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Questions & Answers
 Vegetables

This page contains questions (edited) we have received from our viewers along with our responses.  
We thought you might find this information helpful.    

Q:

   I have been gardening in the same 8x24 foot section for 10 plus years. Produce doesn't seem to be as bountiful as it used to be. Last year I hardly got any cucumbers or tomatoes.  Should I ad something to the soil, change locations, or use more water? What's up?  M. M., Greeley, 3/18/12

A:
   After 10 years, many of the nutrients in the soil are probably depleted. You might want to consider getting a soil test done. You can amend the soil with compost to see if that helps. However, it probably would be better to change location. Changing the location of the garden may improve production and control any problems with insects and diseases you may have had. For detailed information on preparing garden soil for a vegetable garden please see www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/711.html.
 
Q:

   Is cover-cropping feasible or recommended in Colorado? Anything else I can do to prepare my garden for next summer over the winter? Also, when is the best time to plant garlic?  K. L., Denver, 9/9/11

A:    Cover crops are recommended in Colorado. See www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1616.htm. Over the winter clean up garden debris so you get rid of over-wintering pests. For information on garlic please see www.coopext.colostate.edu/4DMG/VegFruit/garlic.htm.
 
Q:

   I am planting a late garden this year due to yard repair and landscaping.  What can I plant in July? J. B., Lafayette, 7/11/11

A:
   For information on what to plant in July please see www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk. Click on "Vegetables" and then on "Second Crops."
 
Q:

   I have a teenager interested in starting a vegetable garden in the Denver area. I am unfamiliar with the local climate and when to plant certain veggies outside vs. inside. Is there a book that can guide us through the process that is specific to Colorado's climate?  Thanks, C. K., 4/8/11

A:
   Month-By-Month Gardening in the Rocky Mountains by John Cretti would be a good book to guide you with gardening in Colorado, including planting a vegetable garden.
 
Q:

   When is the right time to plant corn?  R. S., Arvada, 4/6/11

A:    You can plant corn in early May.
 
Q:

   We are trying to make a space for a garden. When and what kind of compost should we get to get the soil ready. We are new at this. Thank you for your help.  M., Loveland, 3/19/11

A:
   You can add compost to the soil now.  For vegetable gardens, use an organic compost.  Spread a 1 to 2 inch layer over the soil and then work it into the soil to a depth of about 6 inches.
 
Q:

   Next spring, I am planting a new vegetable garden in raised beds.  What can I do this fall to prepare?  Thanks!  R. T., Evergreen, 8/15/10

A:
   Use the fall and winter months to do planning for the vegetable garden.  Do some reading on growing vegetables at high elevations.  Research what plants and varieties do best in areas with a short growing season.  Design the layout for the beds.  Before you know, it will be time to plant!
 
Q:

   I was wondering if there is an organic way to get rid of "flea beetles." They are destroying my tomato plants! I keep trying just to find them and smash them, but I was wondering if there are any organic sprays or something you could recommend. This is my first garden in Colorado... these are new! Thank you very much for your help!  A. B., Lyons, 7/1/10

A:
The following is a list of ways to control flea beetles.  You will probably want to use a combination of some of them.  Good luck!
    Yellow sticky traps
     Insecticidal soap
     Companion plantings of onion, garlic and/or mint, which tend to repel them
     Dusting plants with diatomaceous earth
     Vacuum them off
     Use mulch around the plants.
 
Q:

   I tried to grow cucumbers last year, but they would flower and produce tiny cucumbers that then shriveled on the vines.  What causes this and is it preventable? D. E., Littleton; 4/23/10

A:
   From your description, it sounds like you had female flowers with little cucumbers attached.  If the female flowers don't get pollinated the little cucumbers will wither and die.  Encourage bees to pollinate the cucumbers by planting flowers nearby.
 
Q:    When is earliest time to plant a vegetable garden in Denver?  D. O., Denver, 4/11/10
A:
Cold-tolerant plants can be planted in early March or later: onion, garlic, lettuce, peas, radishes
Cool season plants can be planted in April or later: beets, carrots, parsley
Tender vegetables can be planted in mid-April, May or later: corn, cucumbers (seeds), summer squash (seeds)
Hot weather vegetables can be planted after the last frost date in mid-May: peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and summer squash transplants
 
Q:    What plants are good to plant with tomatoes?  What plants are good to keep insects off of tomatoes?  K. K., Mead, 3/21/10
A:    Some good companion plants for tomatoes include basil, borage, and chives.  These may deter some pests.  Some flowers, such as marigolds and nasturtiums, are also an aid in controlling pests.
 
