Fruits, Vegetables And Herbs Articles

Fruits, Vegetables And Herbs

Harvesting Carrots

Final Garden Steps of the Season

As the first frost of the season becomes imminent, look around the garden for any final tasks to tidy up the garden. Harvest any warm season crops that will be damaged by frost, including tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, basil, and zucchini.   Pumpkins, if they’ve begun turning orange, can be harvested from plants and will continue to ripen.  Food is food, so look at those things you can still take advantage of.  For instance, squash blossoms are edible and highly prized for their delicate flavor. You can harvest the blossoms for yourself or leave them in place for the pollinators to partake of that last delectable bit of nectar. . . read more

Drought Stress on Tree Image

The Deepening Drought

Even with the much-appreciated recent rains, it isn’t enough water to lift the region out of drought. There are some changes we can implement to help plants while still making the most of the water we have.

What to Water
For landscape plants, priorities for watering are placed in importance: 1. Plants planted within the past 5 years, 2, Evergreens and orchards, and 3. All other plants. New trees and shrubs are watered 3-5 gallons per caliper inch (the trunk diameter in inches) per week. Evergreens and fruit trees, along with all other landscape plants, need an inch of water, applied all in one application, per week. Be aware that dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees should also be watered. . . . read more

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Blossom End Rot Of Tomatoes

A dark leathery lesion on the underside of tomatoes indicates blossom end rot. It’s not a fungal condition alone but a location of calcium deficiency that allows rot to develop. Typically, BER occurs on the first tomatoes of the season, often with the onset of high temperatures. A recurrence of BER can happen when conditions are extremely dry.  Peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and other summer squash can also develop BER. . . . read more


When Plants Defend Themselves

There is a great line in the first Jurassic Park movie when Ellie, the character played by Laura Dern, says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Plants can be pretty but will defend themselves if threatened.”  Assuredly, not all plants are sweet and accommodating. Of course, there are plants that throw in their lot with humans, giving people fruits and vegetables for food, fiber for textiles, and medicines for health. We manipulate plants to get what we need, and we aid their survival by saving seed and propagating plants.  It begs the question, though, are we manipulating plants or are they manipulating us? . . . read more

Yellow Nutsedge

Now is the time to . . .

Put down grub control to manage grub damage in lawns. The end of June/beginning of July is the window to complete this task, when grubs are small and more easily managed. 

Stop using herbicides to manage nutsedge.  Nutsedge has tiny growths at the end of roots, called nutlets, that will begin growth when the parent plant is killed, making for even more plants. . . read more

Herbs in Container Image

National Herbs and Spices Day

June 10 is National Herbs and Spices Day. Avid gardeners know that herbs and spices lend excellence to food, add nutrients to our diet, and are easy to grow.

Herbs are those flavorful leaves we add to dishes while spices are the seeds. Take cilantro as an example.  The leaves are chopped, minced, or added whole to salsas, dips, soups, and salads. The seeds, known as coriander, can be harvested and used whole, or ground into a fine powder. Both the leaves and seeds come from the cilantro plant, but the leaves are considered an herb and the seeds a spice. . . read more


Hope Garden Image

HOPE Vegetable Garden

If only vegetable gardening was the straightforward task of planting seeds and starter plants outdoors without any attention to the annoying details of soil temperature and late frost.  This isn’t the case, however, and a little planning goes a long way towards success. Certainly, this year’s cool start to spring has been a boon for cool season vegetables.  Radishes and lettuce are just some of the vegetables requiring cooler soils to grow well. . . . read more

Vegetable Planting Temperature Guide

Planting Garden Vegetables Based on Soil Temperature

Not only does frost-free weather initiate the planting of warm season vegetables (like tomatoes), but soil temperatures play a strong role when it comes time to planting both cool season and warm season vegetables. Certainly this spring has been challenging for gardeners waiting to get cool season vegetables planted and now with Mother’s Day just around the corner, chances are good that planting warm season vegetables should be delayed as well. Rather than relying solely on the calendar to determine timing—“I always plant after Mother’s Day”—this year is definitely one that requires greater attention to soil temps and frost forecasts. While seeds and plants of cool season vegetables like radishes  and cabbage will survive if planted too soon, warm season vegetables (like beans and peppers) planted too soon will perish when soil temperatures are too cold for them. Check out soil temperatures in your area on this map: .


