It’s that time of year. The weather has been hot and the garden is producing vegetables faster than we can consume them. The squash, zucchini and cucumbers are coming in fast and furious. A batch of ratatouille has already been processed and this past weekend it was time to put up some pickles.

Ratatouille

There are several varieties of cucumbers in our garden including the smaller pickling cukes, the long English cucumbers (it doesn’t seem proper to call them ‘cukes’), and a fun variety known as the lemon cucumber. All of the cucumbers are grown on trellises which enables us to grown vining plants in a smaller space. By going up instead of out, air circulation around the plants is increased, the fruit can grow straighter, and it is easier to harvest.

Pickling cucumbers

English cucumbers

Lemon Cucumbers

The lemon cucumber variety has been around since 1894 and a package of the seeds were offered in the 1901 James Vick & Sons catalog for 10¢. The description was as follows: “The flesh is exceedingly tender and crisp, with a sweet flavor surpassing all other cucumbers. They have none of the bitter or acid taste so generally found in cucumbers”. I confess that when I was first attracted to it a few years ago I planted it as more of a novelty than anything else. I was surprised to find that it is a vigorous plant that sends out yards of growth. It is andromonoecious, with male and female elements in the same blossom, results in more natural self-pollination than that of monoecious cucumbers which have the sexes in separate flowers on the same plant or gynoecious which has only female flowers. Seed companies will generally include 10% of a monoecious variety to ensure pollination for gynoecious varieties. Why choose a gynoecious or andromonoecious variety? They will generally out-produce monoecious varieties since all of their flowers are capable of becoming fruit. How can you tell a male flower from a female flower? The female flower (the image on the left) will have an immature fruit at the base of the blossom while a male flower (the image on the right) will only have a petiole connecting it to the stem.

       Female flower 2 Male flower

The fruit of the lemon cucumber is as its name suggests,  the size, shape, and color of a large lemon and when cut is has the appearance of a lemon wedge.

Lemon cucumber

I enjoy pickling them as much for their taste as for the beautiful and unique way that they look in a jar. The following text and images are a quick overview of the boiling water canning bath process but full details can be found at the USDA Complete Guide to Home  Canning. After the cucumbers have been washed and the ends trimmed I then cut them into wedges. They are placed in a large bowl, sprinkled with coarse salt and covered with crushed ice. After 2-4 hours of refrigeration they are ready to be drained and rinsed. While the cukes are in their ice bath I prepare the pickling syrup of sugar, vinegar and pickling spices. I also add powdered turmeric to add flavor and a tint of yellow to the finished product.

Cucumber wedges

Ice bath

Cucumbers in pickling syrup

The hot cucumber wedges and the pickling syrup are ladled into sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and put into a hot water bath. Due to the high acidic content of most pickled food they do not need to be pressure canned and can be processed by being submerged in boiling water for the USDA recommended amount of time.

Ladled into jars

Once cooled, the jars can be stored in a clean, cool, dark, dry place ready to be enjoyed all winter long.

Finished product

Susan Pelton

Pest - Colorado Potato Beetle Adult, www.uwm.edu

Pest – Colorado Potato Beetle Adult, http://www.uwm.edu

Colorado potato beetle larvae, www.agriculture.purdue.edu larvae

Pest – Colorado potato beetle larvae, http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu larvae

Beetles are fascinating insects with a wide variety of colorful families and species. Some are beneficial, feeding on other insect, while other species are just plain pests. All beetles are in the order Coleoptera. Common among all adult beetles are two pair of wings, with front wings being thickened and leathery that completely cover the membranous hind wings. Adults have large compound eyes and chewing mouth parts.

Beneficial Predator as Adult - Eyed click beetle Photo by Pamm Cooper

Beneficial Predator as Adult – Eyed click beetle Photo by Pamm Cooper

Pest - Wireworms, maine.gov

Pest – Wireworms, maine.gov

 

Beetles have complete metamorphosis containing four life stages; egg, larva, pupa and adult beetle. Larvae have chewing mouth parts, and simple eyes which detect light, dark and movement, but cannot see as well as adult stage with the compound eyes. Different species of beetles differ in larval form. Some are c-shaped grubs with six legs, and others are wireworms with no legs. The common grubs found in the lawns will develop into beetles.

Pest - Japanese Beetle umass.edu

Pest – Japanese Beetle umass.edu

Pest - Japanese Beetle Adult

Pest – Japanese Beetle Adult

Control of all beetles can be achieved by hand picking adults and larval stages. Grubs in turfgrass are treated when grubs are newly hatched during the end of May through July by using Imidacloprid or Chlorotraniliprole as the active ingredient. Parasitic nematodes can be applied to lawns to infect the grubs, eating their insides so they never develop into adult beetles. Milky spore is a bacterial disease that affects only Japanese beetle grubs, although it has limited efficacy here in Connecticut.