Q:

   I am planting a vegetable garden in the spring.  I understand there are some companion flowers that help protect vegetables.  I can't find any lists like this for higher altitudes?  Does it make a difference?  I am planting broccoli, asparagus, corn, and tomatoes.  Thank you!  K., Black Forest, 1/2/10

A:
   The flowers that are good companions to vegetables are effective at any altitude.  Choose flowers that attract pollinators and beneficial insects as well as ones that repel pests.
 
Q:

   I have a vegetable garden in Ken Caryl. The soil is pretty good and I compost kitchen and garden waste.  I have tons of nice fat earthworms, yet my soil is very heavy . How can I loosen it up?  I have heard adding sand would help. Is this true?  I don't want to make a bad move.  Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!  C. V., Littleton, 10/18/09

A:
   I suggest you purchase compost to add to the soil.  Avoid adding sand.  Unless added in exactly the right amount it can make the soil worse.
 
Q:    Hello, I would like to know when to plant my veggie garden. I will be planting squash, zucchini, jalapenos, cilantro, green beans, tomatoes and bell peppers. I am not sure what time of year is best to plant any of these. Can you please help me?? Thank you, C. R., Arvada, 4/13/09
A:
   The vegetables you listed are tender or very tender and would be harmed or killed by cold temperatures or frost.  Therefore, they are usually planted two weeks or more after the last frost.  In your area the last frost is around Mother's Day.  For more information please see www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/720.pdf.
 
Q:    We have a large leafy weed that grows over our septic leach field. Do you know what it could be and can we get rid of it? We would like to grow a pumpkin patch in this area and would like to know if this is a possibility? We live in Loveland.  S. D., Loveland, 3/30/09
A:
   A general purpose herbicide such as Roundup should kill the weed.  Use it carefully.  Roundup will also kill any other plants it gets on.  Don't spray on a windy day.
   You could grow pumpkins for decorative purposes, but I would advise against eating any vegetables grown in a leach field.  It is possible the soil contains bacteria and viruses from septic effluent.  Wear gloves when working in the area.
 
Q:    I was reading through some of your Q&A on the website and came across a reference to CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.600 "Vegetable Recommendations". After searching their site by fact sheet number I was unable to find it. Is there any chance you folks could forward me a copy of this sheet? Thank you in advance!  M. M., Weston; 2/27/09
A:    Unfortunately, CSU Extension recently removed numerous fact sheets from their website.  I do not have a copy of "Vegetable Recommendations."  There are some other materials that may be helpful.  Please see http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/.  Click on CMG Garden Notes, then on Vegetables.  You will find links to several informative articles.  You will also find helpful articles on vegetables at http://www.planttalk.org/.  Hopefully, the removed articles will be updated and then put back on the website.
 
Q:    We have been doing landscaping projects in our yard all summer, and are just now able to plant our vegetables. Which vegetable do you think would have a chance this late in the game (June 24)? I was thinking tomatoes, peppers, zucchini...anything else?? I would really appreciate any help, as I am very new to this.  R. H., Westminster, 6/24/08
A:
   For information on the best vegetables to plant this late in the growing season please see www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/files/gardennotes/720-Planting.html.  The planting guide indicates typical dates to harvest.  We usually have frost by mid-September.  Frost won't harm most cool season vegetables but will damage or kill warm season vegetables.  Use this information to calculate which vegetables can be planted now.
 
Q:    I just found your website! I'm new to gardening and am interested in starting a vegetable/herb garden. I'm looking for a guide or website that would tell me what vegetables to plant when, and maybe give me options for starting from seed or replanting. I live in Erie and have a great little sunny spot all dug up with amended soil - but all the choices have me at option paralysis!  Thanks.  N., Erie, 6/1/08
A:
   One of the best sources of information on vegetable/herb gardening is the Colorado Master Gardeners' Garden Notes.  Start with "Vegetable Garden Hints" at www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/files/gardennotes/719-VHints.html.  You'll find links to other helpful articles at the bottom of the article.
 