Alfalfa Mosaic of Tomato Image

Tomato Viruses

As difficult as blights are to manage in tomatoes, viral diseases are far worse. This is because there are no effective products to stop their spread.  To make matters even more challenging, virus infection is most often the work of sap sucking insects, such as aphids, thrips, and leafhoppers, that vector diseases. Insecticides to stop these insects provide limited results, often after insect feeding has already enabled virus spread to plants. . . . read more

Walnut tree fruits

The Black Walnut Tree

Urban dwellers either praise or curse the black walnut (Juglans nigra). Some find the tree troublesome because of the nuts they drop, the juglone (a natural herbicide) secreted into the soil to kill nearby plants, and the increased number of squirrels in the neighborhood. Supporters of black walnut like the tree because it is native, well adapted to the precipitation and temperature variations of Midwest weather, is stately, grows valuable wood and nuts, and provides food for wildlife. . . . read more

Amending Soil Image

Readying The Garden Soil For Winter

As harvest from the vegetable garden draws to a close, it is time to plan and take steps to protect the soil for the winter months ahead. This ensures the soil is in good shape and ready for next year’s garden. After all, soil isn’t just dirt, but a rich and varied composition of minerals and plant nutrients, organic matter, beneficial microorganisms, and humic acid.  It is not only foundational, with spaces for roots to grow and anchor plants, but also serving up a nourishing “stew” for seed germination, plant growth and vegetable production. . . . read more

Potato Fruit Image

National Potato Day - August 19

In honor of National Potato Day, let’s pay homage to the spud.  Here are some things to know about potatoes and potato plants:

•There are blue, white, and gold-fleshed potatoes, as well as round ones, oblong ones, lumpy ones, and fingerlings. Skin colors are red, russet, blue, and golden.

•Seed potatoes should be certified disease-free to prevent transfer of diseases to new crops and contaminating the soil.  Late blight, Phytopthora infestans, will long live in infamy as the pathogen that set into motion the Irish potato famine. The fungal spores of late blight and other pathogens can persist in soil for many years, affecting the health of future potatoes planted there. . . . read more

Colorado Potato Beetle Image

Colorado Potato Beetle

From its name, it would be nice if Colorado potato beetles were only found in Colorado but unfortunately, that is not the case. The CPB, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, is a serious pest of potato and related crops in North America.  Recently, the CPB was found at the Growing Together Nebraska garden here in Fremont, feeding on the foliage of both potatoes and eggplant. This insect has a voracious appetite, eating leaves down to almost nothing, which in turn decreases yields. . . . read more


Growing Strawberries

Summer’s first tasty bite of fresh ripe strawberries is enough to convince many to try their hand at growing this delicious fruit for themselves. 

The first consideration—what type of strawberry to grow—depends on your picking preference. June-bearers produce a bounteous crop in June and July. Ever-bearers can have multiple crops depending on your location and the growing conditions—one in spring with the possibility of several more crops through the season. Day neutral strawberries like cool moist conditions and will yield fruit regularly when these conditions are met. Of these 3 types, June-bearers have the best overall yield each growing season. . . . read more

Cucumber Image

Cucumber Bitterness

The compound that imparts the bitter taste in cucumbers is cucurbitacin. Wild cucumbers have a large amount of cucurbitacin, which discourages feeding by wild animals and insects. Today’s hybrids have been bred to have lower amounts of cucurbitacin in the fruit and what cucurbitacin is in the plant is concentrated in the roots, leaves, and stems. In instances where the bitter compound is in cucumbers, it is more prevalent in the stem end than the blossom end.  This has to do with coloration, since the compound tends to be in the darker green areas of the skin. This is also why cucumbers are sometimes peeled—to rid the cukes of the bitter taste. Misshapen fruit will also have more cucurbitacin than normal-shaped ones. . . . read more

Radishes Image

Vegetable Gardening 101

The Nebraska Extension Horticulture, Landscape, and Environmental Systems team has put together and launched a new webpage. “Vegetable Gardening 101”is for new gardeners desiring to learn more about the challenges and rewards of gardening in Nebraska.

