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Past Questions and Answers | September 2011

Question #1

Question:  I am growing heirloom tomatoes. They are about 4 foot tall and I have had a lot of blossoms, but no tomatoes. They have been planted in the ground for about 6 weeks. They are growing straight up and not really spreading out. Am I doing something wrong or do I just need to give them more time.

  Tom Sikes, Palm Springs, California


ANSWER:   Many heirloom tomatoes grow straight up because space was at a premium in gardens and plants were trellised. As for the blooms, tomatoes are picky plants. They are easily killed by frost. On the other hand, when the temperature gets above about 90 degrees for several days in a row, they will continue to bloom but will not set fruit. If you plant your tomatoes too late, you run into the problem you describe: lots of blooms, no fruit. If you can keep the plants alive until it cools off, they may set fruit then. The yields will likely be low, though, since the plant has spent so much energy blooming all summer. In the future, try putting the plants out just as soon as all danger of frost has passed so they have time to produce tomatoes before it gets too hot. Fall tomato plants grow while it is hot then start setting fruit when it cools down, so that is an option, too.

Question #2

Question:  I have an acorn squash plant that has put on a great show this summer with beautiful foliage. I have gotten 2 nice squash from it and there are several more flowers, but now the plant seems to be dying. What is the normal yield for a healthy plant? I don't see signs of infestation; it just seems to be losing its vigor!

  Gayle Maglione, Dallas, GA


ANSWER:   The yield of an acorn squash plant varies by cultivar, how the plant was fertilized and watered, and the temperature. Many people are reporting the problem you are asking about. It seems to be a pollination problem. Because of the problems honey bees have been having, they are not as numerous this year and vegetables just are not getting pollinated. No pollination, no produce. You can pollinate the flowers by hand, but it sounds as if your plant has exhausted itself and is dying. If you plant a fall garden, plant some flowers that bees love around it to help draw them and reduce your pollination problems.

Question #3

Question:  Hello, I was ready to harvest my yellow crookneck squashes, and they were so hard in texture all they way through, that I could not even eat them. What went wrong? DId I not water enough?

Thank you

  Carol Ball, Moorpark, CA


ANSWER:   Crookneck squash are actually harvested when they are immature and no more than 7-8 inches long. If you let them get too big, they do become fibrous and hard. That is how they protect the seeds inside through the winter. Lack of water can also cause the squash to be hard, but it is usually waiting too late to pick them.

Question #4

Question:  I live in an apartment and have limited space for my vegetable garden in containers outside. How big a pot does the average tomato, pepper, cucumber or squash need to flourish? Also, I'd love to bring my herbs inside over the winter, which ones might survive best? And what should I do to ease the transition for them? I'm a novice gardener and have already found this site incredibly helpful. Even more articles on growing vegetables and herbs in an urban setting would be great. Thanks!

  Martha Winterhalt, Halifax, NS


ANSWER:   Vegetables do very well in pots that are one foot by one foot by two feet deep. In that space you can grow one plant for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or squash. For the vining plants, you put a trellis up one side of the pot and the plant will just climb up instead of spread out. Be sure your balcony or floor can hold the weight of all that soil and the plant, plus the water you put on the plant. Too much weight and things tend to come crashing down. That really ticks the landlord off, too.

Herbs often grow indoors. You really do not have to transition them other than making sure they have adequate light. Basil, chives, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and sage can be grown indoors with a little work. All of them require a grow light or strong light from a window. If you are just bringing them in for the winter, use very little fertilizer. Keep the soil moist but not soaking. You will have to harden the herbs off as you put them back out in the spring. Than you can fertilize them with a liquid fertilizer so they can get busy and produce for you.

Question #5

Question:  We stay pretty much snow covered all winter here. I want to establish a new flower bed along the curb, containing reblooming daylilies, blue festuca and reblooming iris'. With snowplows coming through regularly, will my planned bed work along the curb, or will the dirt/salt mixture they lay down after plowing kill the plants? I have neighbors who have tulip beds (big surprise in Holland, right?!) along the curb and they seem to do okay. Thanks for your help

  Keith Hathaway, Holland, MI


ANSWER:   The road mix used in most urban areas will kill your plants. Some plants are more tolerant of the salt and other chemicals than other plants, so while you neighbor.s tulips may do okay, I do not think the plants you mentioned will. You can do a raised be that is high enough that the snow pushed off the road does not fall into it. Or you can put the bed back far enough from the road that the snow misses it.

Question #6

Question:  I was so excited to finally get to harvest my first crown of cauliflower! Cut it, brought it into the house, cleaned it in the salt water solution to remove any hidden critters..and took a bite! It tasted awful :( It was bitter and had a terrible after taste! What did I do wrong?? It grew so wonderfully (this was my first time to grow it too) and I had no problems till now!! I have to throw it all away I guess. Please help!!! Was it the soil conditions or the temperature??? Thanks for ANY help.

  Brandi Noonan, Wyoming


ANSWER:   Cauliflower gets bitter and nasty when it is allowed to mature too much. Even a day too much can result in an inedible crown. The best way to tell is to blanch the crown. This means as soon as you can see the head, tiny though it is, you gather the leaves around the crown and cover the crown with them. Hold on with a rubber band. Each day, you readjust the leaves and the rubber band. After six to eight days, the head is ready to harvest. Then it should be good to eat.

Question #7

Question:  Why would a healthy tomato plant produce lots of blossoms but never set fruit?

