Summer Vegetables

This month we dished the dirt on the summer vegetables we're growing. We also shared tips on rescuing some of our favorite plants with pruning, fertilizer, and more.

August 1, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Hadley Growers – Summer Vegetables

Presented by Ed Haines

August 1, 2019

Ed H.: You guys know we start with a topic, and we quickly go everywhere all over the place. But today's topic is summer vegetables, since it's harvesting time, if you're lucky. I invite anybody to get started, and talk about what their garden is doing, and what their success has been.

Irene: Well, Irene can always start.

Ed H.: All right, Irene, I thought you would say that. We can always depend on you.

Irene: Turnips, rutabagas, and beets. I had no fear of growing turnips and getting too many of them. Beets are definitely a favorite. And then rutabagas... We used to call them Swedes, so I really wasn't sure, but apparently anyone had a rutabaga and where the plant comes from. That's a good question. No answers.

Sue: Probably Asia?

Irene: Very good, but they came from Sweden. And in England, we called them Swedes. They are a cross between a cabbage, they are a root vegetable, but they are a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. They grow very similarly to a turnip. And they have a slightly, a bit stringy, you can eat the leaves. All of these you can eat the leaves of them. Apparently leaves on these plans are more nutritious than the actual root vegetable. I planted them too thick, of course, seeds are a little too small for a blind person. But, I did a really clever thing, Ed. You can go to the dollar store, and you can get these plastic... I have sort of an area of 20 x 20, that's the garden. You can go to the dollar store and get these sticks that you drive in the ground. I got the really tall ones so if I bend over, I don't drive an eyeball out. I got these tall sticks, and then I put pieces of string, I braided. Actually, I have lots of twine, so I braided pieces of twine between these two sticks.

Now, most of the rows are fairly straight, but you've got to go from one post to the other, so the rows are fairly straight. Anyway, the turnips are too thick, so I pulled a lot of turnips yesterday, and cut out what was good, and handed all the leaves to the horses. And you know what the little snots did? They turned their noses up. They won't eat turnip leaves. I am quite... You know what I'm going to do to them though? They'll eat turnips. How do you make a horse eat turnip leaves?

Ed H.: Mix it with something else I suppose.

Irene: Yep. [crosstalk]. No, first off, run it through the food processor with a couple cups of cider vinegar, and then as you say, throw it in their grain. They will develop a taste for turnip roots, since I'm not putting in all that work and just feeding it to the rabbits.

Sue: It can also go for your compost pile.

Irene: That would be an option, without the cider vinegar of course. It would be good in the compost pile.

Sue: Well, actually, the cider vinegar probably wouldn't be that disastrous in your garden.

Irene: Very good. Go ahead, Ed.

Ed H.: Thanks. I was thinking about rutabagas. I work for Hadley in Chicago, but I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan. And this area where I live was populated about 80 years ago by miners from Cornwall, by copper miners. They brought with them this dish; it's called a pasty.

Sue: Oh, yum!

Ed H.: Yeah, it's a meat pie essentially, that's wrapped in a pastry. It's all enclosed. I guess the miners took them down to the mines. But the reason I bring this up is they're very strong opinions about whether rutabagas should be included in the pasty or not. And people come to blows over this if they've had too much to drink. Rutabagas are a very popular vegetable up here, if you like pasty.

Sue: Now what about kohlrabi?

Ed H.: That's a vegetable I've never tried to grow. And I don't-

Sue: Go ahead.

Ed H.: What does it actually taste like? I've never...

Sue: It's kind of like a mild cabbage. It's not sharp like a turnip, and their leaves are edible also. I remember making bread out of it several years ago.

Ed H.: I'm personally interested in any kind of cold weather cabbage family crop, because that's what does so well up here. And the root vegetable as well.

Sue: That's what they were saying, that this is the time, actually the whole month of July, was the time to actually be planting rutabagas here because of the harvest time.

Ed H.: You know we had someone who had a question before we started about… she'd had bad luck with her garden because of dry weather. She wanted some ideas for planting now so that she could get a fall crop. That sounds like a fantastic idea, kohlrabi, or maybe turnips, or rutabagas then.

Sue: Okay, where does that person live?

Theresa: Georgia.

Ed H.: Georgia.

Sue: So you're not too far away from me. I went to a fall planting presentation about a month ago. And one of the things they're saying is get the chart that says what should be planted at what time for your area. Like for your zone particularly. And you want to start them, for your root crops, some of them, like a carrot, like a turnip, like a rutabaga, they really don't take transplanting well. But some of your crops like mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, those are all greens that will transplant well. It's a good time to plant them generally in August, in September also. And then, plant them so that they have protection from the bright sun. Yes, if you do it in your containers, you can have that anyplace. But, if you put it in your garden, develop some kind of shade. Maybe under your crops that are already growing, but if you don't have crops growing, how about a lean-to with a cover on that lean-to so they're not getting the heat of the day sunshine at the end of the day.