Housed on the Backyard Farmer website, this web page focuses on:

  •  selecting what vegetables to grow
  • choosing a good site to grow the garden
  • how to determine what size the garden should be
  • read more
Rhubarb Image


Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, is an easy-to-grow perennial that lends a delightfully tart taste to pies, crisps and jams. The fact it is a perennial means there’s no extra labor to grow plants annually from seed like you do for the vegetable garden.  The edible part of rhubarb, the petiole (also called a stalk), is technically not a fruit, but its size relative to fruit trees makes rhubarb a nice fit for a smaller space.  The robust leaves, though poisonous, are eye-pleasing and make an unexpected addition into landscape plantings. . . . read more

Morel Mushroom Image


 “Foraging” refers to the gathering of wild edibles for food to grace our table. Historically, the human race began as hunter-gatherers, gleaning food from what was found, not raised. With the growing interest in fresh and local, there has been a resurgence of interest in foraging for wild food.

 Morel mushrooms have always had an avid fan base, with hunters jealously guarding the locations of their most lucrative hunting spots. There is a reason for this, with sales of morels netting $20 per pound and more. Similarly, the locations of wild asparagus are closely guarded secrets. My brother keeps a list of spots where he finds wild asparagus so he can be sure to harvest the delectable spears in spring. Dandelion leaves, while never hard to find, make a nutritious early season salad. . . . read more

Warm Season Vegetables

Cool season vegetables are those that grow best during the cooler growing conditions of spring. Warm season vegetables are those that do not survive frost and should be planted after May 10, around Mother’s Day, to ensure no late frost damage.  If planted earlier, plants should be covered if frost is forecasted.   Since warm season vegetables thrive in the heat of summer, there is no advantage to planting early outside when soils are cold as this slows plant vigor.  Is it better to direct seed into the garden or do warm season vegetables do better started indoors? For some, like tomatoes and peppers, plants planted in the garden give a head start, producing earlier, while others it’s easier to direct sow. . . . read more

Chives Image


Of all the herbs in my herb garden, chives are the earliest to send out their slender stems in spring. So even when the vegetable garden isn’t producing yet, I can add something fresh to the food I’m preparing by heading outside to snip some chives. They add a nice mildly onion-y taste to salads and they look great on baked potatoes. This perennial plant is not only easy to grow but its frost resistance makes it a colorful contribution to the table from early spring until late in the fall.

Chives are easy to grow from seed in the spring.  Prepare a seed bed and gently press seeds into the soil.  Cover seeds lightly with soil and moisten them with a gentle sprinkle of water.  Mark the spot and in about 14-28 days, you’ll see tiny slender stalks emerging from the soil.  Keep the seedlings evenly moist as they grow.  If started indoors, plants should be hardened off (acclimated) before planting them in their permanent place.  If started outdoors, be sure to choose a location that gets more than 6 hours of direct uninterrupted sunlight daily. . . . read more

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Growing Garlic

If you’ve grown garlic before, you know that the cloves for planting are found readily in the spring.  What many do not know is that fall planted garlic produces larger cloves than spring-planted ones.  Using this opportunity to plant now means it’s not too late to reap the benefits of fall-planted garlic.

