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Cool spring delays harvest

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By Jeneen Wiche

All indications suggest there are more first time gardeners this year then ever; and I been fielding questions from many of them. This is good news all around but this season has been a bit unusual. Ever season is unusual, really, if there is one thing I have learned its that gardening and its associated chores do not follow the calendar.

We had a cool, late spring. A cool, late spring means one of two things for the home vegetable gardener: you either got things out a bit later or you went by the calendar and put your summer crops out but they are stunted because the soil and ambient air temperature was still too cool for comfort.

You have heard my warnings before about not putting tomatoes, peppers, beans and other summer vegetables out before the soil has warmed adequately and if you did not heed the warnings you are now scratching your head over poor germination, yellowing leaves or poor fruit set. The bottom line is this: if warm season crops get their start in cool weather it will take some time for them to catch up.

If you waited until the soil and air temperatures warmed then you only need to wait a little longer for things to mature. Fortunately my greens, peas and asparagus got me through the early part of the season but by now I am usually knee deep in squash, cucumber, tomatoes and peppers. Not this year. But realize that this as nothing to do with your gardening prowess its just been a late season.

In the last couple of weeks things have started to look up: I have been harvesting squash; have had 4 ripe tomatoes; a few carrots and beets; 6 hot peppers and the cucumbers vines are reaching and blooming. Patience is necessary this season.

There are some other things that can slow the process, as well. The few days we have had the reach into the 90s can cause blossom drop or stop flower production all together; however, once temperatures are favorable the plant will pick up where it left off.

Some extra nutrients during times of flower and fruit set can also increase yield. I prefer a slow release of nutrients that comes from compost, seed meal fertilizers (like cottonseed meal) or fish emulsion. We want to provide a little extra nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium not a over load that may make the plant work a little too hard on too many things which ultimately means that we slow everything down.

Bush and pole beans appreciate some extra nutrients after heavy bloom and the first pod. For the best flavor harvest the beans when they are about 4 to 6 inches long. Harvest them from the bottom of the plant, working your way up and take a good look underneath the leaves where the beans often hide. The same applies to peas.

I use water soluble fish emulsion on my tomatoes a couple times during the growing season. The first rink comes a week or two before the first fruit ripens; then about 2 weeks after picking the first ripe fruit; then one month later. Harvest when fruit is bright in color for the best flavor. Dont store tomatoes in the refrigerator and never put them on the windowsill in the sun to ripen, this only makes them spoil faster.

Peppers can be fertilized after the first fruit set; bell peppers get sweeter if they are left on the plant and hot peppers seem to get hotter the longer they are left on the plant (plus, it seems, the hotter the weather the hotter the hot pepper!)

Most root crops dont need much extra fertilizer but potatoes will benefit from a little about 6 weeks after planting, once the tuber begins to form. Root crops like beets, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes should be left alone.