Theresa: There's actually shade in that garden part of the day. It's a community garden, and it has trees all around it. Certain parts of the day it's shaded anyway. I'm wondering if that would survive the shade.

Sue: Yeah, that might work. Try to make sure your new crops don't get the full intense heat from like three o'clock to five o'clock, when it's super, super hot.

Theresa: Yeah. I was also wondering about, some friends of mine are from middle Georgia, I live on the coast, I live in Savannah. Some of my friends over in the middle part of the state can't plant broccoli. Can you ever plant broccoli in Georgia and have it do well? Or is that a fall crop maybe? When I lived in Chicago, which I lived in Illinois for years, and we grew broccoli there. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and they did very well. But I was wondering if I could grow those two crops here?

Sue: I don't really know. I would suppose the closer to your first frost date you've got it at that stage of pick-able. That's what you want. Remember that you're going to have all kinds of bugs come and munch away on those leaves. Those leaves are just as tasty to the insect world as the broccoli flower head is to us.

Ed H.: I just happened to type into Google “will broccoli grow in south Georgia,” and what Google is telling me is that it does not fair well in mid-summer, but fall and spring crops are possible, and are actually commonly produced.

Theresa: Awesome.

Ed H.: I would bet with broccoli that your best bet would be to, and Brussels sprouts as well, start it inside. Start the seeds inside because they germinate in cool weather. And once you get the transplants [crosstalk], then put them out for a fall crop. See what happens.

Sue: Ed, one of the other things that you can do is go to the University of Georgia, or Georgia State, I don't know which is the... Oh gosh, what am I thinking of? Land-grant university.

Theresa: Horticulture.

Sue: In Georgia. That's where you're going to find your extension service out of. And you want to find the extension service growing chart for Georgia.

Theresa: Actually, my brother-in-law is a horticulturist, and he's a retired extension agent.

Sue: Okay.

Theresa: I should probably ask him those questions, but I never think about when he's around.

Ed H.: That's a perfect reason for-

Sue: The extension service in every state will have just the times most likely to be beneficial for planting. And this not only is about sun, and shade, and water, and hot, and cold, it covers all of that. And it also covers when your insects are most prevalent, because this year there have been tomato bugs that have really gotten into a lot of tomato crops.

Theresa: That was what I was having problems with. I thought I was having problems with those because I did the first year I planted over in the other place. And I hesitate to use anything that's not friendly to the environment, but I didn't have any other alternate. But this year I started thinking, I was having problems with that because of the under part of the tomato was getting, looked like it had been eaten, but my brother-in-law looked at it and said it was deficient in calcium nitrate. As soon as I put that around the plant, and watered it good, and watched it, it got better. But the heat kind of got to the crops later on. We just had a really, really hot spell 100-degree weather.

Sue: If they're still going now, just-

Theresa: No, they're dead.

Sue: Oh, okay. I was going to tell you though, if they don't do well this summer, the spring and the fall are good tomato crop plants because they just don't... Marigolds is another one that don't like summer direct heat.

Theresa: Yeah. And that was another problem. They got a lot of direct sun. But I didn't realize it until it was too late, they were already toast by the time I realized that they were getting too much sun. They like a little bit of shade.

Sue: If you go ahead and get something like your tomato starts, the transplant starts, now would probably would be a good time to keep them up near your house, on your porch, or something. And then, into September, go ahead and plant because your ground is already [inaudible].

Theresa: Really?

Sue: And you sun levels are fluctuating enough that they won't be getting that same intense, direct sun, as they do all summer.

Theresa: Oh, I had no clue I could plant tomatoes now. That would be awesome.

Sue: Don't forget that once they're up, you wait until they're at least a couple feet tall, and get anything in between the ground and about one foot, all of that leaf has to come off because that's where you're going to get your insects coming up out of the soil and they want to get to the leaves, which will then destroy the plant. But, if you've got those leaves off, the bugs will stay in the soil because they don't have anything to jump up to.

Theresa: Cool. Okay. Thank you.

Sue: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ed H.: I'm so glad we have a southern gardener here to help our southern gardener questions. All my impressions of gardening in the south is that it's just an effortless, worry free thing that you do. Grow things all year round. Don't have to worry about [crosstalk].

Theresa: Yeah, yeah.

Sue: The problem with gardening in the south is that we don't get the cold snap like you folks do up north, and because of that, mulch, mulch, mulch, compost, compost, all year round. Because we don't get the ground frost to kill off anything, all of those problems still stay in the soil.

Ed H.: I see.