Q:
Good morning, we have some questions about our tomatoes...
I have been getting fruit that is healthy on the top but is brown and rotten-looking on the bottom half.  A man at O'Toole's said it sounds like inconsistent watering practices (we have no bug problem).  How should we water the plants?  We have heard once a week...they will look like they are dying, and we've heard keep them watered/ moist every day...help!  S. S., 5/30/08
A:    The tomatoes probably have blossom end rot.  Cold or hot temperatures during blossom set can be a factor.  (Avoid planting tomatoes too early in spring.)  Uneven watering is a major factor.  Water the tomatoes, then water again when the soil is just slightly moist.  Do not let it dry out completely.  Use mulch to reduce evaporation. 
 
Q:    I live in Olney Springs, CO, and would like to grow a small vegetable garden. I have never grown vegetables so I need A-Z help. I would like to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, eggplant, squash. Any info is appreciated.  D., Olney Springs, 2/16/08
A:
   There are several good websites that provide information on growing vegetables in Colorado:     
www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes.htm  Click on "Vegetables" in the menu.
 http://www.ext.colostate.edu/  Click on "Horticulture" and then on "Fact Sheets."  Click on "Fruits & Vegetables."
 www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/index.html  Click on "Vegetables."
 
Q:    We have been growing flowers and recently vegetables in containers. We have fairly good luck but would like more information. Are there any books or articles that you would recommend on container gardening?  L. A., Broomfield, 10/1 07
A:
   There are lots of good books on container gardening - both flower and vegetable gardening.  We offer Jack Kramer's Earthly Delights: Tubs of Tomatoes and Buckets of Beans on our website.  Crops in Pots by Bob Purnell is a recently published book that features nice color photos and "recipes" for planting vegetable containers.  P. Allen Smith's Container Gardens: 60 Container Recipes to Accent Your Garden takes a similar approach with flowers in containers.
 
Q:    We live in Colorado Springs, CO, at about an altitude of 7500'.  It is starting to cool off now at night (50 -55 degrees) and our container tomato plants still have tons of green tomatoes on them.  We have brought the container inside (so they won't be destroyed by hail) and set it in a sunny window that only gets sun about 3 hours a day.  Will the tomatoes green up yet this year under these circumstances or should we be content with "fried green tomatoes?" J. P., Colorado Springs, 8/25/07
A:    For information on ripening tomatoes indoors please see www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1831.html
 
Q:    I have an eggplant growing in a container that is growing really well on my deck.  It gets full sun all day and is doing great.  The only problem is, the blossoms are opening up, staying for a couple of days and falling off.  What can I do to stop this from happening so I can get some eggplant.  Thank you,  N. H., Elko, NV; 7/8/07
A:
   Blossom drop on eggplants is often caused by weather conditions.  For example, if daytime temperatures are in the 90's or night temperatures are above 70 degrees, you are likely to have blossom drop.  Try to find a cooler location for the plant.
 
Q:    We're planning a garden here in Loveland and I was wondering if you could recommend some cultivars of asparagus. I have started from both crown and seeds before, but I'm not sure what will grow best here.
Thanks, C. B., Loveland, 12/18/06
A:
    Because direct seeding is often accompanied by severe weed control problems, planting year-old asparagus crowns is recommended.  Some popular cultivars include Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, Jersey Prince, Greenwich, Mary Washington and Martha Washington.
 
Q:    Overall our tomato plants look great!  However we are seeing yellow and wilting leaves toward the bottoms of the plants.  Are these plants getting too much water or not enough fertilizer?  We are watering only once in 5 days and our soil is very rocky and does contain some sand.  Thank you for your help.  B. 7/1/06
A:
    Yellowing of lower leaves can be a sign that tomato plants need more fertilizer.  It is important to fertilize them right away.
 
Q:    I'm going to be moving to a place near the Denver area called Lakewood.  I was wondering what types of vegetables will grown in a garden in that area.  I'm moving from Virginia with hot humid summers.  Can you tell me if you can grow tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, yellow squash, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, or green onions in that area?  Are there any herbs that will grow out there?  Thank you for any help you can give me.  B. B., 2/7/06
A:    All the vegetables that you named in your email grow in Lakewood, Colorado.  Commonly grown herbs also grow there.  Lakewood is not located in the mountains and is well suited to gardening.
 
Q:    I am growing tomatoes in containers.   Early blossoms set fruit, but now the new blossoms are falling off ( the little flowers turn yellow, then brown and fall off).  V. M., Vancouver, WA; 7/17/05
A:     Blossom drop, a common tomato problem, has several possible causes.  Too much nitrogen fertilizer, dry conditions and temperature extremes are frequent ones.  Tomatoes prefer night temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees and daytime temperatures below 90 degrees.  The blossoms don't set fruit because they aren't pollinated.  Water the plants deeply and use mulch to limit evaporation.
 
