What we’re harvesting

“The fruit derived from labor is the sweetest of pleasures.”

This quote from Luc de Clapiers perfectly sums up harvest in the Demo Garden! Our wonderful team of Extension Master Gardener volunteers has figured out how to navigate the difficult circumstances due to COVID and still have a very beautiful, productive garden. The fruits of our labor are gratifying to see and it is rewarding to pass on the fresh produce to those in need – more on this later!

So, what’s being harvested right now? Cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers galore and more! This past week in the garden, I picked a small sample to bring home and taste test.

The peppers in the garden are starting to produce exceedingly well. There are many varieties being grown in the Demo Garden, but I tried just four. Since I’m not personally a hot pepper fan, I left those varieties alone and focused on some of the sweet pepper varieties: ‘Cornito Giallo,’ ‘Ajvarski,’ ‘Mad Hatter,’ and ‘Eros.’

Varieties from left to right, top to bottom: ‘Cornito Gaillo,’ ‘Ajvarski,’ ‘Dragon grilling,’ (mildly hot) ‘Eros’ both red and orange varieties, ‘Habanada’ (shown white here, will turn red; a no-heat habanero variety)
Varieties from left to right, top to bottom: ‘Ajvarski,’ ‘Mad hatter,’ ‘Eros’ orange, ‘Cornito Gaillo’

‘Cornito Gaillo’ is a 5” yellow orange pepper that is outstanding raw, but roasting especially brings out the sweetness of this pepper. ‘Eros,’ a mini bell pepper, was remarkably tasty. The 2” orange fruit was distinctly sweet when roasted, and had an enjoyable taste uncooked. ‘Ajvarski’ is a sweet red 5” pepper. While this traditional Macedonian roasting pepper was quite tasty when roasted, it was also particularly delicious eaten fresh. ‘Mad Hatter’ – such a fun name – is so charming to look at that it could even be grown as an ornamental plant! Who can resist its 2” uniquely shaped pepper, best picked when red. (Picked green, it was slightly disappointing in flavor.)

‘Mad hatter’ plant; soon more will turn red and will look even more adorable!

Horticulturally speaking, our peppers have not yet endured any pests or diseases in the garden. They have tolerated the heat well, have set an impressive amount of fruit, and are all together going strong! Not every pepper variety grows easily in Kansas, but in general, they do very well here, as evidenced by the plants in the Demo garden, and the plethora of peppers you can find at the farmers markets right now. There are SO many varieties, we could probably fill the whole Demo garden trying different kinds!

Cucumbers as seen from inside their trellis

Cucumbers have produced marvelously in the garden this season. ‘Sweet Success’ is a 12” cucumber that has a nice crunch and mild taste. The seeds are so small, they are hardly detectable. ‘Summer Dance’ is a 9” variety of cucumber. The seeds are extremely small and not obvious when eating, and it also has a pleasing crunch. ‘Salt and Pepper’ is a unique white variety that turns slightly yellow the longer it is left on the vine. Normally, cucumbers that turn yellow have passed their prime and can be quite bitter and off-putting, but that’s not the case with ‘Salt and Pepper!’ Even though the seeds are noticeable in more mature, yellow fruits, the flavor remains phenomenal despite the color.

Varieties from left to right: ‘Summer dance’ (2), ‘Sweet success,’ ‘Salt and pepper’
‘Summer dance’ have been prolific!
‘Salt and pepper’ is a new favorite!

‘Salt and Pepper’ fruits are not only very tasty, but their vines have been very healthy and prolific producers this season. ‘Summer dance’ has also grown well, but I think ‘Salt and Pepper’ takes the cake. We have not had many issues growing cucumbers in the Demo garden this season; they get ample water through our irrigation system, which can sometimes be a hindrance for other growers – cucumbers are thirsty plants!

