Vegetables

Cauliflower: I have planted cauliflower for the first time this year in my garden. The plants are coming along nicely. I was told that I must tie the leaves together so they will produce a head. Is this true and how do I do it.

Answer: Cauliflower is a crop that is fun to grow in the vegetable garden. A member of the cabbage family, it loves cool, spring weather. Fertilize the plants heavily for best development.  What you are referring to is the blanching process. If sunlight hits the developing head of cauliflower, it will turn brown instead a more appetizing creamy white.

To prevent the light from reaching the head, follow this procedure. When the developing head of cauliflower is about the size of a quarter, pull several of the larger leaves together and secure with a rubber band. This shades the head and keeps it white. Every few days check the head and when it is ready to harvest, cut it off the plant. By following this procedure, you will enjoy the fruits, rather vegetables, of your labor.

Rotation of vegetable crops in small gardens: References to rotating crops have been made in several garden books about vegetables that I have read. I have a small garden consisting of a couple of raised beds. How do I rotate vegetables in a small plot.

Answer: In the past, crop rotation was a great way of reducing pest problems and keeping the soil fresh when vegetable gardens were large. However, it is not practical to rotate crops in today’s modern, smaller gardens. Sanitation at the end of the season is more important. Rake and destroy all garden debris. Have a soil test on a regular basis and provide the needed nutrients for good growth. When possible choose crop varieties that have some disease resistance and move the crops around as much space permits in your small plot.

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Indian corn: I really enjoyed decorating with Indian Corn this past Thanksgiving season.  Can it be grown in our gardens?

Answer:Its bright colors make Indian corn a festive, fall decorating item. Indian Corn is grown in the garden almost like sweet corn. From mid-May through mid-June, plant in a block or multiple rows so the corn will be easily pollinated by the wind. Single rows will have poor pollination, and the ears will not fill with kernels.  Keep the plants well watered and provide a little fertilization.
Ears will set in early summer and should be left on the plant until they are dry later in the season.  Once dry, they can be harvested and the dry husk stripped back to reveal the colorful corn.  The stalks can be saved and also be used for decoration.

Insects on broccoli and cauliflower: This spring I grew broccoli and cauliflower for the first time with fairly good success.  As the spring season progressed, I noticed more and more holes in the leaves.  What insect was feeding on my plants?

Answer: There are primarily two common insects of the cabbage family - the imported cabbageworm and the cabbage looper.  Both are small worms that feed on the underside of the leaves. The white butterfly, often seen in the garden, is the adult of the imported cabbageworm. Depending on the amount of damage, no treatment may be needed.  There are several products labeled for control of this pest. An organic control is BT or Bacillus Thuringiensis.  Commonly used insecticides such as Sevin or Malathion work well.  For best control, the underside of the leaf should be thoroughly sprayed because that is where the insect feeds.  Continue treating as needed for control throughout the season.

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Onions: What is the difference between planting onion sets and onion plants?

Answer: Onions can be grown from sets, plants or seed. Sets are small onion bulbs that are planted in the spring to produce green onions or bulbs later in the season. Onion sets available in garden centers are usually poorly identified by variety. This makes it difficult to know what the flavor, use or keeping quality of the bulbs may be. Onion sets larger than a nickel will usually bolt or produce a seed stock, which reduces the quality of the bulb. It is best to separate the sets by size, planting the smaller sets in the spring and using the larger sets as green onions.

Onion plants are sold in bundles or growing in trays and are usually identified by variety. Since they are normally labeled, more information is available about the quality of the bulb.  Choose healthy, green, fresh transplants.

Onions can be grown successfully either from sets or plants. The method that is best for you is determined by the control you want to have over storage, the flavor you desire, and how you will use the onions.

Pumpkins: I purchased a giant pumpkin in the fall and would love to grow some plants from its seeds next spring. Can I save the seeds, and are they hard to grow.

Answer: It is possible to save the seeds, but there is no guarantee they will produce the same pumpkin shape. Most varieties are hybrids, a cross of specific parents. Because the seeds are not the result of that cross, the new plants will not necessarily be true to the hybrid variety.

To save the seeds, harvest the pumpkin when it is ripe. Cut it open and scoop out the seeds. Dry the seeds in a warm location and then store them in a cool, dry place until spring.  Although it is somewhat difficult, giant pumpkins can be grown. Plant the seeds after the danger of frost has passed in May through early June. Provide ample space for growth because many of these varieties have extremely large vines. Water and fertilize the plants on a regular basis and keep insects and disease in check. Good luck.

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Storage of vegetable seeds: While cleaning up the garage the other day, I found a stack of vegetable seeds.  Will they still be good?  What is the proper method of storing seeds?

Answer: Seeds are best stored in cool, dark, dry locations. Under these conditions, most vegetable and flower seeds will remain viable for up to three years, some longer.  Members of the carrot family do not last as long in storage. If the seeds from your garage are less than three years old, they should still be good. However, the germination percentage of the seeds may be decreased as a result of hot, humid summer conditions.

Tomatoes: What is a good tomato variety for the gardens in our area?

Answer: According to Dr. Chuck Marr, Kansas State University vegetable specialist, there are a number of newer varieties available that should perform well in the garden. When selecting a variety, look for plants with these qualities:
  • A semi-determinate vine habit, which is compact in growth;
  • Multi-disease resistance; and
  • A uniform ripening habit with a meaty, firm fruit.

The following varieties that fit these criteria and produce well:

  • Celebrity
  • Carnival
  • Mountain Spring
  • Mountain Fresh
  • Merced
  • Daybreak (early)
  • Empire
  • Mountain Gold

Other varieties of interest are ones that perform and produce under hot summer conditions.  These heat tolerant varieties are:

  • Sun Leaper
  • Sunmaster
  • Heatmaster

Additional varieties worth noting are the newer types that are considered “long keeping” due to a gene that prevents the tomato fruit from breaking down. A good producer of this type is Pik Ripe 193. There is nothing better than a fresh tomato from the garden — enjoy!

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