Tips for Grewbies – HOT SUMMER Edition by LaManda Joy

When we were in planting mode a few months back, I did at least a dozen Grewbie 101 classes across all the gardens. My colleagues did a lot, as well. I can’t speak for them, but I’d like to remind you of how I closed each class:

You will make mistakes – some things won’t grow.

With this scorching summer, those words are super important. It has been a hard year for all gardeners, and I know some of the Grewbies are forgetting class and taking it personally. Don’t. In the big scheme of things, our gardens look amazing and healthy. Yes, we’ve had issues – some across all gardens, some specific to one or the other. But things are growing, harvests are happening and, most importantly, friendships are being made.

Here are a few tips based on some observations at all of our gardens. I’m sharing my thoughts based on observations from my own home garden, The Yarden, and not as a Master Gardener. Some of these thoughts are research based (as is required by Master Gardener training), but some are from the gut. I hope they help.

Tomato Panic

Yes, top of the list! 90% of all Americans claim the tomato as their favorite vegetable (even though it is technically a fruit), so it is no surprise that our gardens are tomato heavy.

We’ve seen a few issues:

Blossom-end rot

This appears as a squishy, nasty brown blotch on the bottom of the tomato. It often happens with paste tomatoes (usually determinate) and is caused by a lack of calcium and/or inconsistent watering. Generally it goes away after the first few tomatoes start to ripen. Read more about blossom-end rot.

Lush plants – no fruit

We’re experiencing this in The Yarden this year. About a third of our 50 plants (yes, you read that right) are lush, green and healthy with lots of blossoms but no fruit. I have never experienced this before but believe it could be because the weather was too hot when the plants were pollinating. My prediction is that we’re going to have a late tomato harvest, and when it cools down a bit, the new growth will produce tomatoes. At least that’s what I hope. I didn’t get my tomatoes planted til mid-June (because I was busy teaching those Grewbie classes!), so they might be more delayed than what you’re seeing in your own garden, depending on when you planted.

Curling Leaves

Curled tomato leavesThis is a sign of heat stress. If the leaves aren’t browning at the tip or falling off, it shouldn’t be an issue. If you want to get geeky about leaf curl, read more about it here.

Yellowing or browning leaves at the base of the plant

Yellow tomato leavesAs plants grow, bottom leaves sometimes brown and die off (this is particularly true with cucumbers, squash and melon, too). Bulls-eye shaped brown splotches, in conjunction with browning leaves, indicates fungal disease, but with such hot weather, this type of disease hasn’t made an appearance in the gardens (yet). Yellow leaves could mean too much water. If yellow or brown leaves bother you, cut them off with a sharp pair of scissors, and throw them away. Here’s a post about good watering practices.

Cracking, scarred or ugly tomatoes

Cracked tomatoUgly but tasty tomatoCracking is caused when ripe fruit gets watered too much, too quickly – like after a few days of rain. The tomatoes are still edible if the crack hasn’t gotten nasty with mold. You can always cut that part away.

Scarred or ugly tomatoes come with the heirloom tomato territory. It is the taste that matters.  Don’t let an ugly tomato scare you just because of the uniform, tasteless globes you see at the grocery store. Flavor is what matters!

Learn more about general tomato issues.

Oh, Beans!

What a weird year for beans. All of my beans – both bush and pole – took their own sweet time getting started, probably because of the heat. The bush beans are smallish (but producing) and the poles are just taking off.

Orangey/brown spotted leaves

Leaf showing signs of bean rustWe’ve noticed some “rust” in the garden: spotty leaves with orange or brown spots and kind of puckery. If you’ve seen no visible growth and also see the orange/brown spots, pull your beans and dispose of them. Don’t plant beans in that area this year. AFTER you’ve pulled your beans, don’t touch other plants until you can wash your hands – disease spreads. Learn more about bean rust.

