Saturday, May 16, 2015

Be careful when working outside in the heat

Always wear a hat when working outdoors!
Hot, humid weather is a danger to anyone who works outside, either for a job or for a pastime like gardening. When you're working outside, your body tries to cool itself by sweating. When it's mild weather, your perspiration evaporates and starts to cool you off. But working outside when it is hot and humid makes it harder for sweat to evaporate.

Here are some precautions for helping regulate your body's temperature:

Get used to the heat, both at the beginning of the hot season and at the beginning of the day. Adults require three to seven days to acclimate to the heat.

Rest every once in a while in the air conditioning or shade.

As you're working outside, drink 1 cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes. Your body can produce 2 to 3 gallons of sweat throughout the day, so make sure you're taking in at least as much liquid as you're sweating out. It's dangerous to wait until you're thirsty before getting a drink. If your outdoor task takes more than an hour, drink a sports drink such as Powerade or Gatorade to help replace the electrolytes your body is excreting in its sweat.

Wear loose, lightly colored cotton clothing. And don't forget to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen.

Next: Dealing with heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Friday, May 15, 2015

How to grow cucumbers 3

The banded cucumber
beetle is 1/4 inch long
and has yellow-green body
with three yellow bands. 
Cucumbers have both male and female blooms. Male flowers open first and then drop off. Female flowers form the cucumber and need to stay put. If the female blooms drop off, use a Q-tip to touch the inside of each male and female flower to pollinate, thus encouraging fruiting.
The spotted cucumber beetle
is 1/4 inch long and is
yellow-green with 12 black spots. 

The squash bug is up to an inch
long and is reddish brown
when small and
gray-brown when grown.
Unfortunately, a number of pests will be waiting to make a meal of your cucumber plants.

You'll need to decide what insecticide to use (organic or inorganic) and spray regularly. Sevin is an inorganic choice. If you're an organic gardener, your options include sulfur, Bt-based insecticides. Of course, always follow the label directions.

Most diseases present as spots on the the upper or lower sides of the leaves. You should check the plants every day and spray them with the fungicide of your choice if diseases show up (and they will). Neem oil and sulfur are two of your fungicide choices; use them safely!

Don't wait until your cucumbers get yellow; get them when they reach the desired size and are green.

Cucumbers take a lot of work, but the results are worth it. Here's to a healthy harvest of cool, refreshing cucumbers. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to grow cucumbers 2

Cucumbers have certain requirements if they are to bear much fruit. Here are some of their basic needs:
  • Nice, deep soil (cuke roots are 3 to 4 feet deep!)
  • Well-drained soil, preferably in hills or raised beds
  • Warm temperatures
  • Lots of space going up a trellis or fence (cukes can grow 6 to 8 feet tall!)
  • Plenty of water during the growing season
Preparing the soil
Get rid of any large debris. Using a spade, dig 8 to 12 inches into the soil. Turn each shovelful of soil completely over and break it up to make sure it's nice and loose. Now work the soil into ridges that are 4 to 6 inches high and at least 3 feet apart. 

Fertilizing beforehand
Before planting, for each 10 feet of row, work into the soil 1 cup of 10-10-10 or 10-20-10 fertilizer.

Make a thin, 1-inch-deep furrow down the center of each ridge. Plant a few seeds every foot or so, then cover the seeds with about 1 inch of loose soil. Gently tamp it down. Planting extra seeds is fine, since you will remove extra plants soon after they come up.

Be sure to water your cucumbers at least once a week, and probably more often.

Fertilizing as they grow
When the vines are about a foot long, feed them about 1/2 cup of fertilizer for each 10 feet of row, or 1 tablespoon per plant.

Be careful when you pull weeds around your cucumbers. Don't hoe or dig any deeper than 1 inch as you may cut the delicate feeder roots. I have run that experiment.

Next: How to grow cucumbers 3

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to grow cucumbers 1

Cucumbers are both simple and difficult to grow here along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Simple because they come up easily. Difficult because all manner of insects and diseases attack cucumber plants as soon as they poke their heads out of the soil.

So let's start at the beginning. Cucumbers are pretty easy to grow from seed. Here in agricultural Zone 9, we plant cucumbers from the beginning of March to the end of April. Hardy candidates for this region (and most likely yours if you're in Zone 9) include Straight Eight (the smaller pickling cukes) and Sweet Success, Suyo Long and Spacemaster (for sliciing).  There are many other varieties. Check with your agricultural extension service or Master Gardeners for your area's planting times and best varieties.

I start cukes from seed right in the garden. Now, I've bought cucumber seedlings in Big Box Land but cucumber stems are very delicate and easily damaged. If there's something to be damaged, I will damage it. Hence, I direct-seed.

Next: How to grow cucumbers 2