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Ask Lucy (vegetables)

Tomato season is in full swing right now, so I am going to reply to several tomato questions: Which varieties of tomatoes are least susceptible to wilt? (Barb P.)

When you buy tomato plants or seeds look on the plant label or catalog description for resistance to diseases. Two varieties I have been planting regularly are Celebrity and Big Beef. The Big Beef I picked on August 16th were large and without cracks, truly living up to their name. Be careful with tomato culture as well. Rotate where you plant your tomatoes every year, space plants 3-6 ft. apart if you have room, clip off lower leaves so disease spores don't splash onto them, mulch after mid-July with straw or marsh hay and thoroughly clean up debris in fall. Do not put tomato plants in your compost. Dispose of plants in garbage, if possible, or bury.

The weather determines a great deal how successful you will be with your vegetables. This is the first year in a long time that we have had such nice tomatoes. I think they actually benefited from the extreme heat.    During that time I did give extra water, which helped. I did not mulch yet mainly because of trying to eliminate weeds first.

That takes me into the next question:

Why poor tomato production, even though mulch used and compost applied? (Tom)

Look at the answers above and remember not to put mulch around tomatoes until about mid-July when the soil is thoroughly warm. Are tomatoes too close together? Plant a variety of tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes grow only so long and stop. Indeterminate keep on growing and growing until frost puts a stop to them. As it gets closer to frost time clip off some of the greener tomatoes forcing the plant to concentrate on ripening the larger, riper tomatoes.

Are your tomatoes getting at least six hours of sunlight? Consider
putting them in a raised bed next year.    Those beds tend to warm faster in the spring. Have you had your soil tested in the last three or four years?    I hope you
have better luck next year.

Comment from Master Garden Chris S. about tomato cages.
He prefers tying tomatoes to a pole rather than a cage. It might make harvesting easier, but could be more time consuming than a cage.

Storage of tomatoes until you are ready to process them:
Tomatoes, cantaloupe, eggplant, ripe tomatoes, green tomatoes and watermelon are best kept in a cool, humid location. (No lower than 50 degrees F., humidity 85-90%) Do not store in the refrigerator.    Quality of the tomato is compromised. Our basement works great. I put the tomatoes on layers of newspaper either on a counter or on the floor. That way if one spoils it is easy to clean up the tomato and paper.

Harvest tips:
Jerry Apps, expert gardener and Wisconsin Historical Press author, has this advice for gardening in hot weather: "Harvest regularly. Overgrown crops draw lots of moisture. With hot weather crops mature quickly-and can over grow almost while you watch (especially zucchini and cucumbers)."

How to deal with vegetable gardening in a community garden where one doesn't have control of neighboring plots?

I checked two sources for answers.  One is from the UWEX Learning Store website at:  http://learningstore.uwex.edu.  Look for vegetables and this number:  A3905-02, 'Starting a Community Garden - How to put your plot on the path to success' by Mike Maddox and Bill Wright.  Scroll down to the pdf.  It has lots of good information, but doesn't give any specifics about the above question.  If the guidelines of establishing the garden are followed, there is less chance of problems later on.

My other source is Ruth Freye, Community Gardens Coordinator for the Gardens next to UW-Fox Valley.  Ruth is very enthusiastic about her rold as Community Garden Coordinator.  Her philosophy is "Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated".  There are no specific rules, but instead guidelines.  At UW-Fox, only one neighbor would be next to your plot.  Steel posts on the garden corners and string, hooked to posts, mark the perimeters of the plots.  Many gardeners have double plots.  These gardens are basically no-till and organic.  The one big issue Ruth has had is weed control.  They had a problem with sedge nut grass that took a lot of perseverance to combat.  Weeds must never be allowed to go to seed.  So far Ruth has only had to remind one couple about keeping the plots clean.  She said the success of the community gardens really "boils down to respect for neighbors."


How to combat poor volume in beets? (Colleen)

Beets are a cool season crop like lettuce, radishes and cabbage.  They prefer cool nights and cool days.  Both the beet tops and roots may be eaten.  I learned from my husband's family to enjoy the tops. I've always liked the roots.  Jung's Garden Guide says beets are easily grown and delicious as baby beets when the roots are half grown, but may be used any time after that for slicing.  The tops can be used like spinach as greens and many people like them cooked together with small beets.  Thin 2-4 inches apart.  Make several plantings, a week apart for a continuous supply.  A rich sandy soil will produce the best quality and smoothest beets.  One of my favorite cultivars is 'Detroit Dark Red'.  'Red Ace' is another nice choice.  Read the labels and see what appeals to you.  Additional information about planting beets is in 'Ask Lucy' in our Spring 2013 newsletter.

Good luck to all of you as you enjoy the fruits of your harvest! - Lucy Valitchka


Lucy has written an article in the 2014 Spring newsletter about different methods of raised bed gardening, and in the 2014 Summer newsletter on companion planting.