Healthy cucumber vines growing up their trellis; most of the vines in the middle are ‘Salt and pepper,’ the right-most vine growing a bit taller is ‘Sweet success’

I’m not usually a big fan of eggplants, mostly because I don’t care for the soft texture, but I might change my mind after sampling ‘Orient Charm,’ an oblong purple eggplant about 5” long. There were no detectable seeds; when roasted, it had an enjoyable flavor and remained a slightly more firm than most eggplants do. ‘Annina’ is another unique eggplant currently producing very well. The variegation on the skin makes it a delight to the eyes, rivaling some flowers in its beauty! When roasted, it was soft like most eggplants are but did have a pleasing flavor. If you like the soft texture of eggplant then this variety will not fail to please.

‘Orient charm’

‘Annina’

Overall, our eggplant plants have grown very well. We had a stint of eggplant lace bugs earlier in the season, but a few rounds of forceful water sprays on the under sides of the leaves has kept the population in check. This pest usually only causes significant damage in very large numbers; the population is low enough now that there is some of the characteristic stippling on the leaves, but not enough to hamper eggplant production.

On the upper leaf, you can see the residual damage from the eggplant lace bugs

We will have an in-depth post about the tomatoes we trialed this year in the coming weeks, but I sampled a couple varieties and will share briefly about them here. ‘Chef’s Choice’ is an AAS (All-America Selections) winner that comes in a variety of colors. ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ had great flavor with pleasant tomato tang.  ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ had a bit more sweetness to it that was pure delight to the taste buds. ‘San Marzano II,’ an Italian heirloom variety, is great for canning because it doesn’t have quite the water content of the other two varieties, which is typical of a good paste tomato. I found that ‘San Marzano II’ raw was rather bland; paste tomatoes are not usually eaten raw since their flavor is enhanced with cooking.

Varieties, clockwise from top: ‘San Marzano II,’ ‘Chef’s choice’ red, ‘Chef’s choice’ orange

So, what do we do with all this wonderful produce we harvest? Besides some samples that the Master Gardeners occasionally take home, the majority of our harvest is donated to a wonderful organization and community partner of the Extension Office, Common Ground Mobile Market.

An abundant harvest donation from a couple weeks ago! Some of this additional produce was donated from the personal gardens of other Master Gardeners. Donna Pearson McClish, founder of Common Ground Mobile Market is pictured on the right; one of her staff, Sharon, is in the middle; and Sedgwick County Extension staff, Lyndsay, is on the left.
The van is loaded up with Demo garden produce as well as fruits and vegetables from other local growers. The produce will be divided up into mixed boxes and delivered to senior centers across greater Wichita.

The Mobile Market delivers fresh, locally grown produce to seniors in the greater Wichita area. They make eating healthy accessible to folks who otherwise might find it difficult to get to the store or afford high quality produce. We are so grateful to be able to add our harvest to their wonderful work in the community, as they are providing an incredible service during this especially difficult time. You can learn more about the work they do here: https://www.commongroundpg.com/

Author: Maureen Wilbeck

Growing squash – problems and solutions

Squash plants love the hot summer sun, and Kansas has plenty of it! Any vegetable gardener in the state who has been growing for very long will likely have planted some variety of squash. There are a few issues that can pop up when growing squash, but overall, it is usually pretty easy to grow.

In the Demo garden, we are growing both summer squash and winter squash. Contrary to what the names imply, both types of squash are grown during the heat of summer; one main difference is that summer squash is grown for its young or immature fruit (think zucchini), while winter squash is grown for its fully mature fruit, so it takes longer to be ready (think butternut squash or pumpkins).

Summer squash grows in a bushy shape and is generally ready to harvest by mid-summer. When harvested at small sizes, they have a soft, thin skin and unsubstantial seeds and can be eaten raw. If left on the plant to grow very large, though, they become tough and too bitter to eat raw. The most popular types of summer squash are zucchini and yellow squash, but other types include pattypan and tromboncino.

We have two varieties of summer squash in the demo garden, and both are varieties of zucchini: ‘49er’ and ‘Astia,’ which both are beginning to yield a harvest.

