Growing my own produce in my backyard is one of my favorite things of summer! Vegetable gardens are great exercise, give you an excuse to eat healthier, and are very enjoyable but they can be a lot of work as well. There are always problems in our vegetable gardens, usually they are temporary or easily fixed.
The weather this year has not been favorable to our plants. We have been facing aborting flowers of our plants due to heat and low pollination. Now, even though our plants are producing, the tomatoes are not ripening up. The hot weather contributes to this as well. When temperatures are consistently as hot as they have been lately, tomatoes may develop but they don’t turn red. According to Purdue University, the pigments responsible for the red color in our tomatoes are not produced when the temperatures exceed 85 degrees. So, when we see long stretches of very hot weather, our tomatoes will not ripen. Be patient, they will ripen eventually when the very hot temperatures recede.
Blossom end rot is also starting to show up in our gardens. Blossom end rot is when the blossom end (the end not attached to the plant) begins to rot. This is due to uneven watering, which is seen quite often in the early part of the growing season where we see stretches of drought surrounded by 2-3 inch rains. Again, this should fade through the season as the plants grow through it. You can still eat the other end of the tomato and discard the rotted end or give your plants time, the next harvest should be better.
Cracks may also start to appear in our tomatoes due to the weather. With uneven watering comes cracks in our developing fruits. Our fruits can grow rapidly due to rapid intake of water which can build up pressure in developing tomatoes. Cracks typically appear on the top of the tomato, often in rings, and are not harmful to us if we eat them. Check for insects that may have gotten into the cracks of our fruits before eating.
Mulch is a great way to combat these issues. Many of our problems in our gardens stem from uneven watering or plants that got too hot and dry to deal with the stresses of the environment. Mulch can keep moisture around the plants and keep the roots cooler to help with these issues as well as reduce competition from weeds. Grass clippings make a great mulch. If the grass has been treated with any herbicides this season, look at the label to know if or when it can be used as a mulch. Grass clippings break down quickly so they should be reapplied often. Straw is also a great mulch for the garden and it wouldn’t need to be reapplied as often. These types of mulch can then be tilled into your garden at the end of the season or before next season to add nutrients back into your soil.
Squash bugs and squash vine borer are seen in our gardens every year. Squash bugs cause yellow speckling on the leaves and feeding damage on the fruits. You may also see rusty colored eggs on the underside of the leaves that can be removed and destroyed. Squash Vine Borer causes rapid death and wilting of the plants. These pests feed on plants in the cucurbit family, which includes zucchini, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, etc. Squash vine borer can be controlled by wrapping the stem of your plants with aluminum foil to stop the females from laying their eggs on your plants. Other controls include Carbaryl (Sevin), Permethrin (Eight), or bifenthrin (Bifen). This will need to be reapplied often through the growing season. It is best to switch between at least two of these products to avoid resistance from developing. Always follow the label recommended rates and follow the pre-harvest interval listed on the label when harvesting fruits and vegetables after using chemicals. Spray the undersides of the leaves and the base of the plant thoroughly. All sprays should be done later in the evening to avoid damage to bees and other pollinators.