Q:     Do you have any suggestions on the material and height of a protective shelter for a vegetable garden approximately 18 ft by 24 ft?  I normally plant tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans and zucchini. Last summer we received a large hail storm in early August. This year we already received a small hail storm. S. K., 6/18/05
A:     Barbara Hyde, author of Gardening in the Mountain West, suggests placing Number 9 wire or plastic irrigation pipe as a half circle over vegetable rows.  Use several hoops per row.  Cover this frame with nylon or wire poultry netting.  Much of the hail will be sliced into smaller pieces or bounce off, causing less damage.  As an added benefit you can use the frame to support floating row covers in spring and fall for frost protection.  The hoops should be high enough to prevent plants from touching the wire or row cover.
 
Q:    I am looking for a listing of companion plants - specifically for my vegetable garden and flower beds - any plants that work together for mutual benefit, insect control, nitrogen fixing, etc. Is there more info available?  K. H., Hudson, 6/6/05
A:   For information and lists of companion plants please see http://paipm.cas.psu.edu/pdf/POP/complants.pdf.  Also please see http://member.melbpc.org.au/~slees/companionrotationtable.htm.  Books on organic gardening often include information on companion plants.
 
Q:   I live in Highlands Ranch and have sandy soil.  I want to amend the soil to grow tomatoes.  What are the proper amendments to successfully grow tomatoes and how is it applied to the soil?  T. S., Highlands Ranch, 5/11/05
A:     Spread a one inch layer of compost over the soil and work it in about seven to twelve inches deep.  (Due to problems with e-coli bacteria, cow manure is no longer recommended for use in vegetable gardens.)  You may also want to mix in a slow release granular fertilizer for tomatoes.  After planting the tomatoes be sure to spread a layer of mulch over the soil.  Straw, grass clippings from grass that doesn't have weed killers used on it, or bark chips are some possible choices.  The mulch helps to protect the tomatoes from disease.  Keep the soil evenly moist. 
 
Q:   When is the best time in Colorado to plant vegetables? R. M., Denver, 4/23/05
A:    Because some vegetables don't tolerate cold temperatures and others don't tolerate summer heat, they are planted at different times based on this trait.  Cool season vegetables can be planted about 4 weeks before the average last frost date.  In Denver you can plant them in mid-April.  Cool season vegetables include peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, onions, broccoli, cabbage and turnips.  In early May you can plant beets, carrots and corn.  Wait until late May to plant tomato and pepper transplants, beans, squash, cucumbers and melons.
 
Q:    Hi- We haven't had much luck with tomatoes in the past so we planted our garden with mums.  They do well and look great - however I want tomatoes and I'm thinking that pots on the deck might do better.   Is it too late to start seeds?   If so, what kind of plants do best in pots, etc.?   I'd like to grow  medium size round tomatoes.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks, F., Castle Rock, 4//8/05
A:    Tomatoes can be started indoors from seed in April.  (Many seed packets suggest starting them indoors six to eight weeks before transplanting them outdoors.)  Most types of tomatoes can be grown in containers.  For tips on growing them in containers please see the fact sheet "Growing Cucumbers, Peppers, Squash and Tomatoes in Containers" at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1645.html.
 
Q:  We've lived in Colorado 4 years and still have difficulty with tomatoes.  Which varieties grow and mature well here??  K. N., Aurora, 3/16/05
 
A:    For tips on growing tomatoes please visit http://www.coloradogardening.com/ and click on Garden Articles in the menu.  Click on "Growing Tasty Tomatoes."  You will find some varieties that do well in Colorado listed in the article.  Additional varieties that do well here include Better Boy, Big Boy, Fantastic and Sungold (a cherry tomato).
 
Q:    What plants (vegetables and flowers) grow best in Bailey, Colorado?  C. H., Bailey, 3/7/05
 
A:
   With an elevation over 9500 feet, vegetable choices are somewhat limited.  Vegetables that prefer cool weather are best, such as peas, carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach and green onions.
    There are a number of flowers that grow at high elevations.  For growing tips and a list of these please see http://www.ext.colostate.edu/.  Click on "Horticulture."  Click on "Fact Sheets."  Click on "Flowers."  Click on # 7.406 "Flowers for Mountain Communities."
    You might consider using flowering shrubs in your yard.  Some hardy shrubs for high elevations include Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Persian Lilac (Syringa persica), Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens) and Jamesia (Jamesia americana).
 