‘49er’ is a yellow zucchini which has about 50 days to maturity (DTM), and ‘Astia’ is a dark green zucchini with 48 DTM. Both are best harvested at about 5-6 inches long. (Yellow squash and yellow varieties of zucchini are similar, but different; zucchini maintains a relatively consistent diameter, whereas yellow squash is broader at one end and tapers toward the other, and often has a slightly thicker skin than zucchini.)

’49er’ zucchini
‘Astia’ zucchini

Winter squash generally has a vining nature and needs either lots of space to sprawl out or a trellis to grow vertically when space is at a premium. Because it is harvested when fully mature, it has a tougher skin than summer squash that is not usually eaten. Winter squash is usually ready to harvest late summer or early fall. One of the benefits of growing winter squash is that it can store well, even through the winter months. The winter squash in the demo garden (‘Waltham’ butternut and ‘Autumn Frost’ acorn squash varieties) are setting fruit but won’t be ready to harvest for several more weeks. We’ll keep you posted!

Winter squash has reached the top of the trellis!
‘Waltham’ butternut setting fruit

A couple of the biggest challenges with growing squash are the squash vine borer and the squash bug.  Both of these insects can wreak significant havoc and are taking their toll now in the Demo garden.

The classic symptom of squash vine borer is a wilted plant when the plant has been watered well and shouldn’t be drooping. Upon closer inspection, you may be able to see that the stem has small holes or is chewed up close to the ground with larvae frass at the base. At this point, it is important to remove the larvae by either disposing of the plant completely, or, if you’re feeling surgical, slitting the vine with a sharp knife until you find the larvae and then removing it. The slit vine can be placed back in the soil and kept moist in the hopes that it will send off new roots, but some plants may have been damaged beyond repair and won’t recover from the “surgery.” If the larvae are not removed and are allowed to complete their life cycles in your garden (in which they eat their way out of the stem, burrow 1-2 inches into the soil, and wait in a cocoon until the next season), the problem will likely return next year. Once you have squash vine borers, there is not a whole lot you can do; to learn about treatment options and cultural controls, see this helpful publication.

Vine borer holes in plant stem
Vine borer larvae found in a plant stem

Another pest we are facing in the Demo garden is squash bugs. Adults look similar to stink bugs and can be found on many species of the cucurbit family, but squash is their favorite. Adults and nymphs (which are lighter grey with black legs) cause damage by sucking out juices from plant leaves, resulting in yellowing, wilting, and death of the plant when populations are large. Squash bug eggs can be found by scouting on the under sides of leaves – they are glossy brown and laid in groups in between leaf veins. These eggs can be scraped off and disposed of to help control, but here in the Demo garden, the problem has passed the egg stage, and we have begun chemical control to limit the damage. Squash bugs are best controlled at the nymph stage, since adults have a hard shell that protects them from pesticides. We have applied one round of spinosad by spraying it on the vine and branches where the nymphs are congregating. We won’t be able to harvest zucchini for at least three days after spraying, and depending on what the squash bug population looks like after the application, we may spray again in about a week. We use chemicals sparingly in the Demo garden, which are safe when used appropriately. As always… when using chemical pesticides, make sure read and follow the label! To learn more about squash bugs, click here.

Squash bug adult and eggs
Squash bug nymphs

One last issue we had with the zucchini earlier this year was small fruit (around 3 inches) that shriveled up or rotted from the blossom end of the fruit before coming to harvestable size. This symptom can be due to a couple of different culprits, but is ultimately related to an issue with pollination.

Sometimes high temperatures following a mild or cool spell can limit the number of pollinators that are active in the garden; sometimes over-fertilization (high nitrogen levels) in the soil can cause the plant to produce too many male flowers; and sometimes plants don’t produce enough male and female flowers at the same time to ensure enough pollination (this issue usually resolves itself as the season progresses.)

We stepped in to lend our zucchini plants a pollinating hand, and you can too if you see this issue in your garden – it is as simple as taking the pollen from the male flowers and transferring it to the female flowers. First, identify which flowers are female and which are male; female flowers often have a swelling behind the flower head where the fruit is barely beginning to form, whereas male flowers have a straight stem behind the flower head. Another, perhaps more reliable way to tell is to look inside the flower: the female has a stigma which is larger and slightly round or bulbous, and the male has a single, straight appendage – the anther – inside the flower.