In selecting a site to grow garlic, choose one that gets 6 or more hours of direct uninterrupted sunlight daily and has a well-draining soil.  In dense soils, garlic can rot, so amending the soil with compost first ensures a good crop. Garlic needs a nutrient-rich soil, so sandy soils will also benefit from the addition of compost. . . . read more

Pecan Image

The Northern Pecan

In preparation for April 14’s National Pecan Day, what better way to celebrate the day than planting your very own northern pecan tree, Carya illinoinensis. Native to southern Wisconsin and the northern parts of Illinois and Iowa and extending south to Texas, the northern pecan can handle winter temperatures as low as -35 degrees F.  It has pinnately compound leaves that turn a beautiful yellow color in the fall. This tree gets large, upwards of 70 feet, with a crown extending 40 feet or more, so give it plenty of room at planting time. . . . read more

Squash Mosaic Virus Leaves Image

Mosaic Virus on Squash

Viruses represent some of the toughest diseases to manage in cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and melon plants.  Often the disease doesn’t kill but does reduce the size and number of leaves, which in turn decreases fruit production. Cucumber mosaic, cucumber green mottle mosaic, watermelon mosaic, zucchini yellow mosaic, and squash mosaic are some of the viruses that infect plants in the Cucurbit family. The viruses are spread from infected seeds, by aphid feeding, and by mechanical means, such as using a gardening tool on an infected plant and then using the same unclean tool on a healthy one. . . . read more

Market Asparagus Image

Growing Asparagus

Cooks love the earliness that fresh asparagus provides. Gardeners love it because it’s perennial and relatively worry-free. If you’ve not grown asparagus, this spring would be a good time to plant a few crowns to find out for yourself just how easy it is to grow.

 Asparagus can be started in one of two ways.  Seeds are an economical way to go but add an extra year onto when harvest can begin. Asparagus can also be started from year-old crowns purchased from garden centers, box stores or catalog companies. ‘Mary Washington’ is an asparagus variety that has been around since 1949 and is still readily found today. The ‘Jersey’ series of asparagus, consisting of ‘Jersey Knight’ and ‘Jersey Giant’ are highly touted but lack hardiness when temperatures are below -30° F and snow cover is minimal.  Newer varieties better suited to our winters include ‘Purple Passion’ and ‘Viking KB-3’. . . . read more

Hope Garden Planting Image

Begining Vegetable Gardening 101

Nothing provides greater satisfaction than to grow your own food.  It’s also really easy to start, with a small investment in some seeds, a few transplants, and a container or plot of land.

 A basic requirement in vegetable gardening is a clear understanding that there are cool season vegetables—those that grow and produce best when temperatures are chilly and frost is still a common thing—and warm season vegetables—those that grow abundantly when frosts are past and temperatures are warm.  Cool season vegetables include kale, lettuce, peas, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, onion, and spinach, to name a few.  Warm season crops are comprised of eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo, beans, okra, New Zealand spinach, cucumbers, melons, corn, basil, summer squash, and winter squash. . . . read more

Dandelion Flowers Image

Managing Weeds in the Garden

Weeds may be our least favorite topic but still one of the driving forces behind phone and email questions right now, with “How do I kill...?” leading the discussion. Weed identification may seem immaterial, after all, the consuming focus is to be rid of the pesky plant, but in reality, this should always be the first step.  Why?  Because determining if the weed is an annual or perennial will help to direct the most effective management strategy. . . . read more

Fresh Produce

Flooded Vegetable Garden Plots

 Looking forward to the vegetable garden this spring, it’s easy to think that now that the flood waters have receded, our gardening season can carry on as usual.  While many of the callers to Extension are aware of potential dangers of gardening on a flooded site, the exact way forward is a little unclear.  Here is a synopsis of how flooding affects food safety in our vegetable gardens and orchards. . . . read more

Morel Mushrooms Image

Be Mindful of Flooded Areas When Hunting Morels

As morel mushroom hunting season approaches, be mindful of food safety.   It’s important to remember flood waters don’t carry just water.  There is a host of unsavory things that are downright dangerous—

               ▪Human disease pathogens from raw sewage,

               ▪Pesticides carried from farm fields and lawns on soil particles and plant residue,

               ▪And rubber and petroleum products from cars, boats and farm equipment. 