Q:    I just moved into a house that has a vegetable garden already growing.  There is leaf lettuce, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and pumpkins.  My question is when as I supposed to harvest these vegetables?  The tomatoes and the pumpkins I know about but I'm totally unsure as to what to do with the zucchini.  Some of the plants look pretty sickly.  There are a few zucchinis still growing and the plant is still producing flowers.  When should I just remove all of it and let the pumpkins have the entire garden until harvest for them?  P. T., Greeley, 9/14/04
A:
   Here are a few notes regarding harvesting the vegetables in your garden:
Leaf lettuce:  You can harvest the entire plant all at once or you can snap off just the outer lettuce leaves as you need them, allowing the plant to continue producing new leaves a bit longer.  You should harvest the entire plant prior to the first hard frost.
Onions:  Onions are ready to harvest when you can see the onion poking up above the surface slightly and the tops begin to topple over.
Carrots:  Do a taste test of a sample carrot.  If it is bitter, wait a bit longer before harvesting the carrots. If sweet, they are ready to pull up.
Zucchini:  Harvest zucchini when it is about five inches long.  You can let the plants continue to grow and produce until a hard frost kills them.

Q:    What causes the rot on the bottom of the tomatoes?  K. W., Salt Lake City, UT; 7/30/04
A:    Rot on the bottom of tomatoes is known as blossom end rot.  Excessive heat or cold during blossom set combined with fluctuations in the amount of water the plants receive can cause this condition.  Keep plants evenly moist (mulch will help) and fertilize them regularly.  Avoid planting tomatoes too early when cold weather may occur.  Walls-o-Water may be helpful when planting in spring.

Q:    What is the recommended material for walls of a raised bed garden?  K. L., Lyons, 2/15/04
A:   Wood, such as redwood or cedar, is commonly used for raised beds.  Rock or cinder blocks are also used.  If you are planting herbs, fruits or vegetables in the beds, do not use railroad ties or CCA pressure treated lumber, as these can leach toxic chemicals into the soil.

Q:    What makes my tomatoes get dark spots on the bottom of the plant?  D. W., Milford, KS; 5/5/03
A:    The dark spots on the bottom of the tomato plants are an indication of blossom end rot.  It occurs due to a combination of temperature and water conditions: cold or hot temperatures during blossom set combined with inconsistent amounts of water.  This combination results in calcium becoming unavailable to the plant.  You can prevent blossom end rot by not planting tomatoes too early in the season.  Also, you need to keep the soil consistently moist.  A layer of mulch can help maintain moisture.

Q:   Our zucchini plants are large and healthy looking.  There are lots of blossoms and they last about 3 or 4 days and then dry up and fall off.  We aren't getting any squash.  Any suggestions?  J. B., Lakewood, 7/24/02
A:   Your zucchini plants may be producing male flowers at this time.  After several male flowers are produced the female flowers will appear.  Another possible problem is that the fruits won't set if there is insufficient pollination by bees and other insects.  Keep the plants well watered and don't apply high nitrogen fertilizers.  Too much nitrogen results in lots of leaves but little fruit production. 

Q:   Hi!  I live in Longmont Co.  This is the first time I have tried to grow ichiban eggplant plants and some Okra plants. I water my plants regularly and aerate the soil in the raised bed on a weekly basis. I have noticed that something is eating my veggie plant leaves and wish to get rid of the insect/disease causing this. Can you suggest any harmless/organic pesticides and fungicides. Also, I noticed that there are some tiny green things on the bottom side of the leaves. Are these bugs eating up my plants? How do I get rid of them? Please advise.  A. B., Longmont, 7/9/02 
A:   The first step to take to get rid of the bugs is to try washing them off with a jet of water from the hose.  If that doesn't get rid of them sufficiently you may want to spray the plants with an insecticidal soap labeled for use on vegetables.  More toxic insecticides are also available for use on vegetables.  Unless the bugs are doing a lot of damage you probably should avoid using them.  Be sure to read and follow directions carefully using only a product that is labeled for use on vegetables.  From what you have told me, I don't believe you have a fungus problem and use of a fungicide isn't necessary. 