Theresa: May I ask where you're from?

Sue: I'm living right now in Alabama. And yes, I have become a master gardener. We just came back from Planting in the Shade, as our topic of today's presentation.

Theresa: Awesome.

Ed H.: Wow, wonderful.

Theresa: Well, if nobody else needs to ask a question, I have one more question.

Ed H.: Sure. Absolutely, go ahead.

Theresa: Okay. I had an herb garden that was doing amazing before I moved it here. And when I moved it here, I had to put it somewhere temporarily in where there was too much shade. And everything died except the basil, and it went crazy. But, is it too late to plant herbs? And can I keep them growing all year?

Sue: Many herbs are perennials, and yes those will come back next spring. Can you keep them growing all summer long? You're in southern Georgia so you could do rosemary.

Ed H.: Yeah, I was going to suggest rosemary.

Theresa: I had rosemary.

Sue: Okay.

Theresa: And I had lavender.

Sue: That will die back in the winter.

Theresa: Okay. And the basil, will that die back in the winter also?

Sue: Basil is an annual. Yes, get your seeds when they start coming up, and particularly watch out for aphids coming after your basil.

Theresa: Okay. I had four kinds of mint, and they all kind of fizzled too. Are those annuals as well?

Sue: Now hold on, with your mint, go ahead and see if you can... Do you have any of it left? Or did you throw it all out?

Theresa: I gotta go look. No, I haven't even pulled it up yet. I have to go down and look at it.

Sue: Okay.

Theresa: It's not [inaudible].

Sue: One of the things that you want to do is water, water, water your mint. Mint loves wetness. Doesn't like to stand in a swamp, but it loves to be water. You might bring back at least one of your mints. Mint also likes the shade.

Theresa: Mostly this is in the shade, so it should be flourishing. But it may have not gotten enough water.

Sue: It may need dabbled shade, rather than full shade.

Theresa: Oh, gotcha.

Sue: You can probably save one of your mints, maybe probably not all of them. Which kinds do you have? Chocolate mint is the one that grows best for me.

Theresa: I have chocolate mint, I have spearmint, and I had regular mint, sweet mint.

Ed H.: Those are all pretty hardy, so I'm willing to bet some of those roots are still, even if the foliage has died back, Sue's right, you might be able to resurrect the plants.

Theresa: And then a little more sun.

Ed H.: It's actually hard to kill [inaudible].

Sue: Good. Don't give up on the mint. That probably will come back.

Theresa: Oh, okay good. Good. Good. Good.

Sue: If you have anything like savory, winter savory, summer savory ...

Theresa: What is that?

Sue: Winter savory is a perennial. Summer savory is an annual. Very good tasting for soups, and stocks, and broth, and that kind of stuff.

Theresa: I had lemon balm.

Sue: Lemon balm is also in the mint family and will probably come back if you get those roots watered.

Ed H.: Yeah, I think so too. Lemon balm is very hardy.

Theresa: Okay.

Ed H.: It can stand a lot of abuse.

Sue: Chicory-

Theresa: Now, they don't do well in the winter I'm sure right?

Sue: No. Lemon balm will die back in the winter like your mint and come again next spring.

Theresa: Okay. Awesome. Thank you.

Sue: But herbs like your savory, winter savory, because it's a perennial, may come back if you have any.

Theresa: I didn't.

Sue: Chives. Chives are a good perennial because they come back every year. And that includes garlic chives, which probably are getting ready to bloom in your area. They bloom early fall around here. The purple head chives, the regular chives, that blooms in the spring.

Theresa: Okay.

Sue: What's the one? Pineapple sage.

Theresa: I love that one, but I don't have any.

Sue: Okay. To think about for when you get to go out and get your next one. You can start that by a clipping, and root it in water. If you've got a neighbor, or friend who has any, you can sometimes bargain to come over and use your scissors judicially on that plant.

Theresa: Plant exchange. They don't have one here. That might be a good thing to start.

Sue: Oh, yeah!

Theresa: I would love that.

Sue: Texas Tarragon, also known as Mexican Tarragon, also known as Mexican Marigold, I think is another name. That is a beautiful fall blooming plant. If you can get a start of it, it can be rooted by a clipping, and then stick it into the soil, and go for that. Another one is Germania, and that is a pretty hardy plant. Now, it's not supposed to be an edible, but I eat it, and I haven't keeled over yet.

Theresa: You haven't expired yet. Right?

Sue: Stevia is another one-

Theresa: Stevia, that's a sweetener isn't it?

Sue: Pardon me?

Theresa: Don't some people use that as a sweetener?

Sue: Correct. That is a plant that does well in the south. I don't remember whether that's annual or perennial. I think it's an annual that will drop seeds, but I may be off on that.

Theresa: Okay.

