Tomato

Tomato champions the warm season vegetables.

Like most warm season vegetables, tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, are actually seed bearing fruit. They are both the most diverse and the most popular home grown produce. Grape tomatoes are smaller than little grapes. ‘Beefsteak’ can get wider than five inches. Although mostly red, some are yellow, orange, pink, green, brown, purple or pallid white. 

The most popular varieties of tomato for home gardens are indeterminate. They produce fruit sporadically throughout the season, on irregularly sprawling stems. Tomato cages or stakes support their growth. Shrubbier determinate varieties seem to be more productive only because all of their fruit develops within a brief season. They work well for canning.

Small tomato plants in cell packs and four inch pots, which are available from nurseries, should grow efficiently in the garden as the weather warms through spring. Varieties that are unavailable as small plants can grow from seed in cold frames through late winter, to be ready for the garden after last frost. Directly sown seed can be vulnerable to mollusks.

Warm Season Vegetables For Spring

Frequent harvesting promotes continual zucchini production.

Warm season annuals for next spring and summer are already replacing the cool season annuals that bloomed so dutifully since last autumn. As this happens, it is also getting to be about time for warm season vegetables to replace cool season vegetables. Strangely continuous warm daytime weather since December accelerated this process somewhat.

Removal of cool season vegetables that are still productive is as unpleasant as removal of cool season annuals that are still blooming. Fortunately, most cool season vegetables are finished by now, or will be soon. Few linger into warm weather as some cool season annuals might. Regardless, warm season vegetables will need their garden space soon. 

Unlike most cool season vegetables, which actually are vegetative, the majority of warm season vegetables are actually fruits. The plants that produce them generally continue to bloom and produce more fruits throughout their respective seasons. Some, such as bush bean and determinate tomato, exhibit brief seasons. Many produce continually until frost. 

Therefore, indeterminate tomato, pole bean, squash, cucumber, many varieties of pepper and some varieties of eggplant need no replacement within the same season. Cucumber can get tired enough by early summer to justify replacement in midsummer though. Okra, as well as several varieties of eggplant and pepper, produce for relatively brief seasons.

Phasing prolongs production of warm season vegetables that produce only once or only for a brief season. For example, corn that matures so uniformly that it is ready for harvest simultaneously lasts only a few weeks in a garden. Phases for seeding that repeat every two weeks or so develop in two week cycles. As the first phase finishes, the next begins. 

Because so many individual plants are desired, and the seedlings do not transplant well, corn seed prefers direct sowing into the garden. So does seed for bean, root vegetables, and most greens. For tomato, pepper and eggplant, and perhaps cucumber and squash, small plants transplant well, and are not numerous enough in a garden to be expensive. Warm season vegetables grow slowly during cool weather, but accelerate as the weather warms.

Late Summer Merges Closer To Autumn

Late summer flowers are still blooming.

It always seems that by the time the garden gets as productive as it can, it is already time to get ready for the next season. Pretty soon, cool season annuals will be arriving in nurseries to replace warm season annuals that had been so colorful all summer. If seeds are to be collected from summer flowers for next year, this would be a good time to do it.

Seed for certain cool season vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, can be sown in flats or cell packs now to have seedlings ready to put out into the garden as warm season vegetables finish in autumn. If there is space available in the garden, turnips, turnip greens and beets can be sown directly. Carrots should probably wait a few weeks or so to get sown directly.

Although corn of a single variety sown in a single phase tends to ripen at the same time, different varieties planted in different phases can extend the season significantly. Those that continue to produce until autumn are greedy for nutrients and water. Squash and tomatoes likewise appreciate a bit of fertilizer and regular watering, even as the weather starts to fluctuate this late in summer. However, fertilizer does not need to be applied in the last month of expected production.

Zucchini should be harvested when they get about six inches long, not only because they are best when immature, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of their fruit. If plants have the choice, they prefer to concentrate resources into fewer large fruit instead of more small fruit. The problem is that the larger fruit is tough and lacks flavor.

Hubbard, butternut, acorn and other winter squash get the opposite treatment. Each vine should produce only a few fruits. Those that produce smaller fruits can sustain more than those that produce larger fruits. Yet, excessive fruit exhausts resources, which compromises fruit quality. The fruit that will continue to grow and ripen through autumn should already be somewhat developed. The smallest of excessive fruit, or underdeveloped fruit should be removed.

Vegetables From Winter To Summer

Bell peppers wait for warmer weather.

