Vegetable Crops

 

My squash fruits get about 3-4" long, then shrivel up and die. What is the problem?

This is a pollination problem. A small squash always subtends a female bloom. It will begin to develop and may reach the size you have described, 3-4', without being pollinated. If it is pollinated, it will continue to develop. Pollination of cucurbits requires bees. Bees may not be present or they may be killed by some insecticides. Hand pollination of the female bloom can be done when bees are absent.

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Several of my tomato, pepper and cabbage plants growing in big pots have drooping leaves. How often should they be watered during fall and winter?

Drooping leaves can be a sign of too much or too little water. It's important that plants get the right amount of moisture. The touch test is the best way to determine water needs during the cooler months. Feel the surface inch of soil, and if the soil is starting to dry, it's time to water. When needed, soak the soil until moisture runs from the bottom of the container.

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Why do my tomato plants consistently drop their blooms?

This is a problem associated with several factors:

  • Variety selection is of utmost importance for all crops, including tomatoes Varieties other than those that are recommended for this area by the University of Florida may not be adapted to the climate or soil conditions. Poor growth, bloom drop, and poor fruit set are to be expected from varieties not recommended for this area. 'Solar Set' is a variety that sets fruit under higher temperatures than other varieties.
  • High nitrogen will cause a lack of blooms or bloom drop. High nitrogen availability will cause plants to grow excessive and lush foliage at the expense of bloom and fruit set. Reduce the nitrogen applied to the crop.
  • Tomatoes have a very narrow optimum temperature range, which is best for bloom set and for production. Nights, which are too cool or too hot, will cause the bloom to drop due to abortion of the pollen tube. Cherry types and 'Solar Set' are able to set fruit at a wider range of temperatures. Planting tomatoes or any crop out of season is a common error and puts the plant under environmental stress resulting in poor growth and unwanted flowering (example: collards), or lack of flowering (example: tomatoes).
  • A water cycle, which subjects the tomato plant to a wet then dry condition as opposed to a consistent moist condition, results in bloom drop. This problem is very common in container grown vegetables.
  • Tomatoes require at least 6 hours of full sun. If tomatoes get less than 6 hours of full sun, poor blooming or bloom drop can occur.
  • A severe infestation of flower thrips results in bloom drop.

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We plan to plant potatoes this fall. How soon will the plants begin growth, and what will they look like?

 Start your potato planting with seed pieces that contain bulging ready-to-sprout buds to obtain the quickest growth. Many garden centers have ready-to-grow potatoes that can be cut into the seed portions. Ask them to show you how. Potatoes saved from the kitchen might not be ready to grow and should be used only if sprouts are noted.

Once planted, the buds produce roots and aboveground sprouts in two to three weeks. The leaves resemble those of the tomato, which is a close relative. Mark the planting site of a few seed pieces to note the emergence of the thick, greenish stems that eventually form the plants, which will grow up to 2 feet tall and wide.

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When I plant my onions all I get are green onions - they never bulb - why is this?

There are three reasons why onions do not bulb:

  • Onion sets are usually of the non-bulbing type and most often will only produce green onions. You should start with seeds or seedlings of bulbing varieties to get bulbs.
  • Planting too late in the crop season reduces bulbing. Bulbing onions need to be planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. Onion tops need exposure to long nights and cool temperatures to stimulate the bulbing process.
  • Garlic, like onions, is a short-day crop and should be planted in the fall and harvested the following spring.

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I understand that if I plant different cucurbits in the same garden area that cross-pollination will occur. Will I get unusual fruit?

Cucurbits of the same species will be cross-pollinated very easily; however, it will not be expressed in that season's fruit. The results of such a cross would show up if seeds are saved from that season's fruit and then planted. Therefore, do not collect seeds from your vegetables, especially cucurbits, for planting in the next gardening season, unless you are prepared for the surprises.

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I planted vegetable seeds, but nothing came up. What happens to them?

  • Some insects such as mole crickets like to eat the seeds. Use an insecticidal bait, or when tunnels from these insects are seen, drench the soil with appropriate pesticide and replant. Tunnels also dry out the soil.
  • Too deep - Seeds that are planted too deep may germinate but may not have enough food reserves to make it to the soil surface. A general rule for determining seed depth is never plant a seed any deeper than 1½times the seed width.
  • Too wet soil - Too much water may cause the newly germinated seedling to develop diseases such as damping off before it ever reaches the soil surface.
  • Too dry soil - All seeds require moisture to germinate. However, some seeds, for example - beets, must be kept continually moist or germination will not occur.
  • Too hot for some seeds or too cold for others prevents germination.
  • Old seed; seed stored improperly; diseases; birds; and/or mice.

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Can I grow asparagus in Florida?

 Asparagus is not well adapted to Florida due to our environment (mainly temperature). For good asparagus spear production, a dormant period is required. Such dormancy is usually brought about by cold weather or drought. Since Florida's climate is not suited to create a dormant period, growth is more or less continuous resulting in weak, spindly spears. However, many gardeners are satisfied with the crop of spears that they do get by persevering.

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I am growing broccoli raab that is about 13 inches tall and full of leaves, but has not produced edible florets. Do I eat the leaves now or wait for the flowers?