Sue: What else do I have?

Ed H.: Sue, I'll tell you what, this topic of today's conversation, what we originally started as summer vegetables. Why don't we give... I'm sorry, I don't want to interrupt, but maybe we can give other folks a chance.

Theresa: No, that's okay.

Ed H.: Briefly to talk about.

Sue: I want to hear what everybody else is growing.

Ed H.: What they're growing, and what's big, what's working, and what is not. And I will tell you my definition of a successful vegetable is something you end up giving away to your neighbors because you're sick of eating it. Who wants to talk about some successes they've had in the vegetable department? Don't be shy.

Sue: Well, how about your fruit department? Anybody growing fruit?

Ed H.: Sure, we'll talk about, but see I brought this whole thing up because I want to brag about a vegetable myself, personally, that I've been growing, that I've done very well with. Let me tell everyone about it. You're sick of me I'm sure, if you've listened to this group before, I've mentioned planting Chinese broccoli. And I planted two rows of it, and it's growing faster than I can give it away. My neighbors are sick of it. It's been incredibly successful. I recommend anybody who likes to grow cabbage related crops. Chinese broccoli is a specialty vegetable you can buy in Chinese grocery stores, or they serve it in Chinese restaurants, but it's kind of like broccoli rabe. It doesn't have very big broccoli head. It's mostly stalks and leaves, but it's absolutely delicious. And as soon as I cut it back, two or three shoots grow in its place. And it’s just done incredibly well. Anybody who's interested even as a fall crop, I would think in Georgia for instance, Chinese broccoli has just been fantastic. There's my little plug. If anybody has any other vegetables that have worked for them, let us know. But we can certainly talk about fruits as well.

Sue: Does your Chinese broccoli do everything the same as regular broccoli?

Ed H.: Yeah, I even direct seeded it right into the ground. I didn't even grow transplants. And it's been incredibly hardy. It's tender, it's sweet, it doesn't have a strong cabbage-y taste. I'm definitely going to grow it from now on. It's just been a wonderful plant.

Connie: In other words, I could purchase them at an Asian store and just plant them into the ground?

Ed H.: No. If you purchase the broccoli at an Asian store, it'd be for eating. The seeds I purchased from a specialty asian seed company out of San Francisco, the Kitazawa Seed Company. I think that's listed on one of our resources for one of the discussion groups. It's a real common vegetable in large parts of Asia, but for some reason it's not something we've grown here in the states very much. I think it should be. It's been incredible for me.

Connie: So how do you consume it? Cooked? Raw? How do you consume it?

Ed H.: We've eaten it raw in salads, it's tender enough it's like regular broccoli you can eat it in salads. We've steamed it, we've sautéed it with olive oil and garlic. I've even put it on pizza. It's fantastic.

Sue: What kind of pollinators or insects does it attract? Or birds?

Ed H.: The only problem I've had is like with a lot of cabbage plants, those cabbage looper moths. Those pretty, yellow butterflies that you see flying around your brassica plants, which inevitably results in those little green worms that inhabit your broccoli and float up to the top while you're soaking it in the sink. That's the only ... I either use Bt, Bacteria thuringiensis solution to organically take care of those, or for this particular crop, I've just been using a floating row cover. Just to prevent the moths from laying their eggs.

Anybody else have any vegetables that have worked well for them this summer?

Tonya: Hi, this is Tonya from northwest central Kentucky.

Ed H.: Hi, Tonya.

Tonya: I've had huge success with jalapenos. I've got them coming out my ears almost. I've got one plant, and one plant only. And it's done very very well for a couple of years now.

Speaker 7: I have a question for Tonya.

Ed H.: Well that's great.

Speaker 7: I planted jalapeno plants, I planted four of them in a bucket, and they're beautiful plants, but not the first flower or jalapeno. The last time I planted them I was just overrun with jalapenos. What am I doing wrong?

Sue: How big is your bucket?

Speaker 7: It's a five-gallon bucket.

Sue: You might have too many per bucket.

Speaker 7: Okay.

Ed H.: What kind of soil did you put into that bucket?

Speaker 7: It was potting soil. I bought it, Miracle-Gro.

Ed H.: Well, that should have. If you want flowers, you need stuff with... Oh, I always mix this up. It's phosphorous, correct, folks? Not potassium, phosphorous.

Speaker 7: Yeah.

Ed H.: If you're not getting any flowers, I wonder if your soil was deficient in phosphorous. If you had flowers but no peppers, I'd say the flowers are not being pollinated.

Speaker 7: Oh, okay. If I have vegetable fertilizer granules, should I put some of those in there and see if that helps? And maybe pull a plant or two out?

Ed H.: You might want to try that. It might be that they're not getting enough nutrients. I'm not sure why they're not flowering.

