Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hard freeze strikes late

When the first widespread freeze finally came, it froze hard. Officially it was 20 degrees F at 6:30 a.m. at DIA. Considering the average first fall frost is October 7, the 28th of the month is nothing to complain about.

Hopefully you rescued what you could from the garden before the freeze. Somebody commented to me that tomatoes they’ve harvested in the last few weeks have had little flavor. Forty degree nights are flavor killers for this warm weather vegetable. It’s a good lesson in harvesting earlier for fresh use, or using the late proceeds in soups or sauces.

The squash and pumpkins should be in by now. This Carnival acorn is kind of spooky looking for Halloween and pretty ornamental in the garden. Good flavor too.

All that remains tucked in to the side of the frozen tomatoes are the cold-hardy greens such as kale, and the root vegetables such as carrots and beets. They will be good for another month or more. The root vegetables are particularly adapted for in-ground storage late into January if they are mulched.

Photo credit: Tomato harvest, Carnival acorn, Frozen tomato and pepper plants – All Carl Wilson

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkin hints

Many pumpkins seemed to mature early this year due to September heat. Pumpkins should be kept on the vines as long as possible IF the vines are healthy. If vines go down due to powdery mildew or frost, cut the handles from the vine to reduce shrinkage. This also avoids sunscald. Use hand pruners or long handled loppers.

Although we have had an extended period of warm weather, it will undoubtedly end soon. Pumpkins exposed to freezing conditions don’t store well. They should be harvested and brought indoors. You may have already brought them inside if they turned a solid orange and the rind was hard – a good move.

As long as pumpkins are starting to turn color, they will ripen and color off the vine. Recommended curing conditions are seventy degree days and sixty degree F nights. The area should be shaded, dry and well-ventilated. Remember that pumpkins for decoration are used through Thanksgiving so fruit late to color will still be useful. Cooking types can be cooked and frozen for later use.

Should you save seed from a particularly attractive pumpkin? Probably not since pumpkins cross readily with summer squash. Bees can carry pollen from as much as a mile away even if you don’t grow summer squash in your garden. Pumpkins don’t cross with fall squash.

Keep in mind that the pumpkins used for pies and eating, called sugar or pie pumpkins, have less water and better flavor than the strigy, Jack-o-lantern types. Most are a different species (Cucurbita moschata) as opposed to the decorative carving Jack-o-lantern varieties which are Cucurbita pepo. Grow different types of pumpkins for different purposes.

Check this “Pumpkin Eater” article by Shirley Perryman in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at Colorado State University for ideas about some novel uses of pumpkins and their health benefits.

What experiences did you have with growing pumpkins this year?

Photo credit: Pumpkin display, Pumpkins in garden, Just turning pumpkins harvested, Same green pumpkins ripened 3 weeks later - All Carl Wilson

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Saving seed

The desire to save seed is understandable particularly for people growing heirloom vegetables. It gives you more of a connection with plants you grow if you complete the seed to seed cycle. It can also be a connection to vegetables of your heritage, a contribution to preserving genetic traits for the future and perhaps could save you money on seed purchases.

First, the cautions. Don’t save hybrid seed because plants that grow from it don’t come true to type. In fact you will likely have all sorts of small to large plants and variable fruit in fruiting vegetables. F1 hybrid seed saving is a waste of time.

The self-pollinating vegetables are good bets for easy seed saving. They rarely cross with others of their kind and don’t need long distance separation or bagged flowers to prevent stray pollen from reaching flowers. Beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are in this easy-to-save group. If you are growing ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato for the first time and like them, save seed if you are willing to grow your own transplants.

Open-pollinated varieties cross-pollinate but produce plants closely true to type if reasonably isolated by distance or time of flowering from other plants of their species. An example is ‘Straight 8’ cucumber. Wind-pollinated plants (corn) and insect pollinated plants (cucmbers, squash, pumpkins, melons) take more care to save because you have to pay attention to nearby plants and even hand pollinate.

Potatoes are popular heirlooms because tubers come true to type (no flowers involved). Baring disease accumulation in tubers, you can save colors and flavors not available in grocery stores. Examples are ‘Russian Banana’, ‘Yellow Finns’ and ‘Ruby Crescent Fingerling’.

Our dry Colorado climate is excellent for seed saving. Keep seeds in a cool place. Be sure to label with name, variety and date collected.

Share your seed saving tips and experiences with us.

Photo credit: Removing seed from ripe tomato, Flowering lettuce will produce seed - both Carl Wilson

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflecting on garden efforts

Warm weather lingers but plants are responding to signals that days are shortening. Summer squash plants that used to produce a fruit a day are down to one or two per week - this in spite of the record twenty-five days above 80 degrees F in September. Decisions will have to be made soon about removing declining plants and chopping them to compost.

It’s a good time to assess what worked and what didn’t this growing season. What varieties did well and which ones performed poorly? I am pleased with this yellow zucchini variety, ‘Soleil’ (photo left). It produced well and fruit had a good flavor in addition to a very bright yellow skin.

What about diseases and insects? The container tomato pictured maintained pale leaf color throughout the season. Leaves were small and stiffly held. Fruit were extremely slow to develop, ripen and lacked flavor. All these symptoms point to a virus that sapped the energy from the plant leaving it weakened. The lesson here is to avoid planting transplants that look off-color from the start or replace them early in the season as soon as unusual growth is noticed.

Some problems are hard to prevent. Psyllids were widespread this year on potatoes and tomatoes. Not all gardens were infested with these insects but enough were that it can be characterized as a severe psyllid year. Fortunately psyllids don’t overwinter here (except indoors) so next year insects might not find their way from southern areas resulting in no or little infestation. Both potatoes (affected foliage yellow in photo) and tomatoes (photo right with purple veins in leaves) are typically affected. See earlier psyllid article for more.

What did you learn from your vegetable garden this year?

Photo credit: 'Soleil' zucchini, Virus disease on tomato, Psyllid yellows on potato, Purple veins of tomato with psyllids - all Carl Wilson