It is harvest time in the vegetable garden so keep picking ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash. Share fresh produce with your local food bank if you’re lucky enough to have a bumper crop.
The hot summer weather was great for growing tomatoes, basil, peppers and corn but berries and leafy crops suffered in the heat. Cut back the canes of raspberries that are turning brown as these bore berries this summer.
Tie the new green raspberry sprouts to horizontal supports as these will bear fruit next summer. Spread a mulch of wood chips, manure, compost or bark chips on top of the soil to keep the weeds out and the moisture in.
Q. Why does the end of my tomatoes turn black and start to rot? I have grown them in the same sunny spot for several years and never had this problem. P. Enumclaw
A. Sounds like Blossom End Rot, a tomato disease that strikes when the soil is lacking in calcium or when watering is inconsistent.
Growing tomatoes in the same spot will suck the calcium right out of the soil so be sure to amend your soil this fall with lime or another form of calcium. Blame the hot weather for many cases of Blossom End Rot this summer as the sun dried the soil quickly in early summer before many gardeners had established the habit of daily watering.
Tomatoes like soil that is consistently moist or they will adapt to somewhat dry soil, but do not like dry soil followed by lots of water. Next year use mulch on top of the soil to seal in moisture and prevent inconsistent watering.
Q. How do I know when my patty pan squash are ripe? B, email
A. The unusual shaped Patty Pan squash is ripe when the color is light yellow and most flavorful when 4 inches or less in diameter. Harvest all summer squash such as zucchini before we are hit with a hard frost.
Q. When should you harvest corn for the sweetest flavor?
A. Give corn the fingernail test. Peel back the husk with the corn still on the stalk. Pierce a kernel with a thumbnail. If the liquid is clear, give the corn more time. If it is thick and creamy it is overripe. When the kernel leaks liquid that is the color and consistently of milk you’ve got a sweet harvest.
Flavor is best when picked in the late afternoon and used within one hour of picking. Keep ears cool if you cannot cook them the same day as the harvest. A patch of corn can be harvested at the peak of ripeness for one to two weeks depending on the weather and the variety.
Q. How do I know when my purple eggplants are ripe? This is my first summer for growing this beautiful plant. T.P., Kent
A. Eggplant loved our unusually hot summer. A bigger eggplant is not a better eggplant however so harvest when the fruit is 4 to 6 inches in diameter. The peak of ripeness is when the skin is shiny and deep purple. If the skin looks dull and the seeds are brown the eggplant is overripe.
Q. How can I make the green tomatoes turn red before winter? T., Email
A. You can uproot an entire tomato plant and hang it upside-down by the roots in a garage or shed and as long as the tomatoes stay dry they will continue to ripen.
You can also collect the green tomatoes that are ripe enough to have a darker green star- shaped area on the blossom end of the fruit. Store these indoors with good air circulation in a dry spot. Green tomatoes do not need sunlight to turn red as long as they have the green star stage.
If you protect your tomato plants from the rain and cold with plastic covers or by growing them under the eaves of the house they will continue to ripen rather than rot on the vine.