In the vegetable garden, monitor known host plants by turning over leaves to look for eggs to crush them by hand. Insecticidal soap sprayed directly on any larvae will kill them by suffocation. Spinosad is an organic insecticide that will kill larval stages, too. Monitor for natural predators that would keep the pest population under control. Using broad spectrum insecticides will kill the good guys as well as the pests.

Carabid beetle Lebia grandis are voracious predators of Colorado potato beetle eggs and larvae. photo by Peggy Greb, extension.psu.edu

Carabid beetle Lebia grandis are voracious predators of Colorado potato beetle eggs and larvae. photo by Peggy Greb, extension.psu.edu

Colorado Potato Beetle Eggs, umass.edu

Colorado Potato Beetle Eggs, umass.edu

 

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

Last month I wrote about planting my peas in the vegetable garden. This month they are growing like crazy, already about four inches tall and reaching for the wire  support fence. I planted 16 potato pieces, 150 onion sets, a packet of radish seeds and carrot seeds. After one week in the ground, the onions are showing green tips through the soil and the radish seedlings are popping up. I have picked asparagus twice for dinner this week! I have also hand picked and squished about 100 asparagus beetles which appeared the day the asparagus tips peaked out of the ground. So far, hand picking is the only control measure I have used. I am also crushing the tiny eggs being laid on the spears. I will use insecticidal soap if their numbers continue to rise.

For those of you just starting out in the vegetable gardening adventure, I have made a short list of basics. Experienced veggie gardeners can use it as a short refresher.

Happy gardening!

-Carol

Vegetable Garden Basics

1. Site/Location – Full sun equals 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Close enough to the house that you will want to go it. Water/hose will reach it.

2. What to grow – what you like and will eat.

3. Size – Start small, 10’ by 10’ will provide vegetables while still being manageable. Too big is overwhelming to weed, water, plant and harvest.

4. Soilwww.soiltest.uconn.edu. Basic home grounds test, a Standard Morgan test. Add amendments as recommended. Compost or aged manure worked well into soil.

5. Plotting area– Single rows, wide rows or blocks. They all work. Tall crops on the north. Track shadows so all plants get sun.

6. Timing – Frost dates. AVERAGE – Last spring frost date in CT is May 15th. First fall frost date in CT is Sept. 15th.

7. Cool Season Crops – seed packet will say “Plant as early as soil can be worked”. A good test to tell if the soil is workable is to make a ball of soil in your hand and poke it with a finger, if it falls apart like chocolate cake crumbles, it is ready. If the soil is too wet, the ball stays together leaving only an indent from finger. Working the soil when it is too wet will ruin the structure of the soil and cause compaction. Cool season crops include shell peas, snow and snap peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, carrots, beets, turnip, radish, potatoes and onions.

8. Warm season crops – seed or transplant info will say “Plant after all danger of frost has past”. This varies from year to year. May 15th is only an average. Watch daily weather reports for frost warnings and dropping overnight temperatures. Warm season crops will be killed by freezing temperatures and frost. Planting warm season crop transplants in cold soil will stunt the roots. Warm season seeds placed in cold soil will not germinate until a higher soil temp is reached. Warm season crops include tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, squash, melons and beans.

9. Water – Vegetables need one to two inches of water per week by rain or hose. Feel the soil down where the roots are located. If it is dry, water it. Soaker or trickle hoses are best. They provide a slow, deep watering. Shallow watering keeps the roots up near the surface where it is hotter and dries out quicker. Deep roots make better plants. Keep foliage dry; apply water in the morning, never in the evening. Wet foliage invites fungal disease.

10. Feed –Fertilize when transplanting or when seeds grow into plants with two sets of leaves. Use manure or packaged vegetable fertilizers with balance nutrients such as 10-10-10. Side dress when plants begin to flower and set fruit by again applying fertilizer lightly a few inches away from plants. Follow label directions. Do not over-fertilize as this can harm plants and add to polluted waterways.

11. Weeds – Get weeds out. They compete with and steal nutrients and water away from vegetable plants. Hand pull weeds while still small. Cultivate weekly or more often, by hoeing or scratching the surface to one inch deep of garden soil discouraging weed growth around vegetable plants. Apply mulch around plants, but not touching plants, to block light to weed seeds in soil. This stops their germination. Straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves and pine needles are all good mulches.

12. Insects – If you find an insect in the garden, identify it. It may be a good guy providing pollination or predation on the bad guys. Look it up in a book or contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center for correct ID. You can call or email us.

13. Harvest – Pick produce when ripe. Not picking tells the plant its job in life is done. It has produced a fruit containing a seed and then it will die. Leaf crops will send up a seed stalk. Continuing to remove fruits and leaves will keep the plant trying to make more seed, therefore providing us with more produce.