Cool season (or winter) vegetables are now finishing their season. Some continue to produce later than others. Eventually though, they all succumb to warming spring weather. As they do so, they relinquish their space to warm season (or summer) vegetables. Many warm season vegetables want to start growing as soon as possible. Later phases must wait for space to become available.

Later phases are no problem. They actually prolong the season for plants that are productive for only a brief season. For example, if sown at the same time, corn seed germinates and grows into stalks that produce all their corn at the same time. If sown in small groups every two weeks or so, corn seed grows into groups of stalks that produce corn every two weeks or so. That is ‘phasing’.

Phasing is more common with the cool season vegetable plants. Most of them are true vegetables, rather than fruits that are classified as vegetables. Individual plants produce only once, and can not produce again after harvest. Conversely, most warm season vegetables are actually fruits. (They contain seed.) Many of the plants that produce them continue to produce after harvest begins.

For example, squash, pole bean and indeterminate tomato plants that start growing in spring can continue to produce until frost. (Determinate tomatoes and bush beans have shorter seasons, so can benefit from phasing.) Cucumber vines can produce until frost, but might get shabby enough (from aridity) for replacement halfway through their season. Pepper and eggplant thrive in warmth.

The various greens and the various root vegetables, which are truly vegetative rather than fruiting vegetables, should grow in phases.

Seed for corn, bean, root vegetables and most greens should go directly into the garden. Seedlings do not transplant well, and are expensive in sufficient quantity. Romaine and head lettuces are exceptions that produce well from seedlings. Tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash seedlings transplant easily. If only a few are required, they are not much more expensive than seed.

Too Late For Pie

Shortly after this article posted three years ago, a leaky pipe was exposed, and has since been repaired.

Tony Tomeo

P71203Just a few feet downhill from where the old valley oak had lived for centuries (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/), a pumpkin vine appeared shortly after the big oak stump was ground out. That was in late September, so was much too late for it to do much; or so I thought.

The vine grew very quickly! It is hard to say if it got water from a leaking pipe. A valve manifold that is visible in front of the stump in the original picture is completely obscured by the foliage of the vine in the second picture. With all the heavy work that was done right on that spot, it would have been very easy for a pipe or exposed valve to get damaged. (Water from a previously leaky pipe or valve could have contributed to the demise of the tree, by promoting the development of excessively heavy foliage that caused…

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Cucumber

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Cucumber can ripen in summer too.

Is it a winter vegetable or a summer vegetable? Technically, like many vegetables, cucumber, Cucumis sativus, is actually a fruit. It dislikes the locally arid warmth of summer, but also is intolerant of winter frost. It performs best through spring and autumn. Seedlings grown as winter ends should be ready for transplant after the last frost. Vines grown now produce a bit more before first frost.

However, in some gardens, some varieties of cucumber can remain productive all summer. Discolored older foliage is more unsightly than detrimental. Newer growth cascading from above might obscure some of it. Vines can climb trellises or over shrubbery. If vines sprawl over soil, the fruit will stay cleaner if set on leaves or newspaper. Regular harvesting promotes continued production.

Most cucumbers are classified as slicing, pickling or seedless cucumbers. There are many varieties within each classification. The most popular are only a few inches long, and harvested before maturity. The largest cucumbers are as long as two feet, and as wide as four inches! Hot weather unfortunately causes cucumbers to be bitter. Rich soil and regular irrigation promote better flavor.

Summer Squash Excel All Summer

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Tender young summer squash are best.

Summer is for warm season vegetables like tomatoes, beans, corn, okra, and of course, summer squash. The name says it all. Summer squash are the sort of squash that develop and are ready for harvest through summertime. The season continues until the plants succumb to cooling autumn weather. The abundant squash fruits are best while young and tender, before they actually ripen.

Related winter squash grow through summer too. However, they ripen completely through the growing season before harvest in autumn. By the time they are ripe, their foliage will be succumbing to frost. They are much less perishable than summer squash are, so last for months if stored properly. Instead of producing abundant small fruits, winter squash plants produce only a few big fruits.

Summer squash plants can produce big fruits too, but at the expense of preferred tender juvenile fruits. They simply will not divert resources to new small fruits while concentrating their effort into a big fruit full of viable seed. After all, seed production is their priority. Regular harvest of juvenile fruits actually stimulates the production of more fruits. It forces the plants to redirect their resources.

There is certainly nothing wrong with summer squash fruits that have matured a bit more than they should. Stuffed zucchini is merely medium sized zucchini sliced in half lengthwise, hollowed out, stuffed and baked. Some people actually prefer to leave the last summer squash fruits of the season out in the garden to get as big as they can before frost. Such fruits are tough, but not too bad.

