Zucchini

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Zucchini is the exemplary summer squash.

Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is the epitome of summer squash. Because it is so easy to grow, it is the primary choice for gardens that can accommodate only one set of summer squash plants. The fruits can be yellow, dark green or dark green with a lacy gray pattern, Yet, the common medium green variety is still the most popular. It is likely the most vigorous and most productive of them all.

Like all summer squash, zucchini wants good warm exposure, rich soil and regular watering. Powdery mildew can be a problem if the foliage gets wet from watering late in the day. Foliage that is ruined by powdery mildew should be removed. Plants are easiest to grow from seed sown directly where they are desired, after the last frost. Two or three plants should grow together in each set.

Fruits are best before they get longer than eight inches or so, although they are edible at any stage. They can eventually grow as big as baseball bats. However, plants that produce such big fruits produce almost nothing else. Regular harvest promotes prolific production. Male flowers are more abundant than females flowers that produce the fruits. All flowers are edible before they shrivel.

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.

Potato

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Grow potatoes now to dig later.

First thing first. Potatoes are not roots. They are only classified as a root vegetable because they grow underground. They are actually a sort of specialized subterranean stem known as a ‘stolon’. Because they are so distended, a more accurate distinction might be ‘tuberous stolon’ or ‘stoloniferous tuber’. Their eyes are buds, which roots lack. Their roots extend from eyes and other roots.

Most cultivated potatoes are of the species Solanum tuberosum. Some of the thousands of cultivars that were developed during the thousands of years that potatoes have been in cultivation are distantly related to other species. Hybridization was a means with which to incorporate desirable characteristics of other species. Potatoes are presently one of the main food crops in the World.

Small potatoes or pieces of potatoes, which are known as ‘seed potatoes’, start to grow in home gardens after the last frost. Potatoes are not grown from actual seed because of the potential for genetic variation. After bloom later in summer, their coarse foliage dies to the ground. Potatoes that grew during the previous season are then ready to get dug. Fruit and all green parts are toxic.

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.

Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

41001thumbZucchini 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.

Cool Season Vegetables Are Coming

40910thumbWhat happened with the tomatoes?! In past years, they were inhibited by mild summer weather. This year, they had plenty of warmth, but did not seem to perform much better. Perhaps they wanted more humidity. Now that those that started slowly are starting to produce better, they do not have much time left before warm summer weather gets cooler towards autumn.

Eventually, cool season vegetables will move into the garden. Seed for the earliest beets and chard may have already been sown directly into the garden. Subsequent phases of beet seed can be sown every three weeks or so until about a month prior to the return of warm season vegetables at the end of winter. Each subsequent phase should begin to produce at about the time that the previous phase gets depleted.

Unlike beet roots that get pulled up completely when harvested, chard produces foliage for quite a while, so is often planted only once. A second phase added sometime in winter may prolong production into late spring. However, by the time the first phase actually finishes, there will be plenty of warm season greens to grow. Because only a few chard plants are enough, they do not need to be grown from directly sown seed, but can alternatively be grown from cell-pack seedlings purchased from a nursery.

Cell-pack seedlings are actually often more practical than seed is for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and some heading lettuces. Seedlings get growing faster, so are less likely to get eaten by pests as they germinate. A cell-pack of seedlings does not cost much more than an envelop of seed, but contains about as many plants as one garden needs.

Carrots, radishes, peas, spinach and leafy lettuces should be grown from directly sown seed because so many individual plants of each variety are needed for adequate production. Besides, carrots and radishes are roots that get disfigured if initially confined to cell-packs; and peas have very sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted. Seed for leafy lettuces grown for ‘baby greens’ can be sown densely because leaves get plucked through the season, without getting very large.

There are three options for growing onions. Seed is practical, but takes a while, and can be the riskiest option for large bulbing onions. Onion sets are tiny onions that grew from seed last year, and only need to be grown another year for plump mature bulbs. They will grow as green onions if planted deeply and harvested early. Crowded cell-pack seedlings grow into tight clumps of disfigured onions, but can be separated and grown into well formed individual onions.

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

Vegetables Get Harvested At Their Prime

90327’Zucchini’ is Italian for ‘little squash.’ They certainly can grow to become big squash, but by then, they do not taste so good. They are best before they get to about six inches long. As they mature, they get bitter and tough, and the seedy pulp within develop an unappealing texture. Maturing zucchini also waste resources that would otherwise go to the development of more younger zucchini.

Other summer squash, as well as cucumbers, should likewise be harvested while young and tender, not only because the juvenile fruits are best, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of developing fruit. Patty pan squash should be only about three inches wide. Except for lemon cucumbers, most cucumbers should be uniformly deep green, before yellowing.

Green beans, even if they are purple or yellow or some other unnaturally weird color, should be harvested while still lean and smooth, before they get lumpy from the developing seeds within. Lumpy beans, although preferred for some types of cuisine, are a bit starchier, and a bit firmer. Just like squash and cucumber, bean vines are more productive if the fruits are harvested regularly.

Shelling beans that remain on the vines until they mature completely are of course completely different. They should probably be harvested faster than birds and rodents take them, but need not be rushed otherwise. The same applies to black-eyed peas, sunflower seeds and popcorn, or any other dried corn. However, these sorts of vegetables are uncommon in local vegetable gardens.

Fresh corn is ready when the formerly light green silk protruding from the end of each ear is brownish tan. By the time the silk dries out, or the husks start to yellow, the corn within will be starchy. Blunt ears are better developed than more tapered ears. Because it wants so much water, fertilizer and space, corn should not be as popular as it is; but some of us like it fresh from the garden.

Although, it last a good while, corn really should be eaten as soon as possible after harvest. Flavor and texture start to deteriorate as soon as the ears are separated from the stalks. Likewise, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are best straight from the garden as soon as they ripen and get to their best color. Refrigeration slows decay, but accelerates deterioration of flavor and texture.60824+

Vegetables Change With The Seasons

90814thumbRight smack in the middle of the warm part of summer, it is already time to be getting ready for autumn gardening. This involves more than just ordering our autumn planted spring bulbs while the selection is still optimal. Most of us purchase bulbs from what is available in nurseries when they are in season anyway. Seed that gets sown in the next few weeks is a more immediate concern.

The majority of cool season vegetables will get planted later, when the seasons actually start to change to become . . . well, cool. Seed for beets and carrots gets sown directly in about a month, followed by pea seed even a bit later. At about that same time, many of us will plant small seedlings of other cool season vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale.

For many of us though, it is not that simple. If we want varieties of these cool season vegetables that are not likely to be available as seedlings in nurseries later, we must grow our own from seed. Whether they get sown directly into the garden, or into flats to be grown as seedlings to be planted later, broccoli seed should be sown about now. By the time it gets to growing, it will be autumn.

Seed purchased online or from mail order catalog should be ordered by now. It is not too late for broccoli if the seed arrives and gets sown soon. Cauliflower and cabbage seed gets sown within a month or so, as late August becomes early September. Lettuce and spinach seed should wait half way through September, like beet and carrot seed. Kale seed can wait until after September.

Seed for secondary phases of most of these cool season vegetables can be sown early next year.

In the meantime, warm season vegetables must continue to be harvested very regularly. If they stay in the garden long enough to get tough and bland, they also interfere with continued production. Foliar herbs can be harvested for drying just about any time they are fresh and not blooming. Regular harvesting inhibits bloom, and therefore promotes more of the desirable foliar herbal growth.

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.