Tomato

60406Actually, it is a fruit. It contains seeds. Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, is one of the most popular vegetables in American gardens. Most are red. Some are yellow or orange. A few weird varieties are pink, green, dark purple, brownish or creamy white. The largest tomatoes can get more than four inches wide. Tiny clustered ‘grape’ tomatoes are less than a quarter inch wide. There are literally thousands of varieties!

Most garden varieties are ‘indeterminate’, which means that they are productive throughout the season until frost. ‘Determinate’ agricultural varieties produce all their fruit within a limited season to facilitate harvest. This also works nicely for home canning. (Determinate varieties seem to be more productive only because all the fruit ripens at once.) Although technically perennial, plants are grown as annuals. They get about three to six feet tall. Most garden varieties need support.

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Spring Fashions For Vegetable Gardens

60406thumbCompared to replacing cool season annuals with warm season annuals, the replacement of cool season or ‘winter’ vegetables with warm season or ‘summer’ vegetables is not quite as traumatic. Most of the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants finish in time to make room for new vegetable plants anyway. Unlike flowering annuals, they make it obvious that they are done for the season.

If left too late into warming spring weather, the juvenile floral buds of broccoli and cauliflower will bloom, and become tougher and somewhat bitter. Cabbage does the same, but only after bolting first. (‘Bolting’ is the emergence of tall floral stalks from formerly basal foliage.) By the time beet, carrot, turnip and radish bolt, their plump roots are more like fibrous wood than tender vegetables.

Once space is relinquished, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants might be the first vegetable plants to go back into the garden. Even if the weather gets cool for a while, it will not get cool enough for frost. Roots disperse as soon as they get into the ground. Warming weather accelerates growth above ground. Fruit develops through summer. (Fruits contain seed. True vegetables do not.)

Tomato, eggplant and pepper are popularly planted as seedlings because only a few plants of each are needed. Each plant probably costs more than a single package of seed (which contains enough seed to grow many more plants than are necessary), but are still not too expensive collectively. Seedlings get established and start growing more efficiently than germinating seed does.

Various melons and squash, including zucchini, can either be planted as seedlings or sown as seed. Their seeds germinate and grow so efficiently that seedlings probably do not have much advantage. However, their seedlings are relatively fragile to handle, so might be at a disadvantage. Seedlings might be practical for one or two plants; but seed might be best for several plants.

Bean and cucumber grow most efficiently from seed mainly because several or many of each plants are grown, and also because seedlings are somewhat sensitive to transplant. Onion and potato are popularly grown from onion or potato ‘sets’, or ‘seed’ onions or potatoes, which are merely juvenile vegetables that grow into productive plants. Onion can also be grown from seed.

Bell Pepper

90320There are too many varieties of chili or pepper to count; but there are surprisingly few that are known as bell pepper, Capsicum annuum. They are the select few that lack capsaicin, which is what makes others so distinctly ‘hot’ and ‘spicy’. Most are quite mildly flavored. Green bell peppers, particularly those that are green because they are unripe, are generally more bitter and less sweet.

Bell peppers are warm season vegetables that get planted at the same time as tomato and eggplant, which they are incidentally related to. They are more productive where summer nights stay warm. In mild coastal climates, they are likely to start production later, or finish production sooner, than they would in warmer climates. They like warm sunshine, rich soil, and regularly watering.

The myth that green bell peppers are merely unripe red bell peppers is not completely untrue. They all start out green, and red bell peppers are often used green. Furthermore, most green bell peppers eventually turn red if they ripen enough. However, varieties that are grown as red bell peppers are different from varieties that are grown as green bell peppers. Orange and yellow bell peppers are increasingly popular. Purple, brown and white bell peppers are still rather rare. Red and green are the most productive and easiest to grow.

Summer Vegetables Replace Winter Vegetables

90320thumbEvery year at about this time, there is the same concern that it is too early to put summer or warm season vegetables into the garden. When the time comes, replacing warm season vegetables with winter or cool season vegetables will also seem to be too early. Nonetheless, it is best to start the transition early so the garden will be ready for production as the weather warms into spring.

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage that are in the garden now should have time to finish before warmer weather makes them bitter. If the warm season vegetable plants that will be planted in their place are adaptable to it, and if the spacing is correct, they can be planted in amongst the cool season vegetables so that they will be ready to go when the the outgoing vegetables get harvested.

Unlike most of the cool season vegetables, which are truly ‘vegetative’ vegetables, most of the warm season vegetables are actually fruits, which is why they start to develop in spring, and mature through summer. Tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, corn, bean and both summer and winter squash are the most popular here. Most produce from spring to autumn. Some produce only once.

Corn and other vegetable plants that produce only once can be planted in phases every two weeks or so to prolong production. By the time one phase finishes, the next should be starting. Corn is more efficiently pollinated, and therefore more productive, if grown in square blocks rather than in narrow rows. Corn and many warm season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly.

