VEGETABLES and some Special Edibles 

Q. I have some spots on my green pepper leaves. Will they affect pepper yields? 
What control do you recommend? 

A. Your pepper leaves have some fungal spots. Water in the morning only and keep water off the foliage. Try copper fungicide for control. 

Q. I have a garden box with tomatoes that are planted in a mixture of topsoil and cow manure. The green plants are lush but have few flowers or fruit. The fruit are small. What do you recommend? 

A. You may have a soil too rich in nitrogen that is promoting leafy growth instead of flowers and fruit. To promote more flowering, use a generic "bloom special" liquid fertilizer. If bees are scarce, cross-pollinate with an artist's paintbrush by brushing each flower center with the bristles. This will help to set the fruit. The season for tomatoes begins in October and winds down in late April or May. Cherry tomatoes can continue through the summer months. 

Q. I have whitefliy and blossom-end rot on my tomatoes. I used a malathion/Sevin spray for whitefly. What can I do for control? 

A. A calcium treatment would take care of the blossom-end rot. The malathion/Sevin spray you used on the whitefly probably killed the pollinating bees. In the future, try yellow sticky boards for the whitefly. Put a board on a post and paint it with cadmium yellow paint. Cover the painted board with a light gear oil. Whitefly is attracted to the yellow board and will stick to the oil and die. Wipe off the oil and repeat as needed. Good lizards can stick to the board, so be careful. 

Q. My tomato plants have started to wilt. I have grown tomatoes for years and feed them with 10-12-8 tomato food. Some plants start to wilt when the fruit is 2-3 inches in size. Why? 

A. Your tomatoes probably have fusarium or verticillium wilt. Select VFN resistant tomato varieties in the future. Keep water off the leaves and keep the plant drier. Use a copper fungicide spray on the plant, which may offer some help. Rotate your tomato plants and do not put them in the same place each year. Try growing them in 5-gallon buckets instead. 

Q. My climbing tomatoes are splitting and the leaves are brown and dry even though I water every day. Why? 

A. You probably watered them too much. Excess water also ruins the flavor and causes fertilizer to leach past plant roots before the plants can use it. Brown leaves are symptomatic of various fungal and root rot diseases. Water your plants in the morning only once every three to four days after they are established. 

Q. My tomato plants have white wiggle marks in the leaves. What are they? 

A. You have leaf miners, which are more of a nuisance that anything else. They do not affect the fruit and only make the leaves unsightly. Leaf miners are small caterpillars that burrow in between the leaf layers so they can't be reached with a regular insecticide. A systemic product would do them in, but also will affect the fruit to some degree. I would leave them alone and enjoy your tomatoes. Your tomato plants can have as much as 60% of its foliage affected with leaf miner and the fruit will not suffer. If you do not have too many infected leaves you can pinch them off. 

Q. My tomatoes are growing and blooming well but no fruit. We do not seem to have pollinating insects. How do I hand pollinate

A. Buy an artists paintbrush and put the brush into each flower to transfer pollen from one bloom to another. You are playing bee and the pollinated flowers should produce fruit. 

Q. My cabbage leaves, peppers, tomatoes all have bites in them. What can I do to correct the problem? 

A. Your leaves are being chewed by a caterpillar and worms are attacking the tomatoes. Use Dipel, a safe organic pesticide for caterpillars. Follow label instructions for application and repeat spray seven to ten days later. Harvest tomatoes early when they are just starting to turn red to minimize worm damage. Keep foliage dry, using a soaker hose and water in the morning only to minimize fungal leaf spots. 

Q. My lettuce is limp and light green even though it gets plenty of sun. Why? 

A. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be sown between September and January. Limp pale lettuce could be attributed to growing the plants in the full sun. A cooler location with morning sun only would result in better quality lettuce. 

Q. Where can I get the romaine lettuce seed that commercial growers use? The plants I get from regular seed companies look like weeds. 

A. `Jericho' is a heat-tolerant romaine lettuce. Bred in Israel, it has large heavy heads that are nicely shaped and very crunchy. It should be planted anytime between September and January and can be harvested 60 days later. If the soil is above 80 degrees, the seed will stay dormant until the weather cools. Be sure to keep the soil cool at germination time. Jericho is available through Shepard's Garden Seeds. 

Q. I want to plant watermelon. When will I know when it is ripe? 

A. Watermelon is ripe usually 80-100 days after planting. They are planted in February and March so should be ripe by July. When you tap the end of the watermelon it should sound hollow. 

Q. I planted corn in my yard but the ears are small and malformed. What causes this to happen?

A. Soil sterilization is an important necessity in South Florida with vegetable gardens because of nematodes and soil-borne disease. Plant selection is very important. The corn may also be suffering from poor cross-pollination. You need to plant a good amount of corn in a square or rectangle for good pollination and ear formation. Corn is pollinated by the wind. I suspect you may have some nutritional problems as well. 

Q. I am losing my zucchini to rot. What is wrong? 

A. Spray the plants with copper fungicide and repeat treatment in 10 days. 

Q. Can vegetable cuttings, seeds and small plants be planted in straight compost? Does the compost need topsoil added? 

A. New vegetable plants/seeds/cuttings can be started in mid-September if they are protected from heavy rains. They are usually set out in the garden in mid-October when the dry season normally starts. Add one-third perlite or vermiculite to the compost for good aeration and stability. Give the plants as much sun as possible after they are hardened off to get the best results. 

Q. What are the most common strawberry varieties grown in South Florida? 

A. The most common strawberries grown here include Florida 90, Tioga, Florida belle, Douglas and Sequoia. 

Q. Our cucumbers and squash bloom well but do not set fruit. We used fruit set spray to no avail. 

A. I would suspect a lack of pollinating insects like bees. Avoid spraying which could kill the bees. If you must spray do it at dusk when the bees are not pollinating. You could play bee and transfer pollen from flower to flower with the tip of an artist's paintbrush 

Q. What can I do to control caterpillars on my bush beans? I want an organic product safe for my family. 

A. Use Thuricide or Dipel, which are organic stomach poisons that only affect caterpillars. Follow label directions exactly.

Q. I grow tomatoes every year on my screened porch but must fight off a plague of whitefly. Where do they come from and what can I do to control them? 

A. Check your plants very carefully to make sure they do not have whitefly when you buy them. An extra strong pyrethrum spray will control the whitefly and is organic. 

Q. Is it better to use last year's soil in planting flowers and vegetables in pots or to use fresh soil? 

A. Many people use the prior year's soil with success but ideally I would use new soil. 

Q. What vegetables can I grow on my condo porch? I am from New York . What is the season here? 

A. You can grow vegetables between October and May. Tomatoes and peppers are the usual container favorites but herbs and others are also suitable. Five- gallon paint buckets with holes punched in them for drainage are best for tomatoes.