Speaker 7: I don't either.

Ed H.: Do they have lots of good, green foliage and otherwise look healthy?

Speaker 7: They're beautiful. They're tall and beautiful.

Sue: If you take any out, clip them, don't pull them because you might disturb the root structure of the ones you want to survive.

Ed H.: Yeah, good point.

Speaker 7: Okay. Could maybe clip a couple of them and keep maybe two in the bucket.

Ed H.: Yeah, five-gallon bucket.

Sue: I would.

Connie: What time of the year is good for planting jalapenos?

Sue: Where do you live?

Connie: I’m in Chicago. My name is Connie by the way. Sorry.

Sue: Connie, I would plant in the summer. They're like tomatoes and okra. They need warm soil temperature. You might not have enough time left this summer to plant them. If you can get a transplant, try for it.

Ed H.: Yeah, because they are a plant that takes ... They're like tomatoes. They need a good 90 days to reach maturity.

Connie: Okay. Now, can I take a jalapeno and seed it, and use those seeds to start the plant?

Ed H.: It depends what variety of jalapeno. If it's a hybrid, it probably won't have fertile seed. That's a problem a lot of folks face. It's a neat idea to take seeds from a plant that they've purchased from a garden center, but a lot of plants that we purchase commercially are hybrids, and they don't produce fertile seed. It depends on the plant.

Connie: Okay.

Ed H.: Now there are sources like Seed Savers Exchange, that's a catalog and organization where every seed you buy is a plant that can produce fertile seed. And then people save them, and swap them, et cetera. Generally, it's older varieties of plants that produce fertile seed, not the newer hybrids. That's a really good question though. There's a lot of debate whether some gardeners will only use old, heirloom type plants because they don't like the hybrids.

Connie: Right.

Ed H.: For me, I'm not that good of a gardener. If something is bred to be insect and disease resistant, I don't have a problem with that.

Sue: If you don't like the heat when you're eating them for meals, save a couple of seeds. There's nothing wrong with putting them in soil and seeing if they will grow in your house. You could do that maybe as early as February. And be growing a jalapeno-

Connie: I can put it on my kitchen windowsill where there's a lot of sunlight.

Sue: Yeah. Give it a try.

Connie: Okay.

Sue: If it doesn't work, you still can at that point buy seeds and try again. Those seeds should be up within a week or two.

Connie: Okay. I'm going to try that.

Ed H.: The fun thing about gardening is it's really trial by error. It's fun to experiment. You've nothing to lose, and who knows. If you have a success, it's really satisfying.

Connie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Theresa: Okay, this is Theresa. I have a question. You mentioned heirloom plants. My friend saves me a seedling off of one of her tomato plants that she's been growing for years, and some other plants. And it's beautiful. Like the jalapeno plant, and it's the one plant in one bucket. And it's like I said, the jalapeno same thing, it's beautiful, but no flowers, no signs of tomatoes on it. And it's still totally green and healthy looking, but no tomatoes. Is there hope for it?

Ed H.: I would think so. I'm not sure why you're not getting flowers on these plants when they look otherwise green, and healthy, and not bothered by disease. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Anybody have any ideas?

Sue: If you got it from a friend, ask your friend what kind of fertilizer they use. That may be a real big clue as to what your tomato is lacking right now. And there is a way of taking a... Ed, help me with this. I know what I have to do, but I don't have the words. There's a part of the tomato structure that goes out, you know the stem and leaf? If you get a portion, you can root that. Go ahead and root it. Root it now so you can have it rooting and growing possibly in your house all winter long, so that you save the plant. Even if it doesn't produce this year, it doesn't mean that you have killed it off, if you've got a living plant.

Theresa: Okay.

Ed H.: Rooting a cutting in other words, so pinching off one of the side shoots and rooting that.

Sue: Right. It’s that side shoot. Thank you. That's what I was looking for.

Theresa: Because I know exactly what you're talking about, because there's a lot of plants you can root that way. But I never thought about tomatoes that way.

Sue: And if this is an heirloom plant, you might want to go ahead and see if you can plant several pots of this tomato, and keep it going.

Theresa: Okay. Thank you.

Ed H.: Anybody else have a vegetable success story, or failure, that they'd like to talk about? All right hearing none. You guys asked for it. I have another success story I'd like to brag about. I have had incredible success with fava beans this year. They are an incredible plant, and I've never grown them before either. It's always an experiment, some things don't work, but they have been wonderful. They've had no diseases, no pests. They grow very tall, upright plant, beautiful flowers, and the fava beans, the pods are just maturing, and they look wonderful. The nice thing about fava beans is you can eat them fresh green, but you can also let the pods mature and you can save the beans for later, and let them dry, and eat them as dry beans. I'm really excited about my success with fava beans. I didn't know if they'd work, but they're working great.