However, tomato, pepper, eggplant and maybe zucchini and other squash can be planted as small plants from cell packs, because only a few of each type are needed. A cell pack of six or eight cost about the same as a packet of seed, but all the seed in the packet are not really necessary. Besides, the small plants are less likely to be eaten by snails than newly germinating seedlings.

Carrots Are EVIL!

P80811KHow can anyone eat them? No only do people eat them, but many people enjoy them, and some even consider them to be their favorite vegetable!
Carrots are ridiculously bright orange. They try to make themselves appealingly colorful like summery flowers or oranges. Something that grows underground has no business being that bright orange! About the time that typically bright orange California poppies became available in sickly purple, pale white, orangish red and a few other colors, carrots with the same colors also became available! Coincidence? I think not.
Carrots have that distinctively weird texture. Radishes have that perfect crunch. Beets are firm but cook up so nicely. All of the various root vegetables have the perfect texture that works for them; except for carrots. They try to mimic radishes, but are not as succulent and crisp. They are a bit more firm like turnips, but they can not get that technique down either. They are just nasty!
Carrots have that distinctive flavor . . . or unflavor. What does it taste like? No one can give a straight answer. Carrots can seem to taste mildly sweet, but it is all deception! People just say that about carrots because they do not taste like anything else!
Carrots have that distinctive evil shape. They are long drawn out roots that reach straight for Hell, from whence they came! If it were such a great shape other root vegetables would use it.
Carrots grow underground where we can not see what they are up to. What are they doing down there? That region of the garden below the surface of the soil should be reserved exclusively for turnips, beets, potatoes, onions, yams and any other subterranean vegetables that are actually good for something. Why waste space on evil carrots?

Summer Vegetables Enjoy Warming Weather

40910thumbIf there are any cool season vegetables left in the garden, they should probably be harvested pretty soon. If left too much longer, they will be ruined by warming weather. Cabbage will bolt (start to bloom) once it realizes that it is spring. Cauliflower and broccoli, which are juvenile flowers, will become bitter as the flowers mature and try to bloom. Besides, they all need to get out of the way.

Warm season vegetables need the space. Tomato, pepper, eggplant, zucchini and other squash plants are ready to disperse their roots and get to growing. They are usually planted as seedlings because only a few of each are needed. A few seedlings of each type are more reliable, but not much more expensive than a packet of seeds; and they do not need to take the time to germinate.

However, because they are so easy to grow, seed for zucchini and other squash, as well as melon, are popularly sown directly where plants are desired. There was no need to sow them indoors earlier to plant in the garden as seedlings now. Onions can be grown from seed for late harvest, or they can be grown from juvenile onions known as ‘sets’ for earlier harvest or for green onions.

There are two main reasons why cucumbers, beans and corn should be grown from seed, although cucumber seedlings can be practical if only a few are desired. Otherwise, so many individual plants are needed that it would be relatively expensive to purchase enough seedlings. The main reason for sowing seed directly is that their seedlings are sensitive to the stress of transplanting.

Tomato, zucchini and beans are likely the most popular of warm season vegetables because they are so productive and reliable, even in limited space. Pole beans can be grown on trellises against fences or walls in very tight spots. Corn is less popular because it needs so much space, and needs to be watered so regularly. Too few plants may not be adequate for cross pollination. Pepper and eggplant, as well as okra, are not too demanding, but appreciate rich soil, regular watering and warm exposure.

Warm Season Vegetables Start Now

P80312The calendar does not always agree with the weather. It really is about time to start replacing aging cool season vegetable plants with fresh new warm season vegetable plants. Earlier warm and dry weather had suggested that it was getting late. More recent frosty weather followed by rain suggested otherwise. Regardless, there is no point in arguing with what the calendar determines.

The last seedlings for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts (for those who are able to grow them) should be well established in the garden. There should be enough cool weather for them to finish before the heat of summer causes them to go bitter. No more should be planted this late. Also, the last seed for beets should have been sown already. Peas should finish soon.

Warm season vegetables like tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, corn and bean are the main concern now. Tomato and pepper are most easily planted as seedlings purchased in cell packs. A packet of seed costs as much as a cell pack, but must be sown and grown into seedlings, which is extra work. If necessary, varieties that are unavailable in cell packs can be grown from seed.

The other warm season vegetables grow so fast from seed that there is no advantage to planting them as seedlings here. Some would be distressed from transplant as seedlings. Besides, so many individual plants of each type are typically grown together that it would be expensive to purchase so many cell packs. Squash might be an exception if only a few plants would be enough.

Bush beans may seem like they would be easier to grow than pole beans because they do not require support. However, pole beans can grow on the sunny side of a fence in the background of a vegetable garden, utilizing otherwise useless space. If it would not damage the fence, string can be strung in a zigzag pattern (up and down) between nails pounded part way into the top and bottom of the fence. If the string is held an inch or so from the fence (at the heads of the protruding nails), bean vines would be happy to climb it.