Vine crops seeing end rot
Some of our vine crops are suffering from the lack of sunshine and the cool cloudy weather. Vine crops include cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons, pumpkins and squash. Many of the vine crops or cucurbits are eaten as vegetables, but are botanically fruit. They thrive best in sunny hot weather, and will sometimes drop their blossoms if night temperatures get below 50 degrees. In order to thrive, they like night time temperatures above 60 degrees, and sunny day time temperatures of 75-85 degrees. The last few weeks when they should have really been growing and putting on fruit, they have not had these conditions. Hopefully, temperatures will improve this week.
Many of these vine crops are experiencing what looks like blossom end rot (this is a condition in tomatoes caused by lack of calcium and results when they receiving a large amount of water after a long dry period). However in our vine crops it has simply been too wet, cool and cloudy, and these are ideal conditions for rot to begin, and once the fruit begins to rot it spreads rapidly.
Another cause for the small number of fruit is lack of pollination. Most vine crops are what we refer to as Monoecious, which means the flowers are either male or female. Blossoms dropping off the male flowers is to some extent normal, because only the female flowers will produce fruit. Female flowers are easy to identify because they have a swollen ovary at the base of the flower. The male flower is just straight. If you have few bees around your garden, you may need to pollinate the flowers yourself. Simply pick a male flower and brush it across the top of one of the female flowers.
Good time to start a lawn
The best time to start a new lawn from seed or over-seed a thin lawn is from mid-August to mid-September in our northern Minnesota, zone 3 area. Many of our lawns have suffered from the drought conditions which we experienced earlier this summer, and weeds, especially those with tap roots, have established themselves very well. The end of summer and early fall, weeds quit sprouting and the grass you plant will not have to compete with them like they often times have to in the early spring and summer. When daytime temperatures moderate and the nights are cool, it is easier to keep the seedlings moist and they have a good period to establish their root system. If you plant grass seeds in the late summer and fall, you should not spray a herbicide on the grass until next spring.
Use a starter fertilizer or mild, organic lawn food when planting grass seed. Make sure the product does not contain herbicide or other pesticides, as seedling grasses are particularly vulnerable to damage. Even corn gluten meal, which is totally organic, will stop grass seeds from sprouting.
If you have been one of the gardeners who has faithfully watered your plants each week with a half-strength solution of fertilizer, August is the time to stop. If you have been water/fertilizing your annuals, they should have enough fertilizer in the soil mixture to get them through the end of the season or freeze up. It is not wise to fertilize perennial late in the growing season as it encourages continued active growth for foliage and blossoms. Now is the time you want them to slow their grow and start to shut down, and begin to take the energy stored in their leaves and put it down into their roots to get ready for the winter and next springs growth.
A birdbath tip
If you have a birdbath close to your home and are entertaining guests, be sure to scrub it up well and put fresh water and some attractive stones in the bottom. Than take a few blossoms of whatever flowers are blooming in your garden and float them on the water. While the flowers will last only about a day or so and need to be removed, the effect with the birdbath is most attractive.
Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.