Broccoli raab, also known as rapa, Italian mustard and broccoli turnip, is grown for its leaves and young flower shoots. There appears to be several selections that have different cold requirements in order to initiate flowering.

Your selection may need to pass through the winter months before the stems of buds are produced. Because your plants appear to be an edible size, you can remove some of the leaves to eat. Then when the flower stems are produced, they too can be harvested before the buds open.

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I have a few strawberry plants that produce good fruits, but something nibbles on them before they are ripe. Is there anything I can do to discourage the feeding besides using pesticides?

Pests are always a problem with strawberries, and it may not be the common insects that damage the fruits. Slugs, pill bugs, millipedes and similar scavenger-type critters that tend to avoid other garden crops can't resist the sweet soft strawberries.

Try using plastic ground covers under the plants to create a barrier between the soil and the fruits. Be sure to pick the strawberries when ripe and avoid watering in the early evening. Watering at this time make the fruits more susceptible to rot, which can encourage feeding. Also remove damaged fruits.

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During August I planted two tomato varieties that have grown into bushes and flowered, but nether has produced fruit. What's wrong?

By now the cooler but still warmish temperatures should have helped set the fruit on the plant. You can blame the longer than normal hot October weather for the lack of fruit. Tomatoes form fruit when the temperatures are between 55 and 85°F. When the temperatures are too high or too low, most flowers drop off without setting fruit.

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My weeping fig tree in my living room was beautiful and full, but now it is dropping all of its leaves. What is the problem?

 Excessive leaf drop on ficus is usually due to some unfavorable environmental condition, which results when ficus is taken from ideal greenhouse conditions and put into less favorable household conditions. Low light and water stress are usually the major contributing factors of leaf drop. Check to see if you can purchase acclimated plants in the area suitable for your light level.

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I have a pepper plant in a large pot that has lots of buds and has produced a few good peppers. During the past weeks the plant is wilting and the branches are drooping. What can I do?

It's probably time for a new plant. The general decline you describe suggests a root problem. Most likely the plant stayed too moist, and the roots are rotting. It's just about impossible to stop the decline, and even if you could, recovery time would be too long to expect a fall crop.

Dump the plant and disinfect the pot with a bleach solution mixed at the rate of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Wear bleach-resistant gloves when cleaning the pot. After the pot dries, add fresh potting soil and a new plant.

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What causes my curly leaf lettuce to be bitter?

Until recently the weather has been too hot to produce a good crop of some of the cool-season vegetables. Lettuce does gow during the warmer months, but it's often bitter and produces flowers and seeds rather quickly. Another crop gardeners have been having trouble growing is radishes. They produce mainly tops and no edible root portions during the heat.

Now that the weather is much cooler, you can re-plant these cool-season vegetables and be more successful. Also to give the lettuce the best taste, keep the soil moistand feed the planting every two or three weeks with a light application of a general garden fertilizer.

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I planted radishes in a small plot that produced 12 to 18 inches of green foliage but no radishes underneath. What did I do wrong?

 Radishes produce the swollen root portions only during the cooler months. Locally, the best production is during the late fall and winter months. Once day temperatures rise into the 80s, the plants produce mainly tops. Radishes also need a full-sun location and one light feeding to produce a good harvest.

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What is chayote, and how is it grown?

It takes a special vegetable to stand up to the summer heat, humidity and rains. One of the best is the chayote, also known as the tropical squash, vegetable pear and mirliton. Starts can be obtained at grocery stores and produce stands. Set the fruit in a pot with the pointed end up and cover about halfway to get it growing. Then when the short, vining stems are produced, transplant the chayote to the garden or landscape.

Allow the vines to climb a fence, a trellis or an arbor during the summer. Around September, the flower buds begin to form to produce the pearlike, green fruits. Chayote can be peeled and boiled or stuffed. They also can be pickled. One plant is usually enough to feed you and your neighbors.

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I just harvested a nice batch of potatoes. What can I plant in this site?

Potatoes have lots of familiar vegetable relatives that can get similar pests, so it's probably best to avoid planting the next of kin that include tomatoes, peppers or eggplant. You might follow the spuds with okra, Southern peas or sweet potatoes (not a relative) for the summer. Or if you wish, let the soil sit fallow, and cover it with a clear sheet of plastic to bake out the pests until it's again time for warm-season crops around mid-August.

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I want to plant cucumbers in a container on a screened porch on the south side of my home. Do you think there will be enough sun on the porch?

 If the spot is sunny all day, I think you can produce a crop of cucumbers. My concern is the variety of cucumber to plant. The screened porch is going to prevent pollination needed by some varieties. So this crop has to be sown with a selection that fruits without the bees. One variety often available as seed and transplants from local garden centers is Sweet Success, which sets fruits without pollination.

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About six weeks ago the banana tree in my backyard started to produce its first stalk of bananas. When will I see edible fruits?

We will keep our fingers crossed, but this quest for a first harvest is almost sure to have an unhappy ending. Bananas that begin the fruiting process during the fall months seldom mature their fruits because of the cold winter weather.