Sue: Are you growing them like a trellis plant?

Ed H.: You know, I put in stakes, and tied them up to stakes. They seem to have flourished that way. I looked at a couple YouTube videos on growing fava beans, and that was suggested. You can let them sprawl, but then they're more prone to disease, and stuff like that. Then, the pods, if they're resting on the ground, they might rot if the ground [inaudible]. But the plants have done really well, and they're really [inaudible] as well. Now, I do want to mention, Irene mentioned stakes earlier, and she mentioned making them tall, so she doesn't bend down and poke herself. That is an issue with staking things up, especially those thin, bamboo stakes. I may have mentioned it before, a number of gardeners with low vision that I know of, they'll take old tennis balls, and poke a hole in them. And then at the top of each stake, they'll put that tennis ball on top of the stake.

Connie: This is my first time, as I told you Ed at the beginning. I'm Connie, I'm from Chicago. And I've not attempted to do any gardening at all, but it's something I want to do. I have an interest to do it.

Ed H.: Sure.

This is not regarding any vegetable, but if we could switch for a moment to a fruit, maybe tell you my story. About ten years ago, my husband and I were visiting his sister in Virginia. And when we left, she gave us a plant. It was of Concord grapes. We were doing some other traveling for a couple of weeks. We left it in the car, and when we got home, that plant looked totally dead. It was just like a stick in the dirt. And my husband wanted to toss it out, and I told him, "No, no. Let's plant it, because at least I can tell your sister I tried. I planted it."

We put it in the backyard, and lo and behold, the following spring, it had buds on the twig. It’s been growing ever since. Every year it comes back. And I'm just so amazed by this grapevine. However, I was told that Concord grapes are supposed to be like regular big size grape, but these are the sizes of like a blueberry. My sister-in-law says there's something not right, because they're supposed to be much bigger than that. I've been told, well you have to prepare it at winter time for it to be able to blossom. It grows wild. The grape leaves are huge. When I lift up the grape leaves, I can feel all these different clusters, but they're so small. Does anyone have any idea what I should do? What I can do? I've had this plant for ten years, and it's still thriving every year, but the fruit is not growing like it should.

Irene: Irene, comment.

Ed H.: Yeah, go Irene.

Irene: You're doing exactly my kind of thing growing Concord grapes. Have you tried to eat these Concord grapes when they're ripe?

Connie: You know what? I have. When they start turning purplish blue, I've had them, and they were kind of sour. And then leaving them a little longer, some of them have been sweet, but then if I leave them too long, they feel like raisins to me.

Irene: I can eat about ten of them and then my face just turns into a knot. It's just like they are so sour. Do they have seeds in them?

Connie: Yes, which is what I wanted. I wanted a grape with seed. Yes.

Irene: Yes. Oh no, you fit upon the right plant, and you're definitely going in the right direction. There is a huge amount of effort to grow Concord grapes. You have exactly what I have. I inherited them. One of the things you need to understand is the pruning. I won't get into that right now, but the pruning is absolutely essential, and also the fertilizing, and the timing on the watering is essential. I'm pulling about, horses love the grapes by the way, Ed. Great for pruning grapevines. They eat everything. I'm usually taking ten quarts of grape juice off of the vines. Producing about ten quarts of grape juice every year. And they're just a really, really good quality grape to work with.

Anybody else got the details on pruning, and fertilizing, and watering? I can also go into the harvesting, and the processing of Concord grapes. Anybody else got ideas on pruning? Go ahead.

Ed H.: Irene, why don't you go ahead with the pruning if you're experienced with it. Because it's really important for grapes. Most people don't understand that.

Irene: Yes. Now, I've been battling this for quite some time to get the correct pruning. How long are your grapevines? Have they gone 20 feet on you?

Connie: Let me see ... I would say yeah, probably less than 20 feet, but maybe close to that. Maybe between 15 and 20.

Irene: Perfect. To be absolutely brutal, this fall you are going to go in with a pair of brush hooks, and you are going to cut them back to leave all of them about, I would say 4 feet. And then you're going to go through now, there's a thing about color, which of course is beyond me, but you prune the Concord grapes. The reason you're getting such small grapes is could be lack of water, could be lack of fertilizer, but the main reason that you're getting small grapes is because the plant is putting too much effort into growing the vines, and no effort into growing the fruit. Hack everything back to about four or five feet, and then you prune the vines that have produced that year.

So anything that has grapes on it this year, you hack them right back to the stem, and you let anything that is new growth, which is going to be the vines that the grapes are going to grow on, the grapes are going to be on them next year. Sometimes you have to go in, and you have to in the spring, you have to cut out some of the bunches of grapes when they start. Because if you make the vine work too hard, then you get a poor-quality grape. Listen, Ed, if you want to ever produce wine, just let me get on with that one. Go ahead, Ed.

