Spring is finally here and most of us are tending our new vegetable gardens and watching them grow. My Tomatoes, Lima/Pole beans, Cucumbers, and Squash are growing up quickly. For me this is an exciting time because there are so many things happening all at once. Every day I walk out into the garden to see how my plants are progressing and if you planted early enough like I did, then some of you should be seeing your plants mature with fruit already setting. This week I would like to go over some growing tips for the vegetables listed above. I will also touch on some of the more common pest and diseases problems you may be facing and what you can do to remedy these problems.
I can not think of anyone that does not grow tomatoes of one form or another. Because they are one of the most popular plants for backyard gardeners, I would like to start here. If you planted your tomatoes when I did, your plants should be looking great right now. My plants have been in the ground for about thirty days and average about two to three feet tall. Most have medium sized tomatoes on them. One thing you should be doing now is keeping your plants actively growing by adding a liquid fertilizer such as Peters or Miracle Grow mixed at half strength every two weeks. Liquid fertilizers provide a quick source of nutrients to keep your plants actively growing. All the vegetables you are growing can benefit from liquid fertilizers. Because vegetables have such a short life cycle they need these boosts of nutrition regularly to help keep your plants healthy and give you bigger and tastier fruit.
Be sure to monitor your tomato plants for diseases such as Early or Late Blight. Early or Late Blight of tomatoes is a devastating disease that can cause your plants to wither and die if not controlled early. Look for wilting leaves on the upper or lower branches followed by death of the branch. As soon as you notice this happening to your plants, you will need to apply a fungicide. I like to use Daconil, Dithane M-45, or Green Cure fungicides. Spray both the top and bottom of the leaves and make sure you follow the mixing instructions on the label. Re-apply every seven to ten days using freshly mixed product. If you have a severe problem, you may need to pull out the infested plant so you do not infect your other plants in the same area.
I know some of you have also been planting some of the cherry or grape varieties of tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes do much better in the summer months so do not be alarmed if your plants are not producing well for you. If you have already started some of the cherry tomatoes don’t worry, your plants will still produce but may take a little longer to get going. I prefer to plant cherry or grape tomatoes around May or June as they take the summer heat much better than the bush tomatoes do.
Please note that because most cherry tomatoes are “indeterminate” plants, meaning that their growth height has not been predetermined, they can grow very tall and many will require staking or trellising. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow as high as eight to ten feet when supported on an arbor or trellis. Most bush tomatoes or “determinate” tomatoes are those varieties in which the growth height is determined and they will only grow to a height of three to five feet.
Lima Beans are another favorite of mine and the “pole” varieties can grow over an eight foot trellis. If you purchased your plants from the garden center, plant them the same way as the pole beans. If you are starting your plants from seed be sure to maintain constant even moisture as lima beans will not set properly if over watered also do not soak them first as this will crack the seed and possibly ruin your crop. I like the Jackson Wonder or Dixie Butterpea varieties. As the plants grow you may want to use some mulch over the soil to conserve water. When you do water, make sure you water plants at the base of the plant versus overhead watering. Overhead watering during the flowering period can make the flowers fall off and limit your production. Lima Beans are ready to pick when the pods are plump and firm. Check your plants every few days and pick pods when they look ready.
Beans are subject to pests like aphids and diseases like leaf spotting. Use Sevin Dust, Liquid Sevin, or Neem oil for pest problems. If you find any spotted leaves or leaves that look like they may have a powdery appearance, then you will need to apply a fungicide. Use all insecticides and fungicides sparingly and wait several days after use before picking the beans. Be sure to wash the fruit before eating.
Cucumbers and Cantaloupes are a few other great plants for home gardens but they require room as they tend to run along the ground. I like to grow mine on a support structure such as a trellis or fence to keep them off the ground and limit spoilage. Look for varieties such as Burpless cucumbers or for Cantaloupes, I like the variety Athena which is a hybrid that does well in Florida.
Beetles and worms can be problems on both cucumbers and cantaloupe but if you set up a routine preventative spraying schedule you should be able to control these pests. Beetles and caterpillars both chew on the edges of the leaves while others pest may chew holes in the leaves and reduce the amount of nutrients available to the plant. Spray the plants every 10 days with the insecticides I listed above.
Occasionally I have emails asking me if you can apply both insecticides and fungicides at the same time. The simple answer is yes you can but with the following limitations. First of all be sure the two products are computable. Read the labeled directions of both products and if you find no mention of compatibility problems, mix each product accordingly. Most products homeowners purchase are compatible but to be sure read the label. Again, I like to spray my plants early in the morning after a thorough watering the night before. With a little patience and care you will be eating fresh cucumbers and cantaloupes from your garden in no time.
Squash and Zucchini are another great addition to any garden. Both of these plants love compost so add a generous helping to the soil along with Peat and Perlite for drainage. Try not to compact the soil too much when planting because loose soils allow their roots to grow and spread easily. My plants are already producing three inch fruits so harvest time will not be long now. Just like the cucumbers and cantaloupes, squash and zucchini both get powdery mildew on the leaves so if you see this fungus spray the same as I mentioned above every seven to ten days.
Squash tend to have problems setting fruit. After the plants start to flower, I receive many calls from people that state after the fruit start to develop and get about 2-3 inches long then the fruit withers and falls off. This is due to improper bee pollination. If this happens to you, get a camels hair brush and do what the bees do. Stick the brush into the flowers and gently swirl the brush around. Repeat this often on all the open flowers. I have had good success in setting fruit using this technique. Remember; that the first few flowers are male flowers and tend to fall off so do not let this distract you. More flowers will follow.
Zucchini like to be fertilized regularly to produce a lot of fruit. I mix fertilizer into the soil before I plant and once the plants are about six inches tall I apply liquid fertilizers every two weeks at one half strength to keep the plants growing. Harvest your Zucchini and Squash when the fruits are six to eight inches long. The more fruit you harvest, the more the plant will develop additional fruit so check your plants regularly.
Your garden should have at least a few of each of the plants I have listed here and many more varieties I have not mentioned. If you are like me, you should monitor your plants regularly and watch for pests and diseases. Treat your plants as needed and enjoy this wonderful time of year. Remember, without our plants, we would not be here.