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Ripening days in garden numbered

OK, its time for Plan B for vegetable gardeners. We have about six weeks to get stuff ripe before our traditional first frost date. How do we salvage the rest of the growing season?

Cool season crops like peas, lettuce, beets and carrots are doing very well this year. Even peas that are normally gone by now are going strong. People are reporting monster-sized potato plants and bumper crops of spinach.

On the downside, strawberries and raspberries are at least two weeks late and some currant and strawberry plants didn’t set fruit very well because it was too cold for the bees to be out when they were flowering. Apricot and peach trees lost their flower buds in last November’s cold snap or they were frosted out this spring.

Aphids seem to be the big insect issue this year and they are attacking a wide range of plants. They can be managed by spraying the affected plants with a hard stream of water or an insecticidal soap registered for use on vegetable and fruit crops. Several cases of blight in tomatoes, raspberries and potatoes have been brought into the WSU Master Gardener clinic.

One “blight” not to worry about is tomato physiological leaf roll. The leaves on the plant roll up but the plant is still a healthy green color and growing well. The condition is brought on by this year’s weather and won’t hurt the plant.

Now to the warm season crops like tomato, pepper, melons, corn and squash. All these crops need warm days and particularly nights above 55 degrees to bush out and set fruit. We haven’t had enough of that, so they are just sitting there. Fruit set is also iffy if the days are too cool for bees to be pollinating. To help them along, try covering them at night with floating row cover to capture heat. Uncover them during the day so the pollinators can reach them.

Most people who have tomatoes planted in raised beds or deck containers report their plants are setting fruit. This is because the soil in the pots and the beds stays warmer than the open ground and that keeps the night temperatures warmer. Pepper plants need more heat than tomatoes so they are way behind at this point. To capture more heat around tomatoes and peppers, surround the bed with a 3-foot wall of floating row cover or clear plastic set on stakes about 12 inches away from the plants. This open top greenhouse will help capture some more heat.

As we get into the middle of August, our temperatures normally start dropping because the sun angle is lower. Once we start getting nights into the low 50s and upper 40s and there are tomatoes and peppers set on the plants consider wrapping the plants with light weight floating row cover full time. The heat that is captured by the cover will hasten ripening and protect the plants from light frosts that are likely to come early this year.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached at pat@inland