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The Passionate Gardner for July 29, 2010

by Karyn Ames

Master Gardener

New Mexico Certified Nursery Professional

HUERFANO- If fighting the bugs, rodents, deer, and weeds was not enough, vegetable gardening presents even more opportunities to solve problems, this time related to watering and cultivation.

    I was at a friend’s house the other day and admiring her ripening tomatoes.  From my view at the top of the plants I could see perfectly shaped red globes.  But, when my friend picked the fruits and turned them over, the bottom of each tomato was sunken and brown.

    These tomatoes had developed blossom-end rot, a condition also found in peppers and squash.  At the end of the fruit where the blossom drops from the maturing fruit, a round, sunken, water-soaked spot can develop.

    Blossom-end rot occurs from a lack of calcium in the soil, which in turn slows growth and damages roots because of:

• Extreme fluctuations in soil moisture from very wet to very dry.  Solution: maintain uniform soil moisture by mulching and timely watering.

• Excess soil salts.  Solution: plant in well-drained soil and, if your plant is potted, make sure the water drains out of the pot’s bottom holes at each watering.

• Cultivating too close to the plant.  Solution: do not cultivate deeper than 1 inch within 1 foot of the plant,

    A problem I have with tomatoes almost every summer is growth cracks.  Circular or radial cracks mar the stem end of the ripening fruit.  Cracks may extend deep into the fruit, causing it to rot.

    Tomatoes crack when environmental conditions encourage rapid growth during ripening, caused by heavy watering or rains following a drought period.  Cracking is more severe in hot weather.  Some varieties crack more easily than others.  Cracked tomatoes are still edible.  The solutions are straightforward:

• Maintain even soil moisture, if possible.

• Grow crack-tolerant varieties.

    Although radishes have a reputation for being easy to grow, some years my radishes do not “plump up.”  Poorly developed radish roots are caused by:

• Seedlings that are not thinned.  When seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, thin them to 1/2 to 1 inch apart.

• Radishes prefer cool temperatures below 85ºF, so plant your radishes early in the season.  Root development is hampered at higher temperatures.

• High-nitrogen fertilizers promote bushy top growth at the expense of root development.  Use a balanced vegetable fertilizer and mulch with moderate amounts of organic matter to keep the soil cool.

    If the tops of your carrots are green and have a strong flavor, the root tops have been exposed to sunlight, so check now and then that rains or irrigation have not washed the soil from around the tops of your carrots.  If your carrot roots are forked, twisted or misshapen, your carrots may be overcrowded or be growing in rocky or heavy soils. 

    Those tiny carrot seeds need to be planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart.  When the seedlings are 1 inch tall, thin them to 1 to 2 inches apart.  Rake out and discard any stones, break up soil clods, and incorporate organic matter or peat moss into the soil before planting carrots.  Beets, turnips, and other root crops also benefit from the same cultivation.