Question and Answer
Q. For the last 5 years or so my zucchinis have failed to set fruit.
They blossom prolifically, but show no sign of fruiting. I have tried
different varieties, different environments (even planted one-half mile
away) with the same result. No one seems to have heard of this problem.
I have tried insecticides, no insecticides, lots of water, little water
but still no results. I used to always have a huge crop. -- Bill Michaels,
Adams County, Ind.
A. If this occurs early in the season, the most likely reason is that
the plant's female flowers have not yet begun to open. Zucchini produce
separate male and female flowers. They both have to be open for pollination
to take place. Generally, male flowers open first followed by female flowers.
Lack of proper pollination in the summer due to cold, rainy weather or
a lack of insects for proper pollination can also result in a lack of
fruit set. You might try hand pollinating by transferring pollen from
the male flowers to female flowers with an artist's paintbrush. Be careful
with insecticides. Some are quite deadly to bees, which are the major
pollinators of zucchini.
Q. I have 3- to 4-foot Brussels sprout plants that have only leafy little
heads, instead of solid ones like you see in the store. Do you need to
take off some of the large growing leaves late in the season? I have about
50 cauliflower plants and only one halfway made a head. Might the same
apply to them? -- Ozzie Luetkemeier, West Lafayette, Ind.
A. If the sprouts develop in hot weather as summer warms up, or from
a fall seeding if the fall is warm, they may form loose, leafy heads.
Use transplants for early plantings and maintain ample soil moisture.
You also can cut off the top growing point when the plant reaches 24 to
36 inches in height. This redirects the plant's energy from leaf production
to sprout production.
Evaluate the variety you're growing. Newer varieties mature faster and
will provide a more dependable yield. 'Bubbles,' 'Oliver' and 'Royal Marvel'
mature in less than 90 days.
Sow Brussels sprout seed 4 to 5 weeks before transplanting. Set your
transplants in the garden in early summer to midsummer, at least 90 days
before first frost for a fall crop. For summer harvest, you must plant
transplants of an early, heat-resistant variety in very early spring.
A fall crop is most likely to give you a satisfactory outcome.
Cauliflower is considered to be a cool-season vegetable. High temperatures
can cause small leaves to form in the head, unsatisfactory texture or
a lack of head formation. The optimum temperature for curd development
is about 63 F but will be satisfactory until temperatures reach the upper
60s to mid-70s, depending on the cultivar.
It is important to plant cauliflower early in the spring to allow the
plants to mature while temperatures are still cool. Using transplants,
rather than starting from seed, will give you a considerable head start
on the growing season. When choosing transplants, look for relatively
small plants because large plants with very thick stems tend to produce
buttons or very small curds.
On the other hand, planting too early can be risky. Freezing temperatures
can cause "blindness," which is the lack of head development.
If late freezes are predicted, cover plants with newspaper tents, hot
caps, blankets or insulating mulch overnight.
For more information, contact the Purdue Extension office in your county
and request a copy of "The Fall Vegetable Garden," HO-66.
Q. My yard is really flat and has about 4 inches of top soil and then
turns into brown clay. It seems difficult for me to grow most plants,
trees and flowers. Are there many varieties that can tolerate these adverse
growing conditions? If so, is there a list I could obtain or send away
for? -- Larry N. Barnes, West Harrison, Ind.
A. Amend your ways! You're doing the right thing by researching which
plants will survive the conditions. You can meet the plants halfway by
amending the soil when you plant. Turn in compost, rotted leaves, pine
needles, grass clippings and other forms of organic matter to improve
the soil structure and fertility. Make sure you mix the organic matter
with the existing soil. If you backfill with straight compost or black
dirt, you'll create a bathtub effect.
When you plant balled-and-burlapped plants, raise the rootball slightly
above soil level. The University of Minnesota has a nice list of plants
adapted to clay. You can see it at http://www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h408claysoil.html.