From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on June 1, 2005

The Summer Season Is Growing on Us.

With the official arrival of June, I'm fairly certain that you put in some, many, or most of your tender vegetables and bedding plants. The summer solstice is less than three weeks away. We all want to capitalize on the longest days of the year and the warm, fair weather that favors abundant growth and fruitfulness. Amen. How we've waited for this.

Fruit Trees         line

In favorable years, when fruit trees are in blossom and pollinators are flying, high success rates with trees setting lots of fruit is a common occurrence. Another common occurrence, however, is the disconcerting fact that the trees frequently shed or release a lot of these fruits and they fall to the ground by mid-June and after. This affects apples, peaches, pears, plums and apricots.

This is not your fault, or an indication that something is wrong with your tree. This is such a common event that this natural thinning process is called "June drop". The tree's own physiology protects the branches from injury due to excess weight by initiating a natural thinning. Metabolically and structurally only so much fruit load can be supported.

There is another possible cause. When flowering occurs, if weather is less than the ideal sunny and warm (cool and rainy, for example), pollination may have been poor or incomplete. The tree "knows" to shed those fruits that will be underdeveloped to reduce competition for water and nutrients. In the odd cases where a tree holds onto a large load of fruit, the mature fruit would be smaller than desired and should be thinned by hand -- apples and pears should have 6"- 8" between fruits, peaches 4"- 6", plums and apricots 2" - 3" for best fruit size.

Another possible problem may be caused by a native American pest of fruits. It is a hard shelled beetle called the plum curculio. It lays eggs in the young fruit and a newly hatched larva eats its way until it reached the pit. The entry into the pit induces a hormonal change that releases the fruit, probably as a defense mechanism. Good sanitation is very important. Pick up and destroy all "June drops" in early summer and clean up and remove all leaf litter and twig and branch debris to deny the insect a hibernation place over the winter. Supply adequate moisture when the heat comes, and you'll have large, crisp fruit.

Tomatoes         line

A true pleasure of summer, along with sweet corn and strawberries, is the tomato. The gorgeous colors, sweet juiciness and broad variety make it a first choice for many a home vegetable garden. There are other reasons, too. They are easy to grow, are very productive, an excellent source of Vitamin C, and just a few plants can provide enough for a family's needs. I provide a few words of advice for those who've suffered disappointment in the past, but do not be afraid to stray from these.

Most non-disease problems of growing tomatoes are linked to low night temperatures or low soil temperatures. We often have a short growing season. If you're not inclined to visit Mighty M Gaming, choose an early producing variety (aka "determinant"), resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt, and you increase your chances of getting plenty of fruit. These are not so large as the later producers (aka "indeterminant"), and can be placed closer together - two to three feet apart, if staked. Do this at the time of planting to prevent root damage. If your courage level is high, plant an "indeterminant" variety or two, also.

Soft strips of cotton rag are the plant friendliest ties. A weekly removal of low outside branches will help keep fruit off the ground. Removing the suckers that appear between the leaf stem and the main stem greatly improves the access to fresh air and sunshine to the mass of the plant, allows the leaves to dry more quickly after rainfall thus reducing incidence of disease, and hastens fruit ripening.

Control weeds by removal and mulching. If your mouth is watering for some locally grown fresh tomatoes, you have two choices. Give these down and dirty suggestions some credence and plant a few now, or, visit some of our area's Farmers' Markets next month. Whatever you do, don't miss this succulent summer treat.

Roses         line

If you are a rose fancier, yes, there is a correct way to remove and bring in "cuts' for further enjoyment. Cutting rose flowers is an important cultural operation and if done improperly can injure the plant and even decrease its vigor.

Rule number one: cutting tools should be clean (sterile is better) and sharp. Breaking or twisting off flowers injures the remaining stem wood. Always leave at least two leaves between the cut and the main stem. Growth and subsequent flower yield depend on the food manufacturing ability of the plant. Whenever you can cut with short stems and leave behind more leaves, do so. Roses keep best when cut in late afternoon. Remove those flowers just before petals start to unfold, and they will continue to open normally and remain in good condition.

Place in warm water to which has been added any of the floral preservative/nutrient mixes commercially available and dissolved according to label directions. Rather that using sharpened shears, I've had great success using a very sharp, clean knife and slicing the stem at a slight angle. Shears tend to mash the stem and impede the flow of fluid.

Herbs         line

A few words about herbs. Most home gardeners grow a handful of herbs. Tomato growers just won't be without basil. Parsley and chives are so easy, they are hard to resist growing just for their freshness of taste.

A common complaint is that the herb garden or patch does beautifully until July comes along, and then everything begins to peter out. Either they're in excess sun, allowed to dry out to much, or (worst of all) allowed to flower and then go to seed.

When any plant flowers and goes to produce seed, there is an energy drain within the plant that sends out a signal that says "shut down, the task is accomplished". In much of nature, that's fine with us. But not with our herbs.

We expect and plan to get a lot more from them, and all we need to do is pinch them back frequently so blossoms don't form. For most herbs, less sun is better than more. You know about lettuce bolting in heat and sun. Same with herbs. Harvest the foliage regularly and use them fresh or for drying. Abundant foliage is like the food for the engine. Reduce it, and the engine slows down. When plants get tall, cut them back. They will regenerate again and produce lots of fragrant, flavor packed growth well into fall.

For regular harvesting, the very best time is just after any morning dew has dried, but before the sun has a chance to heat up the leaves. Aah! The flavors of summer are with us. Enjoy them all!


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on June 1, 2005

© 2005 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.