Connie: Well, you know what? When you mention fertilizer, what do you recommend as a fertilizer to use? Because when you said the watering, fertilizing, and pruning, none of that has been done to this plant since I've had it. That's why I'm so amazed that it's still alive. We put a trellis across from it because it was growing, because I'm in the city. It was growing above my fence; my fence is seven feet tall around my... And I'm in a corner lot. So I get a lot of sunshine here. What it was doing, the vine was attaching itself to the tree line by the curb, by the street. One neighbor brought it to our attention and said, "You better cut that back, because if the city comes and sees that, you might get fined for that."

Then we built a trellis a couple of years ago, and tried to bring it inside the yard, instead of letting it grow wild, and attaching to the trees outside our property. We have not done anything to this plant, and it's amazing to me that it's still alive.

Irene: Well, if you want fruit, that's the whole thing. It's great to have your arbor, your grape arbor, and its beautiful big leaves, and its lovely shade. If that's what you want, then by all means just... Now, down to the fertilizer, of course Ed knows what my usual collection of fertilizer is, but... Well, okay. Epsom salts and you know what I did today? This is an interesting one. Friend of mine was over, and she suggested that it looks like I've got some kind of a mildew. My grapes come out about a half an inch across. You essentially have wild Concord. That's what you're growing, and that's how I've seen them grow. We have Concord grapes all over the area. I'm in eastern Ontario. And they grow upon every tree that is trying to grow. And that's the kind of production you get. The cutting back, and I put about, I would say two feet of fertilizer, and that is a combination of horse manure, and straw, and hay. And the other thing is wood ashes and Borax. I put Borax on them and Epsom salt. That's right. The whole root structure gets a bath in Epsom salts a couple times a year. Because what does Epsom salts do for your plants, Ed?

Ed H.: You're changing the alkalinity, the pH in the soil right?

Irene: Yeah. There's some other types of fertilizer. Tomato plants like Epsom salts as well. Last year was tremendously dry, essentially a drought here. So that is how I watered my Concord grapes. But anyway, back to the combination of dish soap, let me think. Dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, and there was something else in there. The grapes seem to be coming loose. They're falling off, and this time of year you'd like to keep the bunches intact. You just got to go in and check your plants. There's some type of scale growing on the leaves, and then there's some type of gray finish coming on the grapes.

Ed H.: Yeah, sounds like a fungus. Yeah.

Irene: Yeah, we've got a fungus. It could have been it was so cold, wet all spring, but now it's drying out. Whatever that fungus has taken hold on the grape. It sounds like your vines, and your grapes are intact, but the arbor is the really good thing. Because you can then take your bunches of grapes and drop them down to where you can get at them. We usually get them ripened here, eastern Ontario, this is zone four, they usually ripen about the end of August, first week of September. What area are you in?

Connie: Zone five. Chicago.

Irene: You'd be a little faster than what we're going to get them ripened.

Connie: Then it should be in August then, earlier in August?

Irene: Yeah, depends on your spring of course. Middle, late August, you should have your crop of Concord grapes. And it doesn't matter that they're small, it's just a little more work.

Connie: It doesn't. They're still edible, even if they're kind of bitter tasting and all that. They are still good, right?

Irene: Yep. That's why I do the process of making grape juice. Oh, Ed, I came up with a really good one this year, because you know straining all the seeds out of the ... I pick all the grapes, and I pick them off, and I cook them in a slow oven for I would say about four hours. And then I run them through the food processor, and then I strain them. What I've come up with this year, to make sure that I get... It's okay to go spitting seeds, but you don't want to serve it to any... Take it to a cocktail party. Right? It wouldn't look good. I got a felt strainer that they use for straining maple syrup. Of course, I haven't got a problem with the seeds or the pulp, because the horses eat that, but I would really recommend, if you want grapes, and you want large size grapes, you got to just be brutal with it.

And you may have noticed, I just finished a book on this, the vines have to be taken away from the... Whatever you cut down, you've got to get rid of it. Burn it, or dispose of it away from the grapes, because I think that's the usual thing, Ed.

Ed H.: They carry disease.

Irene: The problem with diseases.

Ed H.: I'll just-

Connie: Okay. All of that has to be cleaned out, cleaned off.

Irene: Yep. Whatever you cut off; you've got to get rid of it. It's got to go away from the vines.

Connie: Okay.

Ed H.: I'll add a word of warning to this conversation. I also have a Concord grape vine that I now totally neglect, and I don't get very good grapes from. Because I spend a lot of time in the past doing everything Irene talked about, only to have a tribe of raccoons eat all of my nice, plump, ripe grapes. I decided it wasn't worth all of the work to give them a really tasty meal, so now I'm back to just a wild vine again. In the city, you may not have that problem.

