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Vegetable Garden Update: Spring 2011

The vegetable garden is struggling this year. We are dealing with an unprecedented drought this spring and now temperatures have hit 105 for the past two days. Fortunately my tomatoes set fruit months earlier and are now ripening. I’ve opted to pick these as soon they blush to get them out of the heat and away from the birds. It does not effect the taste or quality of the tomato. This topic was covered in the Urban Harvest vegetable series class which I took last year. From my experience, this is true. So I pick them as soon as I see a tinge of pink.

A wooden raised garden bed.
Spring 2011 - Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
A hand reaching for a green tomato on a vine.
Bull Heart tomatoes
A hand holding a green tomato and a small green tomato.
These will finish ripening on the windowsill

My Chelsea Prize cucumbers produced very well even in the heat. The leaves tend to droop in the afternoon, but they perk back up in the early evening. I’ve been running the soaker hose to keep them hydrated. Haven’t gotten this month’s water bill yet, but I expect it to be high.

A cucumber growing in a garden bed.
Chelsea Prize cucumbers on vertical trellis

Golden Summer bell peppers are doing fine and are just about ripe.

Yellow peppers growing on a plant with green leaves.
Golden Summer Bell Peppers

I started a few Zucchini from seeds about two weeks ago and have resorted to unsophisticated shading methods to provide them with light but without the blazing direct Texas sun. The seeds germinated and it appears they are going to make it. I’ve heard that starting them later in the season when the Squash vine borers are not so active may yield better results. Nothing as sad as seeing your healthy and blooming squash plants, suddenly die, when vine borers eat the stem from the inside out.

A group of plants growing in a dirt bed.
Zucchini seedlings
A white sheet covering a metal container in a garden.
Some frost protection cloth works well in the heat too!

34 thoughts on “Vegetable Garden Update: Spring 2011”

  1. It IS hot, isn’t it? Great idea to give some shade relief with the cover cloth. We got heat showers last 2 days, but certainly not enough. Enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor, Jackie!

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      Thanks for sharing Cherie. Same here, but barely a 1/4 of an inch of rain. Steamy now. I am trying an experiment on the Zucchini – starting them in early summer instead of spring. I’ve heard the Squash vine borers are not as active in the summer, so we will see if this helps. There is nothing quite as sad as seeing a healthy gorgeous squash plant in bloom and fruiting… only to wilt and die suddenly when the borers have eaten the stem at the base of the plant from the inside out.

      1. Jackie, I’ve had pretty decent luck with using diatomaceous earth around the edge of my raised bed….. Fire ants are my nemesis right now. I recognize they are thirsty, but eating my feet up will not help. I don’t drink enough water for me, let alone them! c:

  2. Annie Haven | Authentic Haven Brand

    Oh, to watch you suffer through the heat and to know it will be here soon Your doing a wonderful job keeping your garden a live thanks for sharing your tips with us Annie

  3. Keep us posted on the squash experiment. I’ve lost beautiful squash plants to those pesky borers. Maddening!

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      I will. I’ve heard that wrapping tin foil around the stem near the soil line also helps. Has anyone had success with this??

      1. I’ve not used foil, but my dad swears by copper wire encircling plants stems at the soil line when slugs become an issue….

  4. Jean@Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog

    I’ve been struggling with the same thing – heat and drought. I didn’t know about picking tomatoes when they first blush, although one of the vendors at our farmers’ market said that’s what they do. But they just look so pretty when they’ve been on the vine a while! What would the excessive heat do to the tomatoes if I left them on?

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      The heat is fine Jean, it is the birds! They see that red and make a bee line right for them. The sooner I get them off the vine, the better.

  5. Wow! Everything looks good considering this horrible drought. I think the pepper plants can last all summer despite the conditions. You were wise to pick your tomatoes.
    I don’t have an answer for the squash vine borer. Back in my vegetable gardening days, I got very good at finding their frass at the base of the vines, then slitting them open and extracting the beasts. The vines heal up, but then the vine borers come back and lay these tiny oval brown eggs. I’d find 10 to 20 each morning and have to pick them up. I always wondered what the natural predator is to the squash vine borer. The adult looks like a fast, red moth. Hope we all get rain soon.
    David/ Tropical Texana

  6. I am glad on stumbled on your blog today. Its been a frustrating week in my garden. Good luck with the zucchini.

    I have had beautiful tomatoes on the vines (best vines I have ever had, tall, no virus/bugs/mildew) for over a month now and they don’t ripen at all. They are in direct sunlight all day long. I read on the internet that tomatoes won’t ripen above 85 degrees. On top of that, every night at least one or two get half eaten and left to rot. I have seen mice in the plants. I got desperate today and picked all of the large green tomatoes. I am hoping they will ripen. I have thousands of cherry tomatoes, and they disappear too, but with the volume, there are still some left for me. I’m not sure whether to pull the plants out or not at this point. Seems a waste of money to water.

