodically check for sweetness by tasting the fruit. The flesh will be starchy if it is not ripe. Gardeners can also use their noses to check the fruits’ aroma and their eyes to judge skin color. Apples change in firmness from rock hard to slightly softer flesh that gives just a bit with a press of the thumb. Ripe apples should separate from the tree fairly easily with a slight upward twist. A gardener must sacrifice a few fruit to determine the “right” time, but it is better than harvesting an entire crop of unripe or over-ripe fruit.
Now that fall is here, I suspect frost is not far off, so next week we will tackle picking winter squash and green tomatoes.

YOUNGER GARDENERS GROWING VEGETABLES

GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written August 30, 2015

YOUNGER GARDENERS GROWING VEGETABLES

Having been at this job for over 30 years, I have seen gardening trends come and go. Way back in the 1980s there were numerous local gardeners interested in food gardening, growing both vegetables and tree fruit in their backyards. You could always find a large variety of vegetable transplants available at big box stores, as well as at local nurseries.

In the 1990s things started to change, fewer and fewer gardeners were interested in growing their own produceThe big box stores changed to offering fewer vegetable transplants, instead focusing primarily on colorful annual flowersI am not sure if this happened because gardeners realized that gardens and fruit tree were a lot of work, they had easy access to fresh produce from local farmers markets, their busy lives did not allow much time for gardening, or a combination of all these.

I am happy to say we have now come full circle and gardeners, especially younger gardeners under the age of 50, are interested in food gardening againThe focus is on veggies and herbsA survey taken by Today’s Garden Center indicates that these “youngsters” say gardening gives them a sense of accomplishment, allows them to become more self sufficient and have more control over the safety of their food, and provides a way to get children outside and teach them about nature. Wonderful!

Another thing to know about younger gardeners is their interest in food and cookingThere is a proliferation of television cooking shows that are enjoyed by both young adults and older folks like meBecause the All-America Selections (AAS) organization has noticed that cooking fresh foods is “trending,” they plan to market their 2016 winning herb and vegetable selections with five videos that demonstrate cooking techniques.

With the home garden focus back on vegetables, many of the big seed companies are strongly marketing their new vegetable varieties, especially ones with more compact growth habits that are easier to fit into the smaller gardens of today’s gardeners. These are a few that have already hit the market or will be arriving next year:

Basil ‘Docle Fresca’(parkseed.com) is an AAS 2015 winner that is a “new and better” compact Genovese basil plant with sweet tender leaves and growing only 10 to 14 inches tallIt is drought tolerant and a good container plant

Pea ‘Masterpiece’ (burpee.com)is a pea that Burpee calls a “triple treat” with edible tendrils, pods, and peasGrowing up to 30 inches tall and 32 inches wide, these pretty peas plants work well in containers and limited-space gardens

Kale ‘Simply Salad Kale Storm’ (burpee.com, plantworksnursery.com) is a mix of salad kales that are slow to boltThe seed combined into single pellets is a mix of different leaf textures and colorsNot only will this work well as fall cool-season crop for container growing, it will also serve as an attractive ornamental during the fall months

Tomato Heirloom Marriage Series (PanAmerican Seed) is a series of tomato hybrids that are the results of crosses between two heirloom varieties to create an F1 hybrid variety, “marrying” the best characteristics of each parent for improved performance in the gardenOne already available (along with others) is ‘Big Brandy’ whose parents are ‘Big Dwarf’ and ‘Brandywine’ Coming in 2016 is ‘Marzinera’, a cross between ‘San Marzano’(my new favorite tomato) and ‘Cream Sausage.’

Zucchini ‘Brice’ (no retail seller available ) is a zucchini that produces 3 to 4 inch light green round fruit on compact plants with attractive mottled leavesIt is more manageable than many zucchini and is great for container or limited-space gardeningThe fruit can be hollowed out for stuffingYummy!

This season isn’t even over yet and I am thinking about next year. Whoa!

CRACKED TOMATOES AND LACK OF VEGGIES DUE TO HOT WEATHER

GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written July 30, 2015

CRACKED TOMATOES AND LACK OF VEGGIES DUE TO HOT WEATHER

We had a brief respite from the hot weather this past week, but now it is back. I am hoping that my garden tomatoes will have set more fruit during the cooler weather. I have been able to start harvesting a few ripe tomatoes, but alas many of these tomatoes are cracked.

