Vegetable gardening is very popular these days, and even more so since the COVID outbreak. Anyone new to this hobby is quick to hear some terms being thrown around when describing different types of vegetables. Knowing the meaning of these terms gives prospective gardeners some key information that helps them pick varieties of vegetables most suited to their needs. All living creatures, known to man, are classified according to species and genus. So for instance, all tomatoes are classified asSolanum lycospersicum.
To start off, I already used the term “variety”. This term is used rather loosely in horticulture and is incorrectly interchanged with “cultivar”. Both refer to the differences in the species of plant you have chosen. Varieties refer to naturally occurring deviations from the original species. They typically come true to seed. Cultivars have been purposely cross-bred from two or more different species. Plants must be either vegetatively propagated or started from hybrid seed each year. These varieties or cultivars have names and are associated with specific characteristics. For example when I say “Sweet Millions” tomatoes, a person familiar with this cultivar knows that they are cherry tomatoes, indeterminate, very flavorful, and highly productive. For the sake of this article, I will stick with tomato examples, but these terms could apply to many vegetable species and cultivars.
Our tomato plants contain both male and female flower parts. Because of this, they are easily pollinated by wind or bees. This is problematic for greenhouse tomato growers, so they will hand pollinate the tomatoes with paint brushes or even special electronic devices that shake the flower to accomplish pollination. Fortunately for us outdoor gardeners, we do not need to do anything special for pollination to occur.
Probably the best place to start is talking about “open pollination.” This is essentially how Mother Nature does things. There is a large population of organisms that have genes for individual traits, or characteristics. If we stick with our tomato example, think of: size, color, growth habit, disease resistance, plant height, etc. In my example, the population of tomatoes living in the wild in a certain area would have a lot of genetic diversity. As we all have experienced, the weather can vary from year to year. Genetic diversity in the population is nature’s way of ensuring that some organisms will survive and reproduce. Likewise, different parts of the country (or the world) will have different weather, climates, and microclimates. Certain traits or characteristics are an advantage or a disadvantage depending on where you are living. Over time, a population of tomatoes will see an increase in the genes that help it survive in the local environments. These would be considered different varieties of tomatoes.
Some growers like to have open pollinated plants. They see which tomatoes produce the best and then save seeds from those plants to be planted the following year. In this way, the gardener is essentially developing a variety of tomato that is perfectly suited to living, growing, and even thriving in that particular area of the world. In addition, the gardener may also select for certain traits he or she prefers, like low acid, yellow tomatoes for example. Over time, the gardener may select and replant only the seeds of the plants that conform to certain pre-determined criteria. Eventually the plants will breed true, or have the same set of characteristics, year to year.
August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot that sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.
Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.
Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.
Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, and then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.
High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduce transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.
Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays that claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.
Tomato and potato growers and gardeners: Protect your crops NOW from late blight infection. The disease has been reported in Litchfield County, Connecticut on July 18, 2015. With moist weather conditions the pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, will sporulate prolifically and spread rapidly on wind currents. Fungicide products can be applied preventively to protect plants. Active ingredients to look for include chlorothalonil, maneb, mancozeb, and copper formulations. Organic growers can use copper formulations. Symptoms of late blight include large brown leaf lesions, dark brown stem lesions, and brown, bumpy and firm lesions on fruits. During humid or wet weather, white sporulation will be visible within the lesions. Infected plant parts or plants should be removed and disposed of. Bag and place in the trash or bury about a foot deep. More information and photos are available in the fact sheet at this website.
Control and reduce aphid numbers on vegetables, roses, perennial flowers, shrubs and trees with a hard spray from your garden hose or two applications of insecticidal soap.
Plant seeds of bush beans every three weeks for a continuous harvest.
Heavy rains encourage slug problems. Check for slugs during rainy periods and hand pick the pests.
Watch for and control blackspot and powdery mildew on rose foliage.
Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return the nitrogen to the soil.
For the sweetest pea harvest, pick regularly before pods become over-mature and peas become starchy.
Stake or cage tomatoes and spray them if necessary to prevent disease problems. Call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (877) 486-6271 if you suspect tomato disease problems.
To minimize diseases, water with overhead irrigation early enough in the day to allow the foliage to dry before nightfall. Use soaker hoses instead if possible.
White grub preventative control should be applied prior to egg hatch and a target date of June 15th is recommended although it can be done up to July 15th.
Check apple, cherry and other fruit trees for nests of tent caterpillars. Blast low-lying nests with water to destroy them, or knock them to the ground and destroy them. A spray of Btwill kill emerging caterpillars but is not toxic to beneficial insects, birds, or humans.
2. Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants in production.
3. Pick up and destroy any fallen summer fruits/vegetables to reduce pests and disease for next year.
4. Continue to stake tomatoes and allow them to ripen on the plants for the best flavor. The exception is cherry tomatoes, which are prone to splitting. Pick any ripe or almost ripe tomatoes before a rain.
5. Renovate strawberry beds in late August.
6. Make note of where vegetables are planted in the garden so that crops can be rotated next year.
7. Do not add weeds with mature seed heads to the compost pile.
8. Water fruiting shrubs such as hollies and firethorn to ensure that berries mature and don’t drop.
9. Check hanging plants and containers daily. The wind and sun can dry them out.
10. Reseed the lawn in late August. Be sure to keep the seed moist until germination.
UConn Extension’s Jude Boucher, who specializes in Integrated Pest Management in Vegetable Crops took these pictures. The pumpkins are a Hijinks variety that are a past winner in the All-America Seed Trials. The tomatoes are packaged and ready for sale at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford.
We also had a chance to enjoy some fall foliage around Tolland County. It was a spectacular year for leaves.