Learn when to pick juicy tomatoes this summer

    Listen 00:52:57

    The final stages before reaching real ripeness are often a treacherous time for tomatoes. Mike McGrath, host of You Bet your Garden, will discuss how to protect— and when to pick— these fabulous fruits of summer. Plus answers to all your growing questions.

    Questions of the Week:

    ” I’ve been hearing you talk about tomatoes splitting as a response to heavy rain following dry times. Does this debunk the theory that the fruits stop taking in nutrition after ripening has started? I had always heard that the first break in color signaled that abscission had occurred and the fruit had been cut off from receiving additional nutrition from the main plant. If tomatoes that are ripening split after a heavy rain, does this mean that they are not completely abscised from the plant? On another note, what’s your take on picking tomatoes at the first signs of ripening vs waiting a little longer? The mockingbirds (our state bird down here in Texas) are killing me when I try to wait.”

    — John in Texas (“zone 9A; southwest of Houston”)

    Learn how tomatoes ripen and when to pick them »

    Highlights from show for July 14, 2016:

    Getting the best out of your raised bed

    Mike from Westfield, Indiana bought a cedar raised-bed garden container in order to make gardening his vegetables a bit easier, but he’s having some trouble. He used premium potting soil, an organic fertilizer and has the plants in full sun, steps that should have presented him with a garden in full bloom. Mike recommends that the caller Mike go out and get a liquid organic fertilizer to feed the garden, which he had already fed once. “In the future, don’t feed seed,” Mike says. “When you grow plants from seed you wait until they have their first set of true leaves before you give them any food, and then you give them very diluted food.” In order to help his garden along, Mike advises our caller to put an inch of compost on the surface of the soil, which would hopefully spur a positive reaction. Then, he should follow with the use of the liquid fertilizer. “You have a nice, long season left. So don’t panic!” Mike says.

    Battling poison ivy

    Barbara from Dayton, Ohio is struggling with an invasion of poison ivy around her cottage, so much so that it looks like it was planted intentionally. “The smartest thing to do is work small areas at a time,” Mike says. Barbara should use plastic shopping bags to cover her hands and totally saturate the soil with water, grabbing a hold of the plant and pulling very slowly to get the entirety of the root out of the ground. Wrap the bags down over top of each other and the ivy, tossing them into the trash. This ensures that the poisonous oil stays away from gloves and clothing. If the plant accidentally touches bare skin, Mike tells Barbara to wash the area with cool water alone, which dissolves the oil- no wash rag, no soap. Finally, Mike recommends poison ivy specialist Umar Mycka as a resource, in case Barbara decides to hire help. “He’ll help you find someone in your area,” Mike explains. But be aware: new plants will always pop up, since animals eat and “recycle” those seeds. More information can be found at Umar’s website, idontwantpoisonivy.com.

    Vine squash borers

    Courtney from Kinston, North Carolina has been fighting vine squash borers for the past two seasons and needs help defeating the pests. These are day flying moths who lay eggs at the base of hollow squash vines, those of Zucchini or Pumpkin, which allows the hatching caterpillars to crawl inside the vine and feast. When trying to salvage these plants, the bottom will disintegrate as a result. Luckily for Courtney, her southern location gives her time to try planting again before the season ends. Mike advises that she plant in a protected area, keeping the seedlings warm and watered. Never direct-seed summer squash with hollow vines straight into the ground. When they’re about a month old, Courtney should wrap one loose layer of medical gauze starting where the roots come out of the bottom of the stem up to the first leaf. She can then replant them in the garden so that the gauze is about an inch below ground and two or three inches above ground. “Believe it or not, that should be enough to protect your plants,” Mike says. Late planting may also help a gardener avoid squash borers.

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