Cracked Tomatoes: After a long wait for ripe tomatoes, it is disappointing that many have radial cracks or splits in the skin starting at the stem. This occurs because the flesh of the fruit grows faster than the skin. Temperatures over 90 degrees or temperatures fluctuating widely between day and night can lead to cracking. It also can be attributed to heavy pruning when staking tomatoes. This exposes the fruit to light and increases the temperature of the fruit.

Uneven watering, fluctuating between very dry to very wet soil, can also give rise to tomato cracks. Heavy nitrogen fertilization causes very fast vine growth, also causing more fruit to crack.

Finally, some varieties are more prone to cracking. A number of the heirloom varieties, like Brandywine, are notorious for their tendency to crack. That is one of the reasons why modern hybrids were developed. For example, Burpee developed their hybrid Brandy Boy to have the same great taste of Brandywine without the problems, including cracking, associated with growing this heirloom.

The problem with cracked tomatoes is that the cracks in the skin make it easy for secondary fungi and bacteria to infect the fruit. The appearance of mold, extremely soft fruit, or liquid leaking from the tomato are sure signs of infection. Discard them. You can eat cracked fruit that are not infected, but do so quickly because they will not last long.

Blossom Drop: Astute veggie gardeners have noted the lack of beans on their bean plants and attributed it to the heat. When temperatures climb well above 90 degrees, beans and peas will drop their flowers without setting fruit. The same often happens with tomatoes and peppers too. The reason for “blossom drop” and the lack of fruit involves pollination and the subsequent fertilization of the embryo in the ovary within the flower.

You might think the reason for this is that bees are not active in the garden when temperatures are above 100 degrees, but beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers are self-pollinating and thus do not depend on bees or other insects to enable pollination and fertilization. However, these self-pollinating flowers do need wind or insects to shake the pollen from a male part of the flower (anther) onto a female part of the flower (stigma).

What about the veggies that do require an assist from bees and other pollinating insects? Fruit production of cucumbers, melons, and squash seems to slow in hot weather too. Aborted or misshapen fruit are because bees are not very active in the hot weather and because pollen does not remain viable for very long.

We can not do anything about the hot weather, but we can reduce plant stress and minimize cracking and blossom drop by keeping the garden soil evenly moist, mulching to cool the soil and conserve moisture, and not applying excessive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. It’s also a good idea to provide bees with some moisture. Turn a bird bath or large pot saucer into a bee bath by filling it with coarse gravel or river rock and adding water. The stones are used as perches, so the bees will drown in the open water.

Tomato Transplants and Planting

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA April 23, 2015

Here I go again talking about tomatoes, but since they are the favorite veggie crop of home gardeners I am hoping you will forgive me. This time, let’s talk about tomato transplants and how to plant them.

Horticulturists will tell you when purchasing tomato transplants select ones that are only six to eight inches tall with a strong main stem (about the same diameter as a pencil). Avoid plants that are leggy, yellowish-green, much too big for their pots, already flowering, or infested with insects. Also, avoid plants that have grown too large in the greenhouse and been cut back to disguise this.

A healthy, stocky transplant is the ideal, but many gardeners who grow their own transplants from seed end up with leggy plants. This is because the plants were either started too early, not provided with enough light, or both!

Leggy tomato stems are weak and often can not support the top of the plant, especially in windy weather. To remedy the situation, gardeners should bury the stem and the roots when planting. This is best accomplished by creating a shallow 4 to 5 inch deep trench, removing the leaves from the bottom 2/3 of the stem, laying the transplant on its side in the trench, and then covering the roots and stem with soil. Leave the remaining leaves several sets of leaves above the soil.

Roots will form along the buried stem, resulting in a stronger plant. The leaves and stems left above the soil will naturally turn and start growing upwards. Before planting, remove the pot including peat or other biodegradable pots, and gently then loosen the roots.

When purchased at the nursery, transplants have usually already been “hardened-off” by exposure to wind and sunlight and by receiving less water and fertilizer than they were getting in a greenhouse. To get them ready for the “real world,” homegrown transplants started indoors will need to be hardened-off  by gradually introducing them to outdoor conditions. This is done by placing them outdoors in the sun for couple of hours and then increasing the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week, but bringing them indoors at night.