Hand-pollinating can easily be done by using a small artist-sized paint brush to transfer pollen from the male to the female flowers; lightly touch the tip of the brush to the anther on a male flower and dab the pollen that the brush picked up onto the stigma of a female flower.

With a couple hand-pollinating sessions, a relative evening-out of temperature, and an uptick in pollinators in the garden, our zucchini are now producing harvestable fruit. Now it’s a matter of fending off the squash bugs so that we can keep harvesting this delicious summer garden staple!

Resources for further reading:

Squash bugs

Squash vine borers

Pollination problems

By: Maureen Wilbeck, Master Gardener

Beans: from garden to plate

Beans are a Kansas favorite in the vegetable garden. These warm-season plants are well acclimated to our tough Kansas summers. Once planted, they grow very fast and most varieties are ready to harvest in seven to eight weeks.

In the Demo Garden, beans are starting to produce. It is best to harvest when the pods are firm and crisp, but the bean seeds are not yet bulging. If at all possible, don’t pick them in the early morning when there is dew on the plants, as blight, a common bacterial disease, can easily be spread from one plant to another via splashing water droplets. So, make sure the plant foliage is dry before harvesting. 

Green beans are typically grown for their immature pods. Beans such as navy and lima beans are allowed to fully ripen and then the bean seeds are removed from the pods; these types of beans are harvested much later in the season.

A bean that’s ready to harvest

On April 28th, we planted four different varieties of bush style green beans (also called snap beans) in the Demo Garden: Heavy Harvest, Tenderette, Royal Burgundy, and Tendergreen Improved.

‘Heavy Harvest’ is a 53-day bean. This medium green-colored bean is also slender and grows about five inches long. So far, it is not living up to its namesake in that it has only yielded a small amount of beans so far.

‘Tenderette’ is a 58-day variety of bean. It also grows about five inches long and is slender. It is medium green in color. As with Heavy Harvest, this too only had a few ready to be picked.

‘Royal Burgundy’ is a 55-day variety that generally grows about five inches long. It is a slender bean with a deep purple coloring that is very beautiful and makes it very easy to see against the green foliage. Again, there were only a handful of beans to be found, but we are hopeful that with a little more time, they will start producing more.

‘Tendergreen Improved’ is a 52-day variety. The coloring, although still green, had a bit of a lighter, yellowish undertone compared to the other green beans. These beans are a little longer, growing up to six inches in length and is also plumper than the other varieties. The thing that is most impressive about Tendergreen so far is the yield. While it makes sense that there are more harvestable beans of this variety right now because its “days to maturity” (DTM) is shorter, this variety is still likely to out-produce the other varieties – but we will keep you updated!

So how do they cook up?  Using a quick, identical technique on each variety, we tested them “tender-crisp” style. After the ends were trimmed, a ¼ cup water was added to a skillet along with the beans and cooked covered for three minutes. Then the cover was removed to allow the water to fully evaporate. A touch of butter was then added to each. 

My personal favorite is the Tendergreen Improved. It was the most tender of the four varieties tested as well as the most prolific producer. Tenderette and Heavy Harvest where just slightly tougher than Tendergreen. Although the most unique to look at, the Royal Burgundy was the toughest of all the varieties, but interestingly, it turns from purple to green when cooked.

One final note: there was some significant stippling on the leaves of the beans, which is an indicator of spider mites. Spider mites are tiny, barely visible spider-relatives that suck juice from the underside of leaves and are common during hot, dry weather.

Stippling on bean leaves

As a first defense against this garden pest, after harvesting the beans, we used the garden hose with a jet spray setting and shot the underside of the leaves with as much coverage as possible, and we plan to repeat this process a few times a week. Hopefully these pesky critters won’t ruin the harvest!

Spraying spider mites off of under side of bean leaves

Click here to learn more about growing beans or spider mites.