Common zucchini and its varieties are the most poplar of the summer squash. They are generally the most reliable and most productive. Crookneck squash are likely the second most popular of summer squash locally. They are slightly less productive, but provide variation of flavor. Pattypan squash have good flavor, and a slightly firmer texture that is an advantage for soups and freezing.

Other interesting varieties of summer squash are too numerous to list. Each exhibits its own distinct characteristics.

Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

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Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants should be out in the garden by now. They typically get planted only a few weeks after the last threat of frost, so that they can start to disperse their roots early. Growth above ground accelerates as the weather gets warmer. Fruit develops and ripens through summer.

These three types of vegetable plants get planted as seedlings for two main reasons. First, when they go into the garden, seedlings are bigger and more established than seeds that need to take time to grow are. Secondly, the cost of the few plants needed for an average garden is not much more than the cost of seeds.

Now, zucchini, melon and summer squash can be done either way. Not many plants are needed, so the expense of seedlings is minimal. However, seedlings are a bit more fragile than those of tomato, pepper and eggplant. Seeds grow so efficiently that they get established almost as readily as seedlings do, so are just as practical.

Regardless of how they get planted, the weather has been so odd this year that there has been only minimal advantage to planting seedlings and sowing seed on time. Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants that were planted early may not be much more mature than what could be planted now. Harvest will be delayed either way.

Bean, cucumber and corn all grow best from seed. Seedlings take more time to recover from transplant than seed take to germinate and grow. Besides, so many plants of each type are needed that seedlings would be expensive. A single package of seed is cheap and goes a long way, so is probably sufficient for an average garden.

Corn is one of those vegetables that produces on a rather tight schedule. Seed that gets sown at any particular time matures at the same rate, so that all the fruit finishes at about the same time. This is why corn gets sown in phases. If timed properly, a subsequent phase begins to produce as the preceding phase gets depleted.

Winter squash, including pumpkin, are similar to summer squash, although they are more tolerant of unusually cool spring weather. They too can either get planted as seedlings or sown as seed. They take their time to produce fruit that ripens by autumn, so have more time to catch up.

Cool Vegetable Gardening Goes Warm

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Warm season vegetables enjoy warming weather.

The weather agrees with the calendar this year. It is time to start replacing remaining cool season vegetable plants with fresh warm season vegetable plants. In fact, according to how the weather has been through February, the process could have begun quite some time ago. Frost, which is the limiting factor for warm season vegetables, is very unlikely this late, even if wintry rain resumes.

The past month of springy weather makes it easier to replace aging cool season vegetable plants with those that are now in season. Cool season vegetable plants obviously perform best through the cool weather of autumn and winter. They perform into spring where winters are cooler. Unseasonable warmth here accelerated their maturation. They deteriorate if not harvested soon enough.

Most of the the cool season vegetable plants produce vegetables that truly are vegetative. Most individual plants produce only once. For example, one cabbage plant produces only one cabbage. Conversely, most warm season vegetable plants actually produce fruit. Some produce many fruits through their season. Even some warm season vegetative leafy greens can produce repeatedly.

Tomato, pepper, eggplant pole beans and the various summer squash can get planted early to produce until they succumb to frost at the end of the season. Cucumber and pea do not produce for such an extensive season, so might be grown only in spring or the end of summer. Corn and root vegetables produce only once, so their seed get sown in multiple phases to prolong their season.

Corn, root vegetables and most greens grow best from seed sown directly into a garden. There is no need to start them inside here. Confinement can disfigure root vegetables anyway. Because so many individual plants are grown, it is impractical to purchase seedlings.

However, purchasing a few seedlings of tomato, pepper, zucchini and most other warm season vegetable plants is not as impractical. If only a few are desired, they are not much more expensive than seed. They are conducive to transplant, and will continue to produce through the season.

Bell Peppers

90320The weather here is excellent for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but is not exactly ideal for bell peppers. Cool nights between warm days are comfortable for us, but limit production of even the healthiest and most robust of plants. Although they like warm nights, the fruit can be sensitive to hot days, and can even get scalded. Bell pepper plants like rich soil and regular watering.

Bell peppers lack capsaicin, which causes other peppers (‘chiles’) to be distinctively ‘hot.’ The fruits of the more popular varieties of green bell pepper are generally harvested while immature, but would otherwise ripen to red. However, most popular red bell peppers are different varieties that produce somewhat elongated fruits with milder flavor. Other varieties produce orange or yellow fruits. Uncommon purple, lavender, brown and white bell peppers are just . . . weird.90320thumb