  Wanda Chochoi, Defiance, Ohio


ANSWER:   Tomatoes won.t set fruit when it is over about 90 degrees for several days. A lot of people are having trouble with their plants flowering but not producing fruit. The drought is not helping, either. Even if you water, the air is dryer and the soil moisture is different.

Question #8

Question:  I grow tomatoes and the lower part of the green tomatoes are rotten brown. Can you help me?

Thank you

  Doron Sussman, Thomhill, Ontario


ANSWER:   You probably have blossom end rot. This is a calcium deficiency tied to watering and watering practices. Secondary infections are almost certain to occur. With tomatoes, it is important to water to the roots, not the foliage. When the leaves and fruit get wet, it makes the plant more vulnerable to blossom end rot and the secondary infections. When the fruit gets the dirt on it that is typically splashed up when watering from above, it contains the spores that become the secondary infections. Using a soaker hose or drip irrigation will help. Mulching with three inches of mulch will also help, as the water will not splash up dirt then. Most importantly, ensure that the plant gets adequate water through out the growing season. With the continent gripped in drought, extra watering is necessary. Keep the soil moist but not squishy. The mulch will help hold moisture in and make it available to the plant.

Question #9

Question:  I have blue lake bush beans that have been blooming for two weeks, but have not set a single bean. What is wrong with my plants?

  Larry Higgins, Colorado Springs, CO


ANSWER:   Many people are reporting that their plants are producing many blooms, but not fruits or vegetables. Squash is notorious for this. The cause appears to be the decline of the honey bee. Without bees to pollinate the beans, they do not produce beans. You can plant flowers along the perimeter of your garden to attract bees, get a honey producer to place a hive near you, or get a hive of your own.

Question #10

Question:  Can you use tomatoes that have started to rot for saving seeds or do they have to be nice ripe ones?

  Joyce Krushinshi


ANSWER:   You should save the seeds from one of your best tomatoes. If the tomato has started rotting, it might have damaged the seeds inside, where you can.t see it. Second, if it has a problem, do you want to plant seeds from it next year and risk having the problem crop up again? So use your best tomato, not your worst one.

Question #11

Question:  1. Apple's falling off tree before ready and they are pithy, why and what can I do?

2. Can you graft two colors of crape Myrtle's onto one tree?

  James Miller, Sacramento, CA


ANSWER:   Pre-harvest drop is a recognized problem in apple trees but the literature does not suggest a remedy. The pithiness is related to the pre-harvest drop. Commercial growers spray their trees with plant growth regulator to stop the drop, but those chemicals are not available to home owners.

Grafting crape myrtles is theoretically possible but is so difficult no one does it. Since no one does it, I cannot locate instructions on how to do it. I do find references to failures in the extension literature, however.

Question #12

Question:  I have seed pods growing on my calla lilies. What do I do with them? What is their purpose in the plants life? Do I let them stay on the plant or should I cut them off. This is my first time growing them and I love them and want to keep them living.

  Vickie Gibson, Man WV


ANSWER:   The calla lilies. purpose in life is to reproduce, so the seed pods are their goal. You can wait until they are dry and cut them off, or cut them off now. If you remove them now, the plant uses the energy it would have used growing them to grow leaves and flowers. If you let the seed pods mature, you can actually grow more plants from them. Either way, your plant is fine and will bloom again next year.

Question #13

Question:  I have a Young Gala apple tree that while I was away for 4 months has grown several branches below the original crotch. The upper portion appears to be needing water or nutriment. Can I prune it now or should I wait until winter. I am afraid it could die if left alone.

  Jack Potter, Mount Vernon, Indiana


ANSWER:   Pruning a tree in the summer when it is actively growing and moving sap should be done only in an emergency. Most trees require supplemental watering the first year after they have been transplanted, while the roots are becoming established. It should be watered once a week. In the fall, you should put a balanced fertilizer on the tree that is labeled for apple trees. When the tree goes into dormancy, cut the suckers (branches) off the tree trunk below the crotch.

Question #14

Question:  I have cut down an old apple tree and left about 2ft stump. I have let it grow and it is now 6ft tall with plenty of good branches. Will it ever fruit again.

  Henry Bonsall, Barnoldswick, Lancashire


ANSWER:   It may fruit again, but the fruit will be from the rootstock, not the grafted on variety. This means the fruit won.t be the same quality as rootstock is chosen for disease resistance, not the taste of the fruit.

Question #15

Question:  Why are my cucumbers bitter? This has occurred for the last 3 years. The plants get plenty of water

  Sheila B. Durfey, Salt Lake City, Utah


ANSWER:   They could be bitter for a number of reasons. Some varieties, especially older varieties, are bitter, especially in the peel. Planting a variety meant for pickling and slicing them instead could be one reason. When do you pick them? They should be 6-8 inches long and green in color when picked. Any larger and they get bitter, and any yellow means they are overripe and will be bitter.

Question #16

Question:  We are moving to a heritage rural property with huge perennial gardens. Probably not been tended to for 50 years or so..160 year old house! Beautiful selection of plants, but overrun with weeds, extra plants growing everywhere etc. We're in our 70's but active. Should we tackle this fall somehow or wait until spring, digging up many of them and transplanting etc.

  Mac Knowles, Carleton Place, Ontario


ANSWER:   The best time to transplant things is when they are dormant. Since your winter comes early, doing some moving this fall will be fine. Start with the bulbs and perennials, then do the shrubs and trees in January and the annuals in the spring. It sounds like you have enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

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If you can, it is always best to water early in the morning. This allows the plant's leaves and flowers to dry off as the day warms up.

If you water at night, the plant stays wet for hours in the cool, which are prime conditions for fungi and other problems to set in.

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