Q:   Good morning.  I would like to plant a garden with vegetables... tomatoes, broccoli, corn, onions and whatever else might grow here... Is it too late in the season to start?... It has been very hot and although I live in the city, I have a perfect place in my backyard for a great garden... Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks.  S. L., Lakewood, 7/9/02
A:   While July is too late to plant many vegetables, there are some vegetables that can be planted in the summer and harvested in fall.  These include beets, bush beans, celery, lettuce, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

Q:   I am having trouble growing my green beans.  Can you tell me what kind of soil they grow best in?  Should I incorporate lime in the soil?  I'm using steer manure for fertilizer, but the green beans seem pale and have strange markings on the leaves. Thx for any tips you can provide.  A. L., Denver, 6/19/02
A:   Beans prefer soils that are rich in organic matter, such as compost.  They require well drained soil.  They do not like soils with a high salt content.  Most of the soil in Colorado is alkaline; therefore, do not add lime. (Adding lime is a common practice when you have highly acidic soils.)
  Using steer manure in vegetable gardens is no longer recommended.  Disease pathogens such as E. coli may be present, creating a potential health hazard.  In addition, steer manure tends to be high in salt - and beans are sensitive to high salt levels in the soil.
  Be sure the beans are receiving plenty of water.  Dropping blossoms, color changes and production of pollywog-shaped beans are signs of insufficient water.
  The strange markings on the leaves are a concern because they may indicate the presence of a disease, especially if beans were planted previously in the same spot.  It is important to rotate crops over a three year period to prevent bean diseases.

Q:    This year I got my spinach and peas in early. Do I need to cover these plants in cold weather? How cold is too cold for them? What is a "killing frost"? R. M., Denver, 4/19/02
A:    Spinach and peas are "cool-season" vegetables that prefer cool temperatures and can tolerate a light to moderate frost.  You don't need to cover them until the temperatures fall below 30 degrees F. or possibly lower.  A frost that is so severe or untimely that it kills plants instead of just damaging them is called a "killing frost."  Killing frosts tend to occur in late spring or early fall when plant tissues are unable to cope with sudden cold temperatures

Q:    I covered my garden area last fall with straw.  Should I till it into the soil or remove it before I till?  N. R., Longmont, 3/26/02
A:    Preferably, you should remove the straw, compost it, and then incorporate it into the soil.  If that will be a problem, then you can just till it into the soil.  As the straw  decomposes it will deplete a portion of the nitrogen in the soil; therefore, you may need to apply additional nitrogen fertilizer to the garden.

Q:   Hello.  I just wanted to ask about soil for tomato plants. We live in Kansas and our cherry tomatoes grow really good and taste good but our bigger tomatoes turn to crap before they get ripe. They split and turn black before we can pick them,  Can you tell me what I need to do to get our regular size tomatoes to grow?  This has happened to us for 2 years now.  L. B., Towanda, KS; 3/5/02
A:    The problems you have described are more likely due to watering than to soil.  Splitting is often caused by alternating wet and dry conditions.  It can also be caused by too much nitrogen fertilizer. 
   If the tomatoes turn black on the bottom, opposite to where they are attached to the stem, they probably have blossom-end rot.  This condition can also be caused by cycles of wet and dry soil; that is, soaking it, letting it dry out completely, soaking it, etc.  This practice prevents the plant from absorbing calcium from the soil properly.  Overly cold or hot weather during blossom set can also cause it.  Other possible factors include high soil salt content or heavy soil.
   To prevent this problem you should amend the soil with compost.  Do not use manure because it has a high salt content and may contain harmful bacteria.  Place a 3 - 5 inch layer of mulch over the bed to help retain moisture.  Keep the soil evenly moist -- but not soggy, and do not let it dry out completely.  Use a fertilizer recommended for tomatoes, avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers.  Unfortunately, you can't control fluctuations in the weather that may be a factor.  If you follow these guidelines but continue to have problems you may want to do a soil sample test.

Q:   I am moving to Colorado Springs and am interested in knowing the growing season for fruits and vegetables and if you have a lot of fresh local produce year round.  We live in California now and eat only fresh fruits and vegetables.  Thank you.  S. B., Salida, CA, 2/9/02
A:   Fresh produce, including produce from organic growers, is readily available year round at supermarkets.  However, produce is not locally grown during winter because the ground freezes and temperatures are too cold.  Beginning in spring (April and May), vegetables are planted in succession depending on their tolerance to cold and frost.  Locally grown produce is ample during late spring through fall at farmer's markets, roadside stands, and supermarkets.  If you plan to grow fruits and vegetables, I suggest that you contact CSU Cooperative Extension and request that they send you copies of their free fact sheets on growing fruits and vegetables in Colorado.  Several fact sheets are available on this topic and they are highly informative.  You can also access them on the CSU website.  Another good source for information is Planttalk Colorado.  Please see my website www.coloradogardening.com and look in the menu for "Resources" to get more information about these sites and services.  You can contact the Cooperative Extension office for the Colorado Springs area by mail at 305 South Union Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80910-3123; by phone: 719-636-8920, and by E-mail: elpaso@coop.ext.colostate.edu.

