A basket of garden tips -- 7-15-14

(Our photo this week is of an unripened Indigo Rose tomato from the garden of Michael Maginnis, located near Greencastle, Pa. For a closer view, click on the picture.)

This week we have a mix of tips and suggestions for our gardening friends. They include:

n If the first tomatoes on your vines are shaped more like tiny green pumpkins than the round globed shape associated with good fruit, they may have what’s called “cat facing.”

This term is used to describe tomatoes that don’t develop uniformly because of poor pollination caused by extremes in the weather. With recent night temperatures sometimes in the 60s and daytime temps near 90 F, the pollination process might get a bit out of whack. Insect damage when the plant is very young may also cause the problem. And some of the larger beefsteak type varieties are more prone to it than smaller types.

The fruit is edible, but if it’s picture-perfect you’re looking for, you’ll just have to wait until the plant’s second “set.”

n Now’s a good time to plant broccoli and cauliflower for fall harvests, though broccoli that’s already planted will keep producing unless it’s uprooted. Gardeners can cut off the main stalk, which will encourage side shoots, which can be quite tasty.

Wait until August to replant spinach and lettuce, both of which are prone to go to seed in hot weather. Spinach that’s going to seed will stop producing broad leaves and send out a thin seed stalk, which probably means the end of that crop. Lettuce is also nearly done and will tend to be bitter and exude a milky liquid when leaves are cut.

n Can’t wait for the next crop of greens? Try beets, whose greens are nutritiously good and good tasting, too. If you can find the seed, you can also sow New Zealand spinach, which is not related to the spinach most gardeners grow. Burpee offers a packet of seeds for $3.99.

nƒnSquash vines are starting to run now, which means that the squash vine borer won’t be far behind. Like the root maggot, the borer lays its eggs at the base of the vine so that the emerging larvae can burrow inside. If you see the borer’s hole, you can cut open the stem, remove the insect, then mound dirt around the wound to help it heal.

n One of the best -- and most economical -- resources that a gardener can have is the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center. Easily accessed at http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/, you can explore a variety of topics, have a live chat with an expert about a lawn or garden problem and even subscribe to HGIC’s monthly e-mailed newsletter.

I recommend this because, for most of us, gardening can be a solitary pursuit. Yes, there is much peace to be found working in the garden on one’s knees, pulling out those darned weeds while you listen to the birds or watch small insects travel through the soil you’ve turned up. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend give you tips about what to look for (or look out for) every month?

For example, HGIC’s June newsletter warns gardeners against leaving standing water in old tires or basins, where mosquitoes will find it a nice breeding area. There’s also a section on stinging and biting insects -- and what not to do near their nests. If you go to HGIC’s site, then to “E Newsletter Archive,” you’ll find a link that allows you to sign up for HGIC’s monthly e-mail newsletter.

There’s also a link to Prof. Michael J. Raupp’s “Bug of the Week” column, which currently profiles the Japanese beetle and explains strategies for control that won’t harm beneficial insects in your lawn and garden.

(Did you enjoy this column? Please send suggestions and constructive criticism to bobmaginnis@myactv.net. As always, feel free to use a pseudonym or a “pen name.”)


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