This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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July 5, 2006

Strong Roots...
I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and happy 4th. Our family parted ways for the holiday. Kevin and the kids spent time on the East coast and I traveled to McPherson to spend time with my family. I must say the weather in McPherson was quite nice. I arrived on Monday and it was hot, around 98º. The humidity was high making it extra uncomfortable. However a front passed through bringing a small amount of rain and on the 4th the high was a pleasant 82º - a welcome relief. We should consider ourselves lucky. McPherson is experiencing a drought leaving the ground cracked and begging for a day or two of soaking rain. My parents own seven acres and it is always fun to walk the property to see the progress they have made. They enjoy toiling in the soil and have become quite good at planting and transplanting trying to find the right spot for all of their plantings.

Just like all of us gardeners they too need reminders of good watering practices. I know it has been difficult considering it has been so hot and dry. The lack of rain, temperatures in the high 90’s, and the continual breeze they get here makes keeping things alive a real challenge. The good thing is that they are persistent. They are like many of us. Once something goes into the ground they feel as it is their job to make it live and thrive. A passion that many of us share. Isn’t half the fun of gardening sharing it with friends and family? There is nothing quite like showing the fruits of your hard labor. It makes all the time you spend outside worth every minute. Share your gardens and your knowledge. You’ll be glad you did.

~ Shelly  

Timing Is Everything...
Some of us are morning people, others need more time to get going every day.  The same is true for garden vegetables!  The time of day you pick your vegetables can actually have a dramatic effect on their taste and texture.  For instance,  your lettuce and cucumbers will be crispier if picked early - before the hot sun has had a chance to wilt your crop.  On the other hand corn and peas will be sweeter if you wait until later in the day when their sugar levels are highest.  Yum!

Tomatoes On Potatoes?...
Under favorable weather conditions, potatoes produce fruit. These structures are borne on the top of the plant and look much like small tomatoes. (Tomatoes and potatoes are closely related). Potato fruits are not edible. They contain a toxic substance (solanine) that can cause illness if eaten. Also, potato fruits should not be saved for seed because progeny does not come true. Rather, remove and dispose of fruit so that they are not eaten by children.


Shake It Up...
Although tomatoes are self-pollinating, they need movement to transfer pollen.  If it is hot and calm for several days you may need to gently shake your plants to assure that pollen is properly transferred.  Very hot temperatures can also interfere with blossom set.  One solution is to mist the plants periodically throughout the day.  Careful here!  Wet leaves can promote other diseases.  If you choose to mist do it during the day when plants will have adequate time to dry out before nightfall.


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Nurturing Nature's Night Lights...
Some things just mean summer to me.  Fireflies (lightning bugs to some of you) fit that category nicely.  My kids could spend hours catching these magical creatures and putting them in a jar or cage.  Before calling it a night however, I make sure they let the fireflies escape.  Anglers call it catch and release.  We call it good gardening.  You see, the larvae of fireflies dine on cutworms, mites, slugs, snails, soft-bodied insects and the larvae of other insects.  They apparently have voracious appetites and quietly do wonders keeping pests at bay.

Better Blackberries...
The exact time to harvest blackberries varies by cultivar, and thorny blackberries normally ripen earlier than thornless types. But there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when harvesting blackberries.

  • Do not pick blackberries too early or berry size and flavor will be sacrificed.
  • Blackberries usually develop a dull, black color with plump, juicy fruitlets as they ripen. The berries soften and produce the characteristic flavor.
  • Full color often develops before the berries separate easily.

Pick the berries by gently lifting the berry with the thumb and fingers. The receptacle, or center part of the fruit, remains in the fruit when blackberries are harvested, unlike raspberries, which leave the receptacle on the bush. Take care not to crush the berries or expose them to the hot sun. When possible, avoid picking berries when they are wet. They'll probably need picking every second or third day. Cool the berries immediately after harvest to extend shelf life. Keep them refrigerated under high relative humidity and use within three to five days.


Too Hot To Handle...
When the weather gets really oppressive it's all too easy to want to stay inside and neglect the garden.  Try to do your watering early in the morning, take the afternoon off, and do your weeding, dead-heading, etc... in the evening.  Remember, in this heat watering must be thorough and deep.  If you can't water adequately during hot, dry weather you are actually better off doing nothing at all and I mean nothing.  Plants under severe summer stress compensate by becoming inactive.  Pruning, fertilizing, spraying or otherwise encouraging growth can do more harm than good if water is insufficient.

Battling Brown Patch (continued)...
You will recognize brown patch in your lawn by thinning of the turf in clustered, roughly circular patches.  The patches will expand as the problem gets worse.

This is a disease that remains in the soil, so you're not going to get rid of it completely.  All you can do is prevent it through smart horticultural practices and treat it when necessary with appropriately labeled fungicides.  Smart practices include:

  • Avoiding heavy, early spring and summer fertilization, particularly with soluble nitrogen.
  • Watering in the early morning.  Late afternoon and evening watering should be avoided.
  • Remove and dispose of clippings from infected areas or when conditions are conducive to disease development. (Mulching mowers that chop clippings to ¼ inch or less do not contribute to brown patch development.)

"The smell of manure, of sun on foliage, of evaporating water, rose to my head; two steps farther, and I could look down into the vegetable garden enclosed within its tall pale of reeds - rich chocolate earth studded emerald green, frothed with the white of cauliflowers, jeweled with the purple globes of eggplant and the scarlet wealth of tomatoes."

~ Doris Lessing, The Habit of Loving

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