    I am concerned because my bell peppers are on the plants and not doing anything either. Last year the mice or rats or whatever ate those too.

    I have tried netting – hard to get into the plants to do maintenance and the plants grow so big I end up cutting the netting. I have also left lots of pans of water around the garden, thinking the pests needed water. I even hung red Christmas ornaments!

    Squash is pretty much dead now. Bean plants look good but no beans. Cukes are ok. Hooray for eggplants and banana peppers which are doing great. My chard is getting eaten by some little bugs or caterpillars, and the collards are still chugging along.

    Very depressing time in the garden. Payback for all the pictures and bragging I sent my family in NY through March, April and May. Now its their turn to tell me about their beautiful gardens!

  7. Hi, I just stumbled across your blog while looking for information on squash vine borers. I’m in Zone 9, Sugar Land and wondering if the squash vine borers die off at some point? I just pulled all my zucchini plants because they got most of them and the rest just looked terrible in this heat. I’m planting winter squash now and hoping the borers don’t bother it. Do you know when they die off completely? I’ve been looking for information in our area and can’t find anything online about when I can feel safe. I’m worried about losing the winter squash too and wondering if I should cover them somehow to protect from those nuisances!:)

  8. According to Bob Randall’s book, Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston (a must if you don’t have it), the only way to outwit stem borers is to grow a huge, thick skin plant quickly before it flowers. One lady told me to keep covering the stem with soil while it was spreading to make a large underground root. Also apply Bt weekly. I have been slicing vines and removing the borer when I see the signs of damage. I cover with lots of soil and water frequently afterwards. I still have live plants, but the fruit I am getting is hard and small, probably due to the heat. Randall doesn’t really say anything about winter squash. I think overall, he doesn’t think its worth growing squash in Houston.

    I think the key here is to not think like a northerner, thinking about tomatoes, squash, spinach, lettuce, etc. and concentrate on what does grow well here, eggplant, okra, peppers, basil, etc. I have had much better luck with tomatoes in the fall garden – all the way up to Christmas.

    Good luck with your squash! Any one else have tips on defeating the squash vine borer? I totally hate the thing.

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      Good tips Lisa. I have Dr. Randalls’ book and took the 10 week Organic Vegetable Gardening class Urban Harvest teaches. Dr. Randall taught several of the classes in that series. I have had great success growing tomatoes in the spring here in Houston and so does he. I plant them early (before March 1) and I bury them deep (about 80% of plant is planted underground).

      Dr. Randall suggested that trying squash for a fall garden here in Houston might yield better results then in the spring. The borers are not as active in late summer.

      As far as lettuce and spinach go… you are right, it is better to leave them to a fall / winter garden. I had a good continuing harvest this winter of lettuce and spinach.

  9. Thanks Lisa! I will look for that book. I knew there must be some sort of Houston resource on vegetable gardening, but I hadn’t seen one anywhere.

    As far as the winter squash, I thought I’d give it a try. I talked to a gardening expert in a gardening center who told me she hadn’t known of anyone who tried to grow butternut squash here so that should have tipped me off that it might be a challenge. But I’m going for it anyway!

    Thanks for the tips. I will probably go for peppers and eggplant next spring. Like you said, I’ve got to stop thinking like a northern gardener!

  10. Saw your blog on the GBB.org’s Facebook page. We are looking at moving to Houston, but are still in SoCal right now. I just planted some tomatoes and cucumbers on Saturday. If mine turn out half as huge as yours I will be thrilled!

  11. Jacqueline D'Elia

    Lost the squash plants this week to the dreaded squash vine borers, so my experiment in planting them later in the season did not work. Back to the drawing board!

  12. Here’s what I’ve read about borers, although I have yet to try it (I garden in Katy). They have a definite life cycle, so if you plant your squash about every two weeks, eventually you’ll hit a crop that is between the borer’s life cycle in your yard. I live in constant and shame-inducing envy of people in Houston who fuss about having too much squash. Oh, to enjoy such borerless bliss.

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      Great idea. I’ll try planting another round of seeds this week. Who knows?

  13. I’m sorry about the squash. Its so disappointing to lose plants. I have it on my calendar to start planting squash in August. I like the idea of doing it every week or two to outsmart the borers – they are the most evil things.