Connie: Okay. You'd be surprised. We do get raccoons here too.

Ed H.: Okay. Well then, be warned.

Connie: Surprising enough.

Ed H.: They love nice, ripe grapes.

Theresa: This is Theresa with an idea to keep the raccoons off your plants.

Ed H.: Sure, what is it?

Theresa: You buy one of those decorative owls, or a hawk, and post it close to the plants. Raccoons I don't think like owls, or hawks either.

Ed H.: Okay. All right.

Connie: What was that? You buy what?

Theresa: Like a decorative owl.

Connie: Oh, okay.

Theresa: Or a hawk. Place it close to the plant.

Connie: Okay.

Theresa: I have an owl sitting in tomato plants, because deer were right behind where I live. I never had trouble with deer because they don't like owls either. And anything that moves like a pinwheel, I had a decorative pinwheel, I stuck it by my plants, and it kept critters away.

Connie: Oh, okay.

Theresa: They don't like the motion. They don't know what it is.

Ed H.: Okay.

Theresa: They don't come near. Yeah, but try the hawk and the owl, because small rodents don't like those animals, because those critters will kill them and carry them off for food.

Connie: Okay.

Theresa: Of course, I don't know if it will work where you are if those things aren't prevalent around there.

Connie: I'm sorry. When is the pruning... When should that be taking place? What time of the year?

Irene: I would do a really severe prune back, this is Irene, really severe prune back this fall. And then usually, I think the pruning takes place in the spring. Does it Ed?

Ed H.: I think in the early, early spring. Like other fruit trees. Yeah.

Irene: Before the leaves come on. You want to prune out anything that had fruit on it last year. You want to prune that back.

Connie: Do the severe pruning this fall, sometime in September we'll say. And then when spring comes ...

Irene: I would wait until the leaves have died off.

Connie: Okay.

Irene: Yeah. Wait until the leaves. And then you take all that rubbish away when you trim it off.

Connie: You're talking about this fall, when the leaves die off, and then severely prune it back. And then, next year, in the spring, when it starts to bud again maybe, then I prune it again?

Irene: No, you prune before. Is that right, Ed? You prune it before it buds.

Ed H.: Yeah, if you're going to do a severe prune back this fall, you might actually have to wait another year.

Connie: Okay. All I have to do is the severe pruning this year, and not worry about it next year.

Ed H.: That's correct. Don't worry about it. Yeah. And then let it grow, and then you'll have the growth in the subsequent year will produce grapes.

Connie: Okay. Should I put any fertilizer down on it, or anything like that? What do you guys recommend for preparation for next year?

Irene: Yeah, grapes like lots of fertilizer. Yes.

Connie: Okay. What do you recommend? You mentioned some things I can put on there, like Epsom salt.

Irene: It's like a mulch. What's a quality mulch that-

Ed H.: I would go to your... You live in the city; I'm thinking compost and horse manure is probably not readily available.

Connie: Yeah, exactly. It's not accessible to me.

Ed H.: But you might be able to find a bale of straw, or if you have a compost. Because nothing beats compost if you have a compost pile.

Connie: I don't have one, but does it have to be aged for me to be able to use it? I could start one.

Ed H.: You can go, I know at like Home Depot, and places like that, you can buy bags of composted cow manure.

Connie: Oh, okay.

Ed H.: Make sure it says composted.

Connie: Okay.

Ed H.: That would probably be sufficient I would think.

Connie: And put it around-

Ed H.: Mulched around the base of the plant.

Connie: It's like a mulch. Okay.

Ed H.: Yes. At least a couple of inches.

Connie: Okay. And start watering it?

Ed H.: Yes. But that would happen in the spring. Let it go dormant in the fall. You're in Chicago, it's going to freeze. And then in the spring, make sure it's well watered.

Connie: Okay.

Irene: And I'm sorry, Ed, I hate to interrupt it, it's Irene. I have that burning question about an app for identifying plants. Does anybody have an app that they're taking pictures of plants and that they are able to use the screen reader to read the text material that is on the... Could you mail that to Ed? Anybody that has ideas on what plant identification I can use on iOS. Thanks Ed.

Ed H.: Thank you, Irene. Folks, if you do have any resources like that, feel free to email those to me. My email is quite simple. It's ed, E-D, at And I'm happy, then I can post them on the website underneath the discussion group resource list.

Unfortunately, we do have to call it a day. Thanks everyone. I really appreciate you coming today, and it was a lot of fun to be sitting here in New York City talking about gardening. All right. Thanks a lot folks. See you in September.

Sue: Thanks Ed.