Subscribe for 33¢ / day

It’s funny how cucumber water can taste so much better than pickle juice even though they come from the same source.” — Ellen DeGeneres

Most people who grow tomatoes know that if you prune off all suckers and just keep the main stem, you will get more tomatoes and better air circulation. The plants dry sooner after a rain and this helps to prevent diseases.

Cucumbers should be pruned the same way. Keep one main stem and prune off the suckers. This produces more fruit and also prevents diseases.

Tomatoes are determinate (D) or indeterminate (I) which means that “D” tomatoes grow to a certain height, produce fruit and then die. “I” tomatoes keep growing until frost and these are the ones you should cut off the sucker and stake.

Cucumbers are also determinate and indeterminate. There are monoecious and gynoecious varieties. Monoecious cucumbers only produce 20 percent female flowers while gynoecious cucumbers produce 80 percent female flowers. So if you make pickles or just love cukes and have a small garden, plan the gynoecious type. These cucumbers are super sweet with very few seeds. They are hybrids and some varieities you might try are Titus F1, Masha F1 and Podmoskovnyye F1. You may not find these in catalogs but can go online to order them for next year.

To double pepper production without pruning, try some of these tips: lots of organic materials, Epsom salts and, most importantly, worm castings. Since bell pepper plants don’t produce many peppers, they are my least favorite pepper except for stuffing. I prefer the long banana-type peppers. There are many types of these peppers but only a few are carried by nurseries. So you will need to start the plants from seed indoors in April. Paprika and Hungarian wax are both sweet and hot, and are excellent choices. Poblanos are only slightly hot and these three varieties are commonly found in nurseries.

Keep your potted plants watered every day. Water tomatoes only if they need it. Tomatoes that get too much water are prone to diseases and the fruits will split. Don’t mow lawns lower than 2½ to 3 inches. In hot dry weather, the longer the grass blades the more shade to the roots.

Now is the time to cut back spring strawberry plants and dispose of the leaves. Then pin the runners to the ground where you want them to grow next year. Keep all annuals deadheaded since annuals that produce seeds tend to die out fast. If they start getting leggy, cut the whole plant back to about 3-4 inches and they will rejuvenate themselves in a week or so. Keep after the weeds as new ones crop up every day.

Elderberries are blooming now and they are beautiful. The flowers are called elder blow. They are sweet-scented and when young are edible. They can be added raw to salads, and to deserts and baked goods such as muffins or pancakes. Simply pull or shake the flower heads or buds and combine with equal amounts of flour to give a light, delicate flavor. This “flour” may be kept for winter by rapidly drying the flowers and storing them in air-tight containers. They can also be used to sweeten beverages. Never eat the roots, bark or leaves as they are considered toxic; only the flowers and berries are edible.

A new Master Gardener class will be held this fall. The cost for program that includes classes weekly for 12 weeks is $175 with a $25 rebate after completing the certification process. This class is for gardeners and anyone who would like to be a better gardener, or open to someone very new to gardening. Registration deadline for the class is Aug. 1. Classes will be held on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon from Aug. 25 through Nov. 17 in Baraboo. For an application, call 608-355-3250.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at pboth@charter.net or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.