Summer vegetables can be hard to grow

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Just like every summer, some people's vegetable gardens are doing fine, while others are not.

Unfortunately, mine falls in the latter category.

I lost my squash and zucchini to vine borers before I ever got the first fruit. I don't know any foolproof way to keep the borers out of the stems. What seems to work for some people doesn't for others.

I also lost some of my tomato plants to tomato spotted wilt virus. Then the other ones, except one, appeared to have some herbicide damage, which is beyond my explanation. The only thing I can figure is I put some grass clippings in there last fall to decompose and they might have had some herbicide in them, but I would have thought it would have dissipated by the spring. I replanted more tomatoes, but they are small so they have a ways to go before setting fruit. The one good-size plant from my original planting still has not set fruit because of the hot weather. It gets plenty of blooms but they just dry up. It is a Better Boy variety, the one most people plant.

Here are some mid-summer vegetable garden tips:

Harvest vegetables as soon as they are ready. Leaving them on the plant too long can cause them to terminate production. If you go on vacation, get a friend or neighbor to pick the fruit.

Continue to use Bacillus thuringeinsis (Dipel or Thuricide), which is organic, for caterpillar and worm pests. Follow the label directions for application.

Okra, one of the showiest blooms in the vegetable garden, bears flowers that only last one day. If the flower has been pollinated, a miniature okra pod can be seen beneath the wilted flower.

Although tomatoes are self-pollinating, they need movement to transfer pollen. If it is hot and calm for several days, gently shake plants for assured pollen transfer and fruit set. Hot temperatures will also interfere with blossom set.

For the best flavor, pick ripe tomatoes as needed. If you must wait to use garden-fresh tomatoes, don't refrigerate them. Fruit texture and some aroma compounds deteriorate quickly in the cold.

Cucumbers have a very short vine-storage time. Under warm, humid conditions, fruits on the vine can remain in prime condition for less than 12 hours. For best tasting cucumbers, pick early and often. The fruits can be stored up to two weeks at 45 to 50 degrees and 95 percent relative humidity.

Yellow squash taste best when four to seven inches long. Pick when pale yellow (rather than golden) and before skin hardens.

Remove cucumbers by turning fruits parallel to the vine and giving a quick snap. This prevents vine damage and results in a clean break. If you have trouble mastering this, take a sharp knife to the garden for harvesting. Cut or pull cucumbers, leaving a short stem on each fruit.

Drought or hot, dry winds can cause pepper blossoms to drop. Misting plants twice a day helps retain blossoms and set fruit.

The time of day vegetables are harvested can make a difference in the taste and texture. For sweetness, pick peas and corn late in the day. That's when they contain the most sugar, especially if the day was cool and sunny. Other vegetables, such as cucumbers, are crisper and tastier if you harvest them early in the morning before the day's heat has a chance to wilt and shrivel them.

Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or smullis@uga.edu.


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