By: Maureen Wilbeck, Master Gardener

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Broccoli is one of those vegetables that can be a little bit “hit or miss” in Kansas, especially in the spring. The cool parts of the growing season, spring and fall both, can sometimes be too short and too erratic to have great broccoli. Over the years we have tried several kinds of broccoli, some that performed well and others not so much.

This year, we chose to plant ‘Burgundy,’ a variety of purple sprouting broccoli. Sprouting broccoli is selected for high quality, uniform, and prolific side shoots. Many older “heading type” broccoli varieties would produce some side shoots, newer varieties not as much. Sprouting broccoli is designed to have the center “head” shoot pinched out at a small size to encourage more side shoots.

49948988198_0540ccf06fWe started these plants from seed in mid-February and transplanted them into the garden on March 17th. They are supposed to take about 37 days from transplant to maturity…but the weather was definitely not helpful on that front this year. About a week ago, the plants were showing the development of the center shoot. (About 60 days after transplanting – thanks, cold snaps!)

49949488156_135742dc9aI snipped out the center stalk, and you can already see the side shoots starting to grow.

49949016143_170feb2b8bThis is what the shoots are looking like now. I love the purple color! So often with purple vegetables, the color is disappointing, but this is beautiful. It is important to note that the color will fade to a beautiful dark green once it is cooked.

From a flavor standpoint, this broccoli is strong. The little bit that I have nibbled on, it has a very strong mustard flavor. Most homegrown broccoli is that way, and once it is cooked, it has great flavor – but it is not the mild and water flavor you maybe have come to expect from even fresh grocery store broccoli.

The idea with the side shoots is that they should continue to develop and be produced until it gets too hot, potentially having a higher yield for a single plant than with a heading type.

If you wanted to give this plant a try (and you can find the seeds available!), you should start the seeds indoors in mid- to late June, then transplant outside in late July. With some luck and decent weather, you should have some awesome broccoli sometime in September!

2020 Tomato Trials

Our tomato trials are looking very fortuitous at this point in the year. When we were planning this winter, we chose to try out some of the more recent All-America Selections tomato winners. These are varieties that have been tested all across the U.S. and have shown to perform reliably under a wide range of conditions.

We had already grown Chef’s Choice Orange a couple of times and found it to be a reliable producer with great flavor. (I have also grown it at home for a few more years and it has quickly become one that is an easy choice.) Chef's Choice Orange tomato

With that experience, we are interested to see if other, new varieties in the Chef’s Choice line will be just a promising for Kansas. We chose to grow the Chef’s Choice Orange again as our “known” trial variety. To that, we have added the following varieties. (Links to the All-America Selections pages, with more variety details.)

Chef’s Choice Red – 8 oz fruit, prolific

Chef’s Choice Green – Green and yellow at maturity and citrus-y flavor common to green-when-ripe tomatoes.

Chef’s Choice Yellow – 10 oz. somewhat sweet fruit

Chef’s Choice Pink – 12-14 oz beefsteak with pink skin and flesh

We also chose two non-Chef’s Choice varieties to test in order to have a broader comparison.

Galahad – Red fruit with high disease resistance and purported crack resistance. (Crack resistance is a hot commodity in Kansas, so we are hoping for great things!)

Mountain Rouge – From the “Mountain” series, a 12-14 oz. pink beefsteak with high disease resistance.

Some Cherry Tomatoes:

In other areas of the garden, we also have some cherry tomatoes planted, and these are a little further outside the normal varieties.

Moonbeam – A pale yellow or white grape tomato that is supposed to have high yields and exceptional flavor.

Brad’s Atomic Grape – This multi-colored tomato has been all over social media for a couple years, but we have heard from some locals that it cracks horribly. So…we’re going to give it a try!

Blush – A yellow oblong cherry with red stripes and interior blush. We have tried others in this series in the past, all with bad cracking problems, so it will be interesting to see how this one performs.

If all goes well, we hope to have a bounty of tomatoes this year, as well as some great new varieties to recommend in our area.