 While there is NO washing technique that will completely remove all contaminants from morels, the heat from cooking them will likely kill human pathogenic bacteria and viruses. This is not true for pesticide and petroleum residues. . . . read more

Chenault Coralberry Image

It's The Berries

As autumn’s colorful leaves fall to the ground, our attention turns to berries as a source of color in our landscapes and for cuttings to grace our tables and entryways.

Crabapples represent some of the most reliable of spring’s breathtaking flowers, but the fruit they produce also offer an array of yellow, orange and red in the fall.  Older crabapple varieties are notorious for fallen fruit that become a mess on sidewalks and driveways. Instead, look for varieties with persistent fruit so they stay prettily on the tree until the songbirds, like cedar waxwings, help themselves. Crabapple varieties with persistent fruit include ‘Harvest Gold’, ‘Indian Summer’, ‘Centurion’ and ‘Christmas Holly’, among others. . . . read more

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Saving Seeds

Long before the advent of seed catalogs, gardeners saved seed from their prettiest, tastiest and most promising flowers and vegetables of the gardening season, discarding the seeds from the blah, the unattractive and the poor producers.  In essence, gardeners have helped mold the shape of gardening selections, making them some of the earliest purveyors of genetic modification.

Today, the farm-to-table movement has generated new interest in the time-honored practice of seed saving. Before starting seed saving, there are two concepts that are worth knowing and understanding. . . . read more

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Fall Garden Clean Up

When cleaning up the fall garden, it’s hard to know what should be cleared away and what should stay.  Gurus of tidiness opt for removing everything now in order to start with a clean slate in the spring.  But is there such a thing as too much tidiness?  It turns out that, yes indeed, that can be true. 

Plant stems act as a catch-all, collecting leaves, twigs and other bits of organic debris around the crown of perennial plants. This mulch layer protects the crown and root system from weather extremes, making them more winter-hardy.

Did you know that 30% of all native bees nest in the hollow stems of plants?  Another good reason for leaving the stems of annuals and perennials in place over the winter months! Removal of these materials can be done in April, after the native bees have left the stems where they’ve over-wintered. . . . read more

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October Musings on the Vegetable Garden

Recently my friend Mary Anna returned from out of town to find her vegetable garden had been visited and the butternut squash eaten.  Teeth marks on the squash remnants indicated that one or more squirrels were the culprits.  Butternut squash wouldn’t necessarily be a squirrel’s first choice but as the growing season slows, all animals will look to our vegetable gardens as a ready food source.

If you’re like me, you prefer to have your winter squash cure while still attached to the vine.  Curing is the process where the rind of winter squash—butternut, acorn, blue Hubbard, and pumpkin, to name a few—thickens, increasing its storability.  This is one vegetable that the arduous task of freezing, canning or dehydrating isn’t necessary in order to enjoy them well into the winter months.  A nice thick rind, a cool dry place and voilà, stored beta carotene with a minimum of fuss. . . . read more

Squash Vine Borer Adult Moths

Squash Vine Borer

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing the almost-ready-to-produce zucchini plant collapse.  If the base of the plant is mushy and has holes, the most likely reason is the squash vine borer.

The squash vine borer adult is a ½ inch long moth that doesn’t look or act like most moths. It has an orange abdomen with black dots and, while most moths are night time fliers, the squash vine borer moth is a day flier.  After, the female moth lays her eggs at the base of plants, eggs will hatch and the caterpillars will bore into the stem.  Their feeding causes plant wilting and eventually death to the plant. . . . read more

Blossom End Rot Tomatoes

Blossom End Rot of Vegetables

So your zucchini has these leathery brown areas on their blossom end?  What is this and what can a gardener do about it?

Blossom end rot is confusing because it looks like it’s caused by a fungus.  It isn’t a fungus.  Instead it is a lack of calcium that is the cause.  Before you rush out to purchase lime or gypsum to apply to your plants and soil, it helps to have a better understanding of the mechanism that is causing this deficiency.