Tomatoes are frost-sensitive, warm season plants. They prefer warm weather and warm soils. There is no advantage to planting them early and protecting them from frosty nights. If you are into easy gardening with no extra work, plant your tomatoes no earlier than May 1st, the average date of our last spring frost for most of the region. However, tomato plants will not grow much until the soil warms to at least 600 F and prevailing daytime temperatures are above 700 and nighttime temperatures are above 600.

If you yearn to plant your tomatoes early, you can create a “mini-solar greenhouse” for each with Wall-of-Water or Kozy Coat garden teepees. Garden teepees are 12″ diameter cylindrical garden devices made of channeled clear or tinted plastic sheeting. The channels are filled with water and then the teepee is set over a plant. The water absorbs heat during the day, keeping the plant warmer than the surrounding air during the night and day and helping warm the soil.

When teepees are tilted inwards at the top of the cylinder early in the season, they can provide considerable protection from frost, down to 160 F according to the manufacturer. They also protect plants from wind. Teepees should be removed when temperatures reach 80 to 85 degrees, otherwise they “cook” the plants.

May 1st is just a week away so start getting ready for planting tomatoes, but wait until the soil and temperatures are warm enough.

TRY SOME NEW VEGGIE VARIETIES

written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published 3/14/14

Advertisers often use the words “new, improved, or better” to tempt consumers. Plant marketers are no different. They want us to buy new varieties developed by plant breeders and seed companies. It is a good approach since most of the gardeners that I know like to try something different in their gardens every year. It is part of what makes gardening so much fun. Here are some new veggie and herb varieties you might want to know about.

Burpee (burpee.com) has an exclusive new basil introduction,

Bam

that has me excited. Basil is my favorite herb but by the middle of the season it starts to flower. I then work endlessly to keep the flowers pinched off.

Bam

is touted as a basil that reaches a height of 18 to 20 inches and is very productive, flavorful, fragrant. The great thing about

Bam

is that it never flowers and it keeps producing in hot weather.

Mascotte (www.parkseed) is a new bush bean variety that is so good it has been honored with the All America Selection award for 2014, the first bean since 1991 to receive that honor. What makes this bush bean so great? First, it is a compact variety that makes it ideal for the trend towards gardening with less space in raised beds and containers. The plants produce plenty of long slender pods above the leaves, making harvesting easy. The beans are crunchy with a great taste.

Fans of beets (I

m not.) will want to know that there are two new beets to pique their interest. One is a red

Baby Beat

from Johnny

s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com). The National Garden Bureau says that

Baby Beat

is a true baby or mini beet that

s nicely rounded with smooth skin. The beet tops are small and attractive which could make them a nice addition to an edible landscape or a container garden. The other new beet is

Boldor

(www.territorialseed.com) with sweet, mild, 2-inch round fruit. The flesh is a bright yellow and the skin is a dark golden color. The young tops are tender and sweet.

I do not eat a lot of eggplant, but after eating some spicy baba ghanoush (sort of like humus made from grilled eggplant) last year, I

ll probably eat more this year. A new All American Selection is

Eggplant Patio Baby F1

(www.jungseed.com). As its name implies, it is a compact eggplant that will work well in containers. The plants are highly productive and yields 2 to 3-inch, deep purple, egg-shaped fruit. Plus, it is a “friendly” eggplant that does not have thorns on its leaves or at the top of the fruit.

I grow most of my veggies in containers, so I am always watching for space-saving bush varieties of squash, melons, and cukes. While not brand new, here are a few varieties that space conscious gardeners may want to know about. From Renee

s Garden Seeds (reneesgarden.com) comes

Bush Slicer

, a dwarf bush cucumber with 6 to 8 inch fruit,

Astia

a compact zucchini, and two bush winter squash.

Pic-N-Pic

a bush yellow crookneck squash comes from Burpee.

You may find some of the varieties that I have mentioned on seed racks at your locak garden stores along with other interesting varieties that may entice you or you can order them on-line from the companies noted. the weather is warming so get your seed as soon as possible and don

t forget to try something new.

Published: 3/14/2014 10:39 AM

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