    I planting pole beans last weekend and they are sprouting. I starting cucumbers in pots a couple of weeks ago and put those into the garden as well. It feels good to have a fresh start. Soon it will be time for fall tomatoes, which I have had more success with in the past.

    Does anyone know how to grow garlic, onions and/or shallots? I want to try them and I think they go in late summer and go through until spring. If you know specifics I would like to hear them.

    1. I’m a new gardener to the South that is and I have never heard of borers until reading this forum; maybe that’s why my potatoes didn’t work? Anyhow, I just throw the garlic and onions in the ground at random – usually when they sprout in my pantry and they take on a life of their own. In fact when I pull a onion up for cooking I cut off the roots and push that back into the ground and it regrows. So I maybe wrong but for me there’s no wrong time to grow garlic or onions – but I’m not an expert. I put in acorn squash mid July and they seem happy. My pumpkin isn’t doing so well but it was a throw out pumpkin that decomposed on its own. Also I didn’t think that idea through very well since it’s between pine trees. So the soil may have to much acid and the sun isn’t consistent. Good luck with your garlic and onions and my they be as happy as mine are.

  14. Lisa, the Aggies have a great website that you can use for planting guides. Here’s the info on onions. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/onions/oniongro.html I grow heirloom “walking onions” and have them all year. My purple and yellow sweet onions I plant spring and fall and harvest as I need them and pull the remaining as they start to flower. Often I break over the stems when the flowering starts to get a few that are larger for slicing. Garlic I put in as soon as they arrive in the autumn. I use mostly elephant garlic because I like the mild flavor and my husband doesn’t complain as much about things beings “too garlic-y” when I cook with it.

  15. Thanks for the information. Where do you get your transplants to plant or do you start from seeds?

  16. Yes. I mean, I do both. I’m a seed saver, so have some and trade for others. Things on my wish list that I can’t barter for, I try to buy locally to support our economy (Arbor Gate in Tomball, TX usually, or a few of the CSA farmers that also sell transplants) and then mail order the rest. I’m researching for my new book on heirlooms, so finding some GREAT new resources I’m trying this year and really excited about them! c:

  17. I just found this site today and so glad I did. I’m in NW Houston (near Katy). I always had good luck planting in the ground, but at this house my soil is so hard that I built an above-ground bed 2 ft deep. My tomato plants have never looked so healthy & nearly 5 ft tall, but only 2-3 tomatoes and they don’t grow large enough to ripen or they die on the vine. Bush green beans are healthy, but only 1 single bean pod grew and nothing since. Cucumbers, radishes & strawberries look healthy, but no produce. Bell peppers are small and very few. All get plenty of sun & I’ve watered & fertilized, but could the soil itself be too hot because it’s an above-ground bed?

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      Hi Carolyn,
      Good way to test it is to dig down about 6 inches and see what the soil temp feels like. It is very important to keep the soil hydrated this time of year to keep your soil biology alive. I pulled out my tomatoes after July 4th due to the drought. It’s just too hot for them right now.

      Thanks for visiting Southern Post!

      Happy Gardening – here’s to Fall.

      1. Thanks, Jacqueline. After I posted the comment, I got to thinking if the soil temp is too warm, then the plant roots must be too warm. I went out this afternoon and added 4 more inches of soil to bring it up on the base of the plants and added a layer of mulch on top of that, thinking it will provide better moisture retention and temperature control. Thought it was worth a try, and if it works, I’ll post the results. If it doesn’t, I can’t be any worse off than now.

  18. It is almost time to start planting my fall veggies. I live in Southeast Houston. I am concerned about the water restrictions that are coming up starting next week. Watering veggies twice a week will not work in this heat. Does anyone have any suggestions. I thought about just not having a fall garden but I just hate to think about that.

    1. Jacqueline D'Elia

      Hi Brenda – Yes it is a concern. I am going to delay planting this year until the rains come. Most likely that means I will be changing what kinds of veggies I plant. Lettuce, spinach and winter crops may have to wait until September or later to start. I know that we are not permitted to water our lawns but twice a week, did you see where vegetable gardens are discussed?

      1. Hi Jacqueline – I haven’t heard mention of the vegetable gardens in regards to the water restrictions. What did they say or where can I find the article?

  19. Here in League City no watering “landscaped areas”. But, car wash businesses can operate between 9 – 6. Now I feel for people who run car washes, but they take priority over the trees and plants? I’ll skip the car wash.

  20. I had a ton of squash last year by using row covers. I planted the seed in the garden in July, used row covers to keep the squash covered until the female flowers bloomed then removed the covers. At that point the squash was large enough to take a little damage. I had a couple plants get vineborers but they survived the damage. I had zuchinni, butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, summer yellow and a winter squash.

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