Middle South

July, 2012
Regional Report

Pick a Ripe Watermelon

There are several ways to gauge the ripeness of a watermelon, but hopefully you marked an estimated date on your calendar based on the seed packet's listing of "days to maturity." On a ripening watermelon, the stem should begin to turn brown and the bottom of the melon should change from green to creamy white. At the same time, the luster of the rind will become dull and perhaps a bit rough. Some gardeners thump the watermelon to gauge ripeness. An unripe melon makes a metallic-like ring and an overripe melon resounds with a thud; the ideal melon falls somewhere between the two.

Save Sunflower Seeds

If you want to harvest sunflower seeds for growing or eating, timing is everything. Birds will begin to show interest when petals start to fall, but seeds are not mature until the bracts (leaves surrounding the seed head) turn brown and the back of the head takes on a yellowish tinge. Protect seeds by covering the flower head with a paper bag until they mature, and then remove the head and hang it in a dry spot with good air circulation for at least two weeks. Seeds are ready to be stored in a jar when they come out of the head with a gentle rub.

Plant a Second Season of Vegetables

As early season crops dwindle and plants are removed from the garden, take the opportunity to grow late season vegetables. Food crops that can be planted in the next several weeks include snap beans, half runner beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, and rutabagas.

Freeze Surplus Tomatoes

It's easy to keep tomatoes for winter soups, stews, and sauces by freezing. First, remove the skins by dunking the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for one minute and then plunging them into ice water to make the skins split and slide off. Trim out the woody core and any blemishes. Cut the fruits in half and give them a quick squeeze to remove most seeds and then place them in a zip-lock bag made especially for freezing.

Bag Diseased Plants

Prevent, as much as possible, the spread of pathogens in your garden by bagging and removing diseased plants and plant parts, such as fallen leaves. Never compost any of this material or put it on the curb for city recycling, as some spores and other disease-causing agents can remain viable for long periods of time.

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