July 19, 2008

Get Best of Garden Ready for Show

Gardeners look forward to the county fair because it's an opportunity to show off the produce they have grown.

County fairs throughout the area accept entries from 4-Her's and the general public in their horticulture divisions.

The Shawnee County Fair, which is July 24 through 27, has open- class competition in fruits and vegetables as well as flowers and potted plants. Entries will be received between 1 and 6 p.m. July 24 in Exhibition Hall at the Kansas Expocentre.

Call the local office of K-State Research and Extension to get information about particular county fairs. The premium book will tell you when entries will be accepted, how many specimens are required per exhibit, how may placings will be awarded per class and other pertinent information.

Criteria used by judges to evaluate the quality of a fruit or vegetable exhibit include uniformity, condition and quality.

The judge will consider individual specimens in an exhibit to determine how similar they are to each other based on size, color and shape.

Quality criteria also include ripeness, stage of maturity and absence of insect or disease damage.

The condition of an exhibit reflects how the specimens were handled during harvest, storage, and preparation for exhibit. Cleanliness and proper trimming are important.

For more information about how these judging criteria apply to specific crops, get a copy of the publication "Exhibiting Fruits and Vegetables" from the county Extension office. Numbers are in the phone book with other county offices; on the Internet, go to www.oznet.ksu.edu and click on the "local contact information" map.

Physiological tomato problems -- Nothing frustrates a vegetable gardener more than to go out to pick a ripe tomato and find that the bottom of the fruit is rotten.

This is called "blossom-end rot" which first appears as a discolored area on the underside of the tomato fruit, which then becomes dark, sunken, leathery.

Blossom-end rot isn't a disease. It is a physiological condition caused by a temporary calcium deficiency in the developing fruit, which causes the cell walls to collapse.

Calcium deficiency in the fruit may not reflect a deficiency of calcium in the soil. It usually occurs because the plant can't efficiently take up and use calcium from the soil at a critical stage in the plant's development.

Blossom-end rot is aggravated by fluctuations in soil moisture content. Regular watering and the use of an organic mulch around the plants will help.

Also, avoid damage to shallow feeding roots by cultivating too close or too deeply around the plants, and don't over-fertilize early in the season.

Blemished fruit should be picked off and disposed of so the energy of the plant goes into sound fruit development.

Blossom-end rot is usually most serious on the first fruit to set on early in the season. It often clears up on its own as the season progresses.

Another physiological condition affecting tomatoes causes an inward rolling of the lower leaves, which become tough and leathery. This is a response to mild stress (a self-defense mechanism to reduce transpiration loss of moisture from the leaf surface).

Sunburn and cracking are other physiological problems that can be reduced by picking the fruit at the "breaker" stage, just as they start to color up.

At the breaker stage, the fruit have all of the flavor components and nutritional value they will ever have. By picking tomatoes at this stage and allowing them to finish ripening on a counter-top in the house, many of these environmental related problems can be avoided.

Correction: I want to clarify a statement in last week's column written to expose common lawn care mistakes. In the final paragraph of that column, I didn't intend to discourage fertilization of cool season lawn grasses in both fall and spring, my intent was to discourage fertilization of cool season lawn grasses in both late fall and early spring. The words "late" and "early" were omitted. Here is the way that paragraph should have appeared:

It's a mistake to fertilize cool season lawn grasses, such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, in both late fall and early spring. Doubling up (by fertilizing in both late fall and early spring) will encourage springtime top growth at the expense of root growth, depleting carbohydrate reserves and sending weak grass plants into the summer stress period.

A better approach is the fall emphasis fertilization program advocated by turfgrass specialists at Kansas State University that consists of fertilization in September, followed by a late-season application made at about the time of the final mowing in the fall (November). Under this fall emphasis fertilization program for cool season grasses, springtime fertilization would be delayed until the flush of spring top growth slows down in May (using a slow release nitrogen source). But, it would be a mistake to fertilize a cool season lawn in May, if the growth promoted by fertilization won't be supported by regular irrigation throughout the summer.

More about fertilizing lawns in Kansas can be found in the Extension publication entitled "Fertilizing Kansas Lawns" (MF2324) available at county offices of K-State Research and Extension or online at www.oznet.ksu.edu.

Phil Sell is a retired agent emeritus with K-State Research and Extension.

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