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.

Vegetables Can Grow All Year

Cucumbers fill in between warm and season vegetables and cool season vegetables, so will finish prior to frost.

Tropical plants are clueless. They do not understand that autumn is just prior to winter, when the weather may get uncomfortably cool. Philodendron selloum continues to develop fresh new leaves that mature slowly in cool autumn weather, and may consequently lack resiliency to frost in winter. Vegetable plants and flowering annuals are not so ignorant, which is why so many that were productive through summer are nearly finished, and some are ready to relinquish their space to cool season counterparts.

Like the many warm season vegetables, most of the cool season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Only those that produce efficiently from fewer but substantial plants, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and some of the heading lettuces, can be grown practically from seedlings purchased in cell packs. Because individual plants produce only once, more can be added to the garden in phases every two to four weeks through the season to prolong production.

Chard, kale and collard greens can likewise be grown from cell pack seedlings if only a few plants to harvest as intact heads or large leaf greens are desired. However, a package of seed costs about as much as a single cell pack of only six seedlings, but contains enough seed for many more mature heads, as well as for abundant production of ‘baby’ greens plucked from many juvenile plants through the entire season. Those to be harvested as heads should be planted in phases with enough space to mature. Those that will get plucked through the season can be sown or planted once early in the season, and perhaps followed by a second phase if productions starts to diminish.

Root vegetables, such as beet, carrot, turnip and radish, really do not recover well from transplanting from cell packs. Individual cells are sometimes crowded with too many seedlings that must push away from each other as they mature. Otherwise, if not crowded, each cell contains only a few seedlings that are not nearly as practical as simply sown seed would be.

Although each individual root vegetable plant produces only once, they all mature at different rates, so most types can be sown in only one or two phases instead of several phases every two to four weeks. If the biggest get pulled first, the smaller ones continue to mature. They are less perishable than other vegetables, so any abundance is not likely to be wasted.

There are three practical ways to grow onions. They are most popularly grown from seed or from ‘baby’ onions known as onion sets. The third and sneakier way to grow them is from separated cell pack seedlings. Cell packs typically contain too many onion seedlings that would develop into crowded clumps anyway. There are often as many seedlings as could be grown from a package of seed!

Peas get sown as seed early in autumn to grow and produce before winter gets too cold. Another phase can be sown as winter ends for spring production.

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.

Spaghetti Squash

Winter squash will grow through summer.

Winter squash grow through summer. This includes spaghetti squash, Cucurbita pepo subspecies pepo. They thrive with warmth, rich soil and steady watering, to mature in late summer or autumn. They store nicely through winter. Technically, spaghetti squash can ripen earlier in summer. However, flavor improves with a bit of age. Mature fruits can stay on their vines until the foliage gets crispy at the end of the season.

Spaghetti squash fruits resemble melons. Most types get about four inches wide and eight inches long. Color ranges through creamy white, pale tan, yellow and golden orange. Fruits with pale color tend to have milder flavor. After cooking, the otherwise solid flesh pulls apart into squiggly bits that resemble spaghetti. The big seeds within may not be true to type. Related squash hybridize freely, particularly with zucchini.

The long vines of spaghetti squash can be somewhat sloppy. This can actually be an advantage. Such vines can sneak about into otherwise unused areas, like pumpkin vines. Alternatively, they might like to climb trellises or shrubbery. They are happy to grow from mounds too, and wrap around the perimeters. Fruits on the ground benefit from occasional turning. Superfluous and fruitless male flowers are good for frying.

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.

This Is No Food Blog

Well, since writing this three years ago, and mentioning that I would not likely grow this squash again, . . . I grew it again. It is in the garden right now.

Tony Tomeo

P71129There are not many things that will grow in my zone that I will not at least try to grow if I have the space and resources to do so. I really like to grow fruits and vegetables, particularly those that I am familiar with from when I was young. They are just as productive now as they were then. The only problem is that I do not know how to cook. I can freeze, can or pickle large quantities of produce, but cooking is something that I leave to experts.

I notice that almost all garden columns or blogs include recipes for the produce grown in home gardens. Mine does not. Except for a few recipes for pickles, jams and jellies, I just do not have any recipes that I would share.

When I get big winter squash, I really do not know what to do with them. I…

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Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

Winter squash are replacing summer squash.

Zucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

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.

Winter Vegetables Start In Summer

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There are vegetables for every season.

It seems to be much too early for cool season vegetables while the weather is still so warm. Summer vegetables, which are also known as warm season vegetables, are still at their best. Most will continue perhaps until frost. Yet, months ago, they also started prior to their growing season. At that time, cool season vegetables, which are also known as winter vegetables, were still producing.

Although it really is too early for winter vegetables to grow in the garden, it is time to plan for them. Those of us who prefer to grow varieties of winter vegetables that are not likely to be available in nurseries should get their seed now. In only a few weeks, it will be time to sow the first phase of seed for carrots and beets directly into the garden. By October, it will be time to sow seed for peas.

Broccoli grows slowly from seed. Whether it goes directly into the garden, or into flats for later transplant, broccoli seed should get sown by about now. If the preferred gardening style allows for it, seed for winter vegetables can be sown below old summer vegetable plants. The seed for winter vegetables can germinate and start to grow as summer vegetables finish and vacate the garden.

Cauliflower and cabbage seed want to germinate and start growing shortly after broccoli, within the next few weeks. However, seedlings of the more popular varieties of cauliflower and cabbage, as well as broccoli, will be available in nurseries for later planting. Lettuce, spinach and kale do well from late seedlings, or seed sown after cauliflower and cabbage, along with carrots and beets.

Root vegetables, like carrot, beet, radish, turnip, rutabaga and parsnip, grow from seed, sown directly.

Eventually, some of the warm season or summer vegetables will need to relinquish their space to winter vegetables. Most will finish by that time anyway. Those that stay long enough will succumb to frost. Summer vegetables can stay latest where subsequent phases of winter vegetables will later (not yet) replace an early phase. Subsequent phases begin production as early phases finish.