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Gardening with Wanda: Summer gardens yield sweet bounties around town
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Summer is here! Gardeners and farmers are growing, harvesting and selling their bounties around town. Also, we are busy answering calls from vegetable and fruit growers, small and large, with questions concerning their summer gardens.

Here at the Extension Office, we get a lot of calls this time of year about vegetable and fruit gardens.

Many fruits and vegetables are doing well, like okra, squash, cucumber, melons, peaches and blackberries. Tomatoes are struggling this year. With the exception of plum and cherry tomatoes, many of our heirloom and even hybrid tomatoes are suffering from the extreme heat.

The problem is a physiological disorder caused by high nighttime temperatures and soil moisture fluctuations. The single best control is to apply a good layer of mulch around the plants and a regular water supply, especially when the plants are maturing. Even with that, we cannot control the high temps, and the tomatoes are experiencing blossom drop, cracking on the fruit and ripening problems.

Melons will be maturing soon, so if they have been planted in a garden, look for signs they are ready to be harvested.

Watermelons give several clues. Look at the tendril, a small curly pigtail of a stem where it is attached to the vine. When the melon is ripe and ready to be picked, this tendril dries up and turns a brownish gray. Also if you are buying a melon in the market, look for clues like a "soil spot" where the melon was sitting in the garden.

On the bottom of the melon, you will see a cream or yellowish color. This indicates ripeness. Also, a dull thud when it is thumped will indicate a tasty watermelon. The good ones sound hollow.

Other smaller melons like cantaloupe and honeydew will soften at the end opposite the stem. This is usually a telltale sign they are reading for picking. Cantaloupes, honeydew and other small melons also will have a bottom ground color. Usually when the ground color is golden where the melon grew, it is ripe for eating. A strong sweet smell is another sign the melon is ripe.

Fruiting trees such as peach and figs are maturing now, so check limbs for heaviness and pick ripened fruit as soon as you can. Remember, ripened fruit left on a tree suppresses new production and can make your limbs more susceptible to breakage. Try harvesting in the mornings to keep birds and other prey away.

If you do not have a vegetable or fruit garden, check out one of the three local farmers markets in our area and purchase locally. The produce is always fresh and usually grown in more of an organic fashion. This is a wonderful way to support local farmers as well.

Here are the hours at the local markets:

Hall County Farmers Market: Open 6 a.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. Saturdays until sellout, off I-985 at Exit 24, Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Gainesville Downtown Market on the Square: 2:30-6 p.m. Fridays.

Spouts Springs Library: 4-7 p.m. Thursdays, parking lot, Spouts Springs Road, Flowery Branch.

You gardeners who have braved the heat to plant, tend and harvest your produce, reap the rewards of your labor. There is something very satisfying about growing your own vegetable and fruit garden. I have been sharing my cucumbers, okra and peppers to as many people who will take them, then purchasing from our local growers all of the other tasty produce I can find.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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