Mary's Veggie Garden

September 30, 2013

An Easy Way to Increase Harvest

Filed under: Gardening,Tomatoes,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 3:59 pm
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Sometimes a very  small and easy action at planting time can make a big difference at harvest time.

Several years ago I bought a pepper at our local Master Gardener plant sale and planted it in my garden next to the transplants I’d grown at home. The MG plant looked enormous – with twice as many leaves and each leaf twice as big as my home-grown plants. The MG plant was big enough that it already had open flowers and a baby pepper.

By mid-July I harvested the first pepper – from the MG plant. The peppers on the other plants were small, still far from being ready. In early August I noticed something curious – the MG pepper plant was about half the size of my home-grown plants. It had only a couple small fruits while the other plants were loaded with peppers of various sizes.

What happened?

I’d planted them together and watered and fertilized the same way. The MG plant, transplanted with a pepper fruit, had put all its efforts into growing the fruit and maturing the seeds instead of producing a strong root system and a big plant. Thus it had little strength to grow additional fruit. Because of this experience I tell my vegetable gardening classes to remove fruit and open flowers from peppers and eggplants when transplanting them into the garden. Peppers and eggplants are slow growers in the cool spring weather and need all the help they can get.

Does the same rule apply to tomatoes which seem more vigorous? This year I had the opportunity to run the experiment with tomatoes and I weighed the harvest to measure the effect. The results were dramatic. (Click on any picture to enlarge.)

Healthkick plants before pruning.

Healthkick plants before pruning.

I got two Healthkick tomato plants in early June. Healthkick is determinate – genetically programmed to grow to a certain height (about 3′) and set a lot of tomatoes in a short time. It produces plum tomatoes.

The transplants each had  two clusters of open flowers with several small fruits. Both plants had about the same number of leaves but the shorter plant had bigger fruit which I removed along with the flowers. They were transplanted side-by-side into my garden on June 10.

Healthkick plants after pruning the shorter plant.

Healthkick plants after pruning the shorter plant.

June 30 - L - plant transplanted without fruit & flowers; R - plant transplanted with fruit.

June 30 – L – plant transplanted without fruit & flowers; R – plant transplanted with fruit & flowers.

July 14 I started harvesting from the plant transplanted with fruit. The tomatoes were small, about 2 ounces, but they were early. It was another month before I harvested any tomatoes from the other plant, but the tomatoes were noticeably bigger.

Aug. 10  Healthkick on the vine. This is the plant whose flowers & fruits I removed at transplanting.

Aug. 10 Healthkick on the vine. This is the plant whose flowers & fruits I removed at transplanting.

In total, the plant transplanted with fruit produced 5.8 pounds and the plant whose fruit & flowers I removed at transplanting produced 20 pounds, more than 3 times the other plant.

August 31 Healthkick harvest

August 31 Healthkick harvest

The picture shows my Aug. 31 Healthkick harvest. The 15 tomatoes on the left are from the plant whose fruit and flowers were removed at  transplanting time, while the five tomatoes on the right were from the plant transplanted with fruit.

It is counter-intuitive, but because I removed the open flowers and fruit at transplanting, the plant grew bigger and produced more tomatoes and heavier tomatoes.  For me, it is worth sacrificing the early tomatoes in favor of more and bigger tomatoes later.

September 16, 2013

Harvest Monday 9/16/2013 Watermelons!

Filed under: Vegetables,Watermelon — marysveggiegarden @ 7:42 am

For the last two weeks I’ve been harvesting watermelons! I grew two varieties this year. Moon & Stars is an heirloom, named for the yellow splotches on its skin. The leaves are also spotted, making them look sick, but for Moon & Stars the spots are normal. I’ve grown Moon & Stars several times and we love it. The flesh is crisp, very juicy, and sweet without being cloying. The seeds are numerous and large – great for seed spitting contests.

Moon & Stars Watermelons, scissors for scale.

Moon & Stars Watermelons, left 18 pounds, right 11, scissors for scale.

In June I got four leftover plants from the heirloom vegetable garden at Locust Grove, in Poughkeepsie. (A benefit of volunteering.) I planted them in my Annex, my extra plot at the Vassar Farm community gardens where Moon & Stars shared a 4’x17′ bed with some direct sown Faerie watermelons, Jenny Lind cantaloupe and a big Better Boy tomato.  (The bed was already planted when I got the Moon & Stars plants, so yes, it was crowded. I wasn’t even planning to grow melons this year, after the failures of the last several years, but then I got the extra plot.)

The Moon and Stars harvest totaled 67 pounds – each plant provided one big fruit plus there were a couple smaller melons. The vines run all over, with the melons setting about 8′ out on the vines. I found two well hidden in the dried bean patch, one in the corn, and another under the tomato cage.

My second watermelon variety was Faerie, a 2012 All America Selection. The melons were supposed to be ‘family sized’, around 6 pounds. Mine were much smaller 1-2 pounds. The flavor was extremely sweet. The flesh was not crisp, more like the market seedless melons.  Maybe it would have been crisper if I’d harvested a bit earlier. As you’ll see, I probably waited too long. (I hate harvesting watermelons too early. They don’t ripen off the vine.)

Faerie watermelon.

Faerie watermelon. Note the thin rind.

In truth I had trouble growing this one. Direct sown in early June, it got off to a slow start with the cool weather. I had mulched the adjacent path with black plastic, thinking the heat would be good for melons. The plastic had puddles for days after rain and my first Faerie melon rotted on the plastic. I quickly learned to prop them up on a rock or board. The dried tendril method is the only way to determine when Faerie is ready to harvest. I should have been paying closer attention, perhaps looking at their bottoms for signs of problems. it seems like overnight they went from being perfect to looking like this:

Faerie watermelon.

Faerie watermelon.

The blemishes were only skin deep.  We ate both melons. if harvested earlier they would have been prettier and perhaps crisper.

The rest of the garden has also been producing: carrots, beets, chard, beans, peppers, and tomatoes. I harvested the last ears of corn Tuesday. Most of my tomato plants at the community gardens are almost dead from Septoria and i’m ripping them out but my plants at home are still looking fairly good. And the winter squash harvest has only just begun. But that will be a story for another day.

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