Q:    I would like to grow pumpkins next year from the seeds of the pumpkins that I purchased this year. What are the growing conditions, sun, time of year to plant, water, soil etc.?
   I have never grown pumpkins before. I have great success with flowers, but I am very unsuccessful with veggies.  J. C., Aurora, 10/21/01
A:    Pumpkin seeds should be planted about a week after the average last spring frost date -- mid or late May in your area.  You may start seedlings indoors. However, pumpkins do not like to have their roots disturbed, so plant the seeds in compressed peat moss pots that are then planted, pot and all, in the ground.  If you prefer, you can plant seeds directly in the ground.  Choose a sunny location.  Before planting, add fertilizer and work it into the top four inches of the soil.  One pound of Nitrogen and two pounds of triple superphosphate per 1000 square feet are suggested.  To provide good drainage, build up a little hill, or mound, of soil for planting the seeds or transplants. Plants will need about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week during the summer.
   I recommend that you call your county CSU Cooperative Extension office and request a free copy of Fact sheet # 7.609 on growing pumpkins.  You might also wish to listen to the Planttalk Colorado message # 1807.  Call 1-888-666-3063 and follow the prompts.

Q:    I am growing pumpkins this year. I have had a lot of male flowers already that have bloomed and fallen off. There is only one green pumpkin developing on this whole vine! Since it is still blooming, but seemingly only with the male flowers, can I expect a poor showing off this vine? Or is this one pumpkin just an "early bird" with more to come?  Hope you can help.  J. P., Denver, 8/18/01
A:    I'm sorry I haven't found any information on how to encourage the growth of more pumpkins on vines with seemingly only male flowers.  It is common for pumpkin plants to produce several male flowers before producing female flowers and setting fruit.   If only one pumpkin is produced I would question the quality of the vine. Hopefully that one pumpkin will be a real winner in size!

Q:   What time of year do I need to harvest my sage?   Is it in a certain moon?  I have heard that before from some older person, but they have since died.  Please advise if you have any information on this.  L. B., 8/16/01
A:    You can pick sage leaves anytime when using them fresh.  Sage leaves can be harvested for drying two or three times a year.  In late spring and mid-summer cut off 6" - 8" sprigs (up to one third of the plant) just as flower blossoms begin to appear. Many herbs have their best flavor immediately prior to flowering.  Harvest herbs mid-morning after any dew has dried and before the sun's heat affects oils in the leaves.  For winter protection of the plants, avoid harvesting sage after early fall.

Q:   My son is growing pumpkins for the second year.  Last year we only had about 4 pumpkins from a large pumpkin patch.  So far we only have one growing this year.  Is there something we should do to encourage more pumpkins?  And how do we protect them from squirrels?  R. M., Thornton, 7/30/01
A:   A number of factors will affect production of pumpkins including weather, improper fertilization and  watering practices and lack of pollinators.  Be sure to select a variety of pumpkins recommended for Colorado.  For detailed information on these topics please contact your county CSU Cooperative Extension office (the phone numbers are listed under Resources on my website) and request factsheet # 7.609.  Also, call Planttalk Colorado at 1-888-666-3063 and enter the topic numbers 1807 "Growing Great Pumpkins" and 1801 "Baby Pumpkins."
  To  protect the pumpkins from squirrels you might try building a cover for the patch using chicken wire.  Better luck next year.

Q:    I am trying to find information about a plant that, I was told, is called a "Jewish Artichoke".  I have looked at several plant encyclopedias to no avail.  The root part of this plant looks like a white skin potato, somewhat bulbous and elongated.  Depending on the maturity of the plant the size can range from about 2" in diameter to a baseball size.  I have also been told this is an edible plant.  Any assistance on this matter would be greatly appreciated.  R. A., Lakewood, 5/28/01
A:    I have never heard of "Jewish Artichoke."  However, I have heard of Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).  The plant grows 6 - 7 feet tall and has yellow flowers.  The tubers, which match your description, are edible and are sometimes called sunchokes.  The plant might be able to grow in some parts of Colorado.