First, calcium exists in abundance in our soils, so applying even more won’t help.  Further, if we tested the plant for calcium we would find adequate amounts for good plant health. Rather it is the plant’s inability to distribute calcium, in this case to the developing vegetables, which is the cause here. . . . read more

Grasshopper on Pigweed Image


They are cute.  They are little.  So what is the big deal if there are lots of grasshoppers?  These seemingly innocuous little guys and gals can be quite harmful to our landscape plants and vegetable gardens.  As grasshoppers grow, their appetites become larger, making the damage they do even more severe.

Floating row covers and screens can work as exclusion devices to protect plants but bear in mind that grasshoppers can chew through floating row covers and screens made of nylon (not metal screens, thank goodness).  Exclusion devices will need to be removed so bees and other pollinators can pollinate vegetable plants.

The time for insecticide treatments is when grasshoppers are less than ¾ of inch long.  Waiting until the grasshoppers are larger means insecticides won’t be as effective. . . . read more

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Herbicide Damage to Vegetable Plants

Twisting, curling, and cupping of leaves are often symptomatic of herbicide damage on vegetable plants. The culprits that most readily cause this type of damage include 2,4-D (used to kill broadleaf weeds in lawns and pastures), dicamba (lawn and crop broadleaf weeds) and picloram (pasture broadleaf weeds). These herbicides are plant growth regulators, killing weeds by stimulating excessive growth and exhausting the plant’s carbohydrate reserves. When vegetable plants are exposed to smaller amounts of these herbicides, then distortion of growth results.

 Since there is nothing that can be done to counter the effects of herbicide drift, it is helpful to know how herbicide damage occurs on desired plants. There are 4 possibilities: . . . . read more

Tomato Disease Image

Heavy Rainfall, Strong Winds, High Humidity

Nothing deepens the appreciation for rainfall like a gentle rain and a light wind. But this is the Midwest, lest we forget, and weather conditions rarely follow our druthers. Take, for instance, the most recent rainfall and wind event. The tomato cages, with plants weighted by many tomatoes, bent to the ground in our Growing Together Nebraska garden. Luckily, the heavy winds didn’t rip up roots, but the tomato plants’ fall caused damage to the nearby pepper plants, necessitating early harvest of some of the peppers.

Vegetable Plants

Ponding water prevents oxygen reaching plant roots, where anaerobic conditions promote root and crown rot, leading to rapid plant decline.  Incorporating lots of organic matter into a clay soil will increase water infiltration, making ponding less of a problem. Water droplets splashing from the soil to the undersides of plant leaves inoculates them with pathogens like anthracnose and Septoria leaf spot on tomatoes. Mulching with shredded newspapers around vegetable plants lowers the possibility of pathogen-carrying droplets splashing onto leaves.  As water evaporates from plants and soil, humidity is increased, furthering the likelihood of fungal pathogens gaining a foothold. Plants susceptible to fungal diseases can be preventatively sprayed with a fungicide but once fungal diseases are ensconced in leaves, fungicides provide little to no curative effects.

Trees and Shrubs

The ideal time to trim trees and shrubs is April through June.  Nature’s inopportune storms are oblivious to this timeline and this will entail pruning outside the ideal time. Removing dangling branches, known as “hangers”, as well as making clean cuts to jagged stems are important for several reasons—human safety and tree health being foremost. Wound treatments are not recommended as they hasten tree decay. Fertilizing to “help” trees and shrubs following a stressful event favors many fungal and bacterial infections and is not advised.


Rust is a fungal disease of turfgrass, becoming noticeable when a walk through the lawn results in rusty colored shoes.  Close mowing, night watering, a thick layer of thatch and low soil fertility contribute to rust development. Again, fungicides will provide little in the way of curative effects, so correcting poor management practices provides the best chance to stop the disease from developing further. . . . read more