The foliage usually turns yellow, which stops good fruit production, when temperatures dip into the lower 40s; this occurs most years. At 32 degrees, the plant foliage burns back or freezes. Even if the banana fruits make it through the winter, they usually have a cardboard texture and taste when they turn yellow. Perhaps next time your plants will start flowering by early summer so the fruit can ripen under warmer conditions in about five months.

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I have several tomato plants in 5-gallon containers that are growing well but produce few flowers. Do tomatoes produce well when grown in containers?

 Plenty of foliage and few flowers suggest you have been overfertilizing. Another possible cause for lots of tops, and no buds is too much shade. Move the plants into the sun and reduce the feedings to every other week. Unless these are cherry tomatoes or one of the heat-resistant types, you might not see good fruiting until fall. But don't give up; start a new planting in mid-August.

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We planted several tomatoes that are starting to need staking. We have heard that pruning will give better quality fruit. How and where do I prune the plants?

Do you want lots of tomatoes or just big ones? Pruning limits the number of fruits and plumps out the ones left on the vines to a larger-than-normal size.

If you still want to try pruning, remove some of the secondary shoots often called suckers that form between the leaves attached to the main stem. Take note that removing too many often exposes the fruits to excessive amounts of intense Florida sun, and they develop yellow to brown scalded surfaces. Also, the more leaves that are left, the more nutrients that are produced by the plants and supplied to the tasty fruit.

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My eggplants produced lots of flowers but no fruits this summer. The plants look good and are flowering again. Should I leave them a little longer?

Eggplants, like their relatives tomatoes arnd bell peppers, usually produce poorly during the summer because of the extreme heat. They often give lots of hope by-producing good crops of flowers, but they never set fruits.

There is good news as the moderating fall weather should make conditions just right for the flowers now forming to set and mature their fruits. Leave the now-much-larger plants in the garden to produce a bumper crop.

Keep the soil moist, and add mulch to stretch the time between waterings. Also, feed the plants lightly with a general garden fertilizer once a month, and you should have eggplant fruits to share.

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I just planted a Big Boy tomato variety and was told to pinch off the first flowers so it would grow a bushy plant. Do you have any other tips?

 Yes, don't remove the flowers. It's hard enough to get a tomato to fruit during the fall, and removing the blooms might eliminate any chance of production. Also, this is a tall-growing variety, and if you want to keep it bushy, trim the foliage, not the blossoms. It's best to train this plant to a trellis and let it grow shoots and flowers to get a few fruits before the first frosts.

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I have a small garden area that receives about 50% shade. Are there any vegetables that grow in the lower light levels?

All vegetables grow best in full sun, but the leafy types can tolerate some shade. Selections you might plant include cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, onions and most herbs. These might grow a bit lanky but still should give good harvests.

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I recently bought Jerusalem artichoke tubers to plant. When is the best time to add them to the garden? When are they ready to harvest?

Like its sunflower relatives, the Jerusalem artichokes grow best spring through fall. The tubers can be planted now, but until the warm weather returns, don't expect a lot of growth.

The tubers can be planted whole or cut into sections that contain several buds. Set the pieces 2 inches deep and 2 feet apart in an enriched soil. Plant in full sun, and keep the soil moist during the growing season. Apply a general garden fertilizer every three to four weeks during spring through fall.

When the warm weather returns, the plants can grow to 10 feet tall and produce new tubers underground in about 130 days. Sneak a peek at this time to determine if the tubers are large enough to dig. When about an inch in diameter and 3 to 4 inches long, the artichokes can be harvested. They can be left in the ground or dug, airdried and stored in a cool location until used.

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The Florida weather has become cooler, and I recently planted potatoes that are starting to produce above ground shoots. Do I need to cover the plants when the temperatures dip into the 40s?

Northern gardeners often plant peas and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day with snow on the ground, giving us more southern gardeners a hint as to the hardiness of these crops. Potatoes are normally cold-tolerant but could be damaged by frost or freezes that follow a period of warm weather, as is often experienced locally. Perhaps to be safe, it's best to cover the plants when temperatures are expected to dip below the mid-30s.

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We produced our first garden this year and need to know when to harvest the broccoli. The head is several inches in diameter. Is it ready to eat?

Selecting the broccoli at just the right time is a guessing game. You don't want to cut the clusters of buds, commonly referred to as a head, too soon because they will be small and soft. Then again, you don't want it to burst into bloom either.

If the plants are big and healthy, the head of broccoli should grow to about 6 inches in diameter before it is removed. If you see yellow flowers starting to open, you have waited too long. Even at this stage, though, the head should be cut and cooked. It will still be quite tasty.

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We have tomatoes growing in urns that have made lots of growth and produced a few flowers but no fruits. What are we doing wrong?

It certainly is not much fun growing great-looking plants but still having to buy tomatoes at the grocery store. Most likely, your care program is at fault, and the plants are living luxuriously off your kindness.

Get these plants on the right path to production by first reducing feedings to every other week, and only use the lower nitrogen blossom-booster-type products. Then keep waterings to when the surface soil begins to feel dry.

Lastly, make-sure the plants are in full sun. Just a little shade can slow fruiting of the best looking plants.