Q:    I want to rototill some compost into my vegetable garden.  I have clay soil mixed with garden fill that I had brought in last year.  Is there any special compost mix that I should use?  When is a good time to rototill?  M. C., 4/9/01
A:    You can rototill as soon as the soil is no longer frozen.  There is no special compost mix that you should use, but do add compost to the soil to improve the texture of the soil.  Compost containing manure should not be use for a vegetable garden because E-coli or other harmful bacteria may be present.

Q:    I am wondering how do I grow tomatoes in a large outdoor pot.  I have tried for the past 3 years and they keep burning up.  I only need two plants, one cherry and one regular.  I have them planted in 5 gal. decorative planters.  How often should I water them?  How often should I put fertilizer on them and what kind?  D. L., Greeley, 10/1/00 
A:    There are a number of things that could cause tomatoes to burn up: too little water, too much fertilizer, too much reflected heat off hot walls and/or the patio, etc.
   Plants grown in containers need frequent watering -- usually daily on hot summer days with our low humidity. Tomatoes like water, and the soil must be kept moist. Therefore, you should check on them daily.
   Use a water-soluble fertilizer made for vegetables or tomatoes such as Miracle Gro. Read and follow the label directions that explain how to mix the solution of fertilizer and water for use in containers. Too much fertilizer results in fewer tomatoes and can cause fertilizer burn of foliage. Don't fertilize the plants when the soil is dry or the temperature is over 85° F.
   Your containers may need to be relocated. For example, if they are on the south or west side of the house and get reflected heat off hot walls, move them out away from the walls.
   'Sweet 100' is a good cherry tomato for containers. Some good slicing varieties include 'Big Beef' and 'Celebrity.'
   Better luck next summer with your tomatoes. 

Q:     I recently moved to Parker and was told our covenant does not allow us to have a vegetable garden.  Could you please send me some information on growing vegetables in containers.  That, they will allow.  Thank you.   From J. S., Parker, 5/5/00 
A:
     While your covenants seem quite restrictive, let's look on the bright side: growing vegetables in containers offers several advantages.  These include less bending over to tend plants, no problems from pests and diseases that live in the soil, no back-breaking digging and rototilling, little weeding, etc.  Vegetables can be grown successfully in containers when a few basic principles are followed:

1) Select large (minimum 12 inch diameter and 15 inch depth) containers that have drain holes.  Oak half-barrels, wooden planter boxes and large plastic pots work well.  Avoid clay pots--they dry out too fast.  Insert trellises and stakes for plants that like to climb.
2) Select sites for the containers that provide the proper amount of sunlight for the plants being grown.  Most plants need at least six hours of sun a day.
3) Fill the containers with potting soil, not dirt from your yard.  The potting mix should include compost, peat moss and perlite or vermiculite.
4). Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil.  Additional fertilization with a liquid fertilizer may be necessay as the plants are growing.
5) When purchasing plants or seeds, select varieties that are described as compact or dwarf.
6) Water pots when the top inch or two of soil feels dry.  In hot weather this is daily or even twice a day.
 
    Here is some information on varieties of vegetables that grow well in Colorado and also do well in containers.  Another thought, will your covenants allow you to construct raised beds?  They are highly recommended for growing vegetables in Colorado due to our heavy clay soil.
 
BEANS   BEETS CABBAGE CARROTS
   Jade    Pacemaker     Dynamo    Thumbelina 
   Royal Burgundy    Action     Golden Acre    Chantenay
   Derby    Golden      Danvers Half-long
      Pablo       Nantes Coreless
      Little Ball     
       
CAULIFLOWER COLLARDS CUCUMBERS EGGPLANT 
   Snow Crown     Vates     Burpless Bush     Dusky
       Fanfare     Easter Egg
       
 KALE LETTUCE ONIONS  PEAS
   Showbor    Rouge Salad Bowl     White Sweet Spanish    Oregon Sugar Pod
     Winter Density    Yellow Sweet Spanish     Maestro 
     Slobolt        Sugar Ann 
     Black-seeded Simpson       Progress # 9
       
PEPPERS  PUMPKINS RADISHES SPINACH
    Northstar     Jack Be Little     French Breakfast     Bloomsdale
    Jingle Bells        Cherry Belle  
       
SQUASH SWISS CHARD TOMATOES  TURNIPS
    Pasta      Fordhook Giant      Sungold   Purple Top White Globe
   Sundrop     Rhubarb      Big Beef  
   Cream of the Crop        Celebrity  
       
ZUCCHINI      
  Gold Rush      
 
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