Cucumbers, Melons and Squash

Squash vine borer 

We’ve been talking a lot about this on the Peterson Garden Project Facebook page. The squash vine borers (SVB) are very active this year, and those grubs hanging out inside the plants are FAT. If you haven’t been keeping up on the Facebook page, SVB can take down a healthy plant in a matter of days. Look for the “polenta-like mass,” and learn more about SVB here.  Prepare yourself to say, “ewwwww”.

Squash bugs & friends

  • Point #1: In an organic garden – unless you are overrun with an insect – the best method for insect removal is by hand, if possible.  Also known as “squishing” (very technical).
  • Point #2: Bugs are not the end of the world. They are part of the natural system of things. Please don’t be a bug hypochondriac – it takes the joy out of the fun of gardening. Focus on the positive things!

Learn more about how to identify garden pests.

Lots of blossoms – no fruit

Same issue with tomatoes– the heat. Keep the faith! If your plants are healthy, chances are, we can get some cucumbers and summer squash, at least once it cools down. For melons, it is hard to tell if they’ll set fruit and grow in time before the average first frost (October 15) – it really depends on the type and size of the melon you planted. If you’re hoping for a 20# whopper and don’t have fruit yet, you’re probably out of luck. If you planted a small cantaloupe or an icebox melon there might be hope. With the weather the way it is, who knows. Once melons set fruit, they can grow really fast, so hang in there if the plants look good.

Bottom of fruit getting rotten

Make sure the cucumber/melon/squash isn’t sitting in a puddle or on damp leaves after you water. Elevate it on something that will provide circulation.

Harvest Hints

It’s exciting to get your first crop, isn’t it?! Here’s a few harvest tips for optimal flavor.

Eggplant, cukes and summer squash

Shiny eggplant

Shiny = Yum!

Harvest these when they are shiny. Once they start to get more dull colored, flavor is declining, and they are starting to produce seeds. Don’t panic if you pick something that isn’t shiny! It will still be better than what you can get at the grocery store, but shiny and on the young side is always best.


Tomatoes ripen from the inside out, so one day you might have green tomatoes, and a day later they might be almost ready to pick. Gently squeeze the tomato – it should have a little “give” to it. Really ripe fruit will fall off in your hand.

But what about those…

Green zebra tomatoes: Green Zebras are tricksters! Since they “ripen green,” it is hard to tell when they’re  ready. First of all, at least in my garden, they ripen later than most other tomatoes, and we don’t expect them until late in the season. You can squeeze to feel for some give, but they also turn somewhat golden on the top (also known as the “shoulders”).

Black/purple tomatoes: These tomatoes are also somewhat tricky. They’re not really black or purple and sometimes have greenish “shoulders.” Same rules apply: give it a gentle squeeze, and if it falls off in your hand, it is ripe, even if the shoulders still look dark greenish.

Look at those pretty flowers on my basil! UH OH!

Bolted basilOnce basil and other herbs start to flower, the flavor changes. The flower signals they are starting to go to “seed” which is the goal of their existence (reproduction!), but not the goal of our dinner plans! Pinch off flowers (or use scissors). Get in the habit of pinching off every time you’re in the garden, and your herbs will stay pleasant tasting all summer. Mint is an exception; the flavor doesn’t change that much with the flowers, and the bees love them!

Learn more harvest tips.

The Good News…


I will remember this summer as the “summer of eggplant.” Originally from India, eggplant loves the heat and is producing like crazy.


This is the one legume that seems to be thriving across all the gardens. There isn’t a ton of it being grown, but what I’ve seen looks happy!

The Bad News…

This is a weed!If you’re waiting for a harvest from this guy, you’re going to be waiting a long time. It is a weed. YES, a weed. Pull it soon, or it will go to seed, and you’ll have to contend with it all next season. It is lush and lovely, probably because you’ve been watering it thinking it was something else (in this photo, the gardener had even added support to help it remain upright!). Say goodbye, and pull it.

Those are my thoughts today. Keep us posted via the Facebook page if you notice anything weird happening (photos really help) and we’ll answer your question as quickly as possible. Hopefully the Master Gardener nights are also helping.

And, one last reminder:

BE NICE TO YOURSELF! You’re learning under wretched weather conditions… and you’re doing a great job!