Heavy rains affect peppers and tomatoes

story.lead_photo.captionExcessive rain will cause peppers to split, as it does tomatoes. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q Many of my peppers have big splits in them this week. Is there anything I can do to stop this? I have loads of new fruit coming on.

A Your peppers were simply overloaded with water last week and they split. This phenomenon occurs on tomatoes, peppers and even eggplant. We had too much water all at once. Cracking and splitting occur when rapid changes in soil moisture levels cause fruits to expand quicker than the tomato skin can grow. It usually affects the fruits that are nearing maturity. The peppers (and tomatoes and eggplant) are edible, if you harvest them quickly and use them. Otherwise, they begin to deteriorate rapidly and can rot on the vines.

Q Last spring a friend gave me a couple of “Celeste” fig cuttings. I put them in a pot with potting soil in a shady location and now they’ve really taken off. Should I transplant them now, or wait until after the first frost? Do I need to set them at their current depth, or bury them deeper, as you do tomato transplants? Any other advice will be appreciated. We live in Marianna, so they should do well in our yard (if I can keep squirrels, birds and raccoons away!).

A If you plan to plant them this year, and you can keep them watered, the sooner you plant, the better. It will allow the root system to start getting established before cold weather hits. Figs can suffer winter damage in a cold winter, even when they are well-established. Another option would be to keep them in their pots, move them to a protected spot for the winter, then plant them in the ground in the spring. Full morning sun and afternoon shade can help with winter hardiness. Plants in full afternoon sun go through more ups and downs with temperatures than those that are in some shade in the afternoon. When you do plant, you want to plant them at the same depth they are growing in now. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that can be buried deeper without problems.

Q How do I get a bushier “Black and Blue” salvia shrub starting next spring when the salvia comes out of dormancy? I can read a newspaper through them. What fertilizer would ensure a healthy start? Do I pinch back all new growth? The hummingbirds love this plant.

This "Black and Blue" salvia is leggy. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

This “Black and Blue” salvia is leggy. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A I have to admit that is one of the leggiest, but tallest “Black and Blue” salvia I have seen. It normally will reach a height of 3-4 feet. After a killing frost, cut the plant back to the soil line and add a fresh layer of mulch. When new growth begins next spring, fertilize with a complete fertilizer. Normally they start blooming in early summer and continue until frost. If it starts to get

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Controlling Grasshoppers in Garden Tomatoes

If your tomato garden is being decimated by grasshoppers or locusts – what steps can you do to rid your plants of these awful pests?

The first thing to note is that nature will always lend a helping hand. Birds love grasshoppers and locusts; chickens also love them. Hence, if you keep chickens, it is often a good idea to place your vegetable garden alongside them to that they share as much boundary fence as possible. Other garden helpers are lizards, frogs, snakes, ants and assassin bugs. Parasitic and paper wasps as well as Robber flies also prey on grasshoppers.

It is a good idea to plant a perennial ‘refuge’ around your vegetable patch or tomato crop where these predatory insects can hide. Recommended refuge plant species are coriander, dill, anise, sweet Alice, clover and caraway.

When controlling grasshoppers, the first thing to do is to check whether the grasshoppers you are seeing are plant eating ones, or whether they are actually eating other pests in your plants; not all grasshoppers are plant eaters. Those that are predatory (eat other pests) generally have spiny front legs that are adapted to grabbing prey. In addition, there are 2 types of grasshopper: those which are large with long antennae (feelers, which are longer than the body) and those with short antennae. The grasshoppers with long antennae are often plant feeders and are usually nocturnal – feeding at night. Short ‘horned’ grasshoppers and locusts are active during the day.

To control plant eating grasshoppers and locusts, a number of options are available:

  • Cover plants with a physical barrier such as a mosquito net
  • Check plants early in the morning whilst it is still cool. As it takes a while for the grasshoppers to warm up, it is simple to catch them by hand or with a net.
  • Traps can be made by burying a bucket up to the rim and filling it with a 10% molasses-water solution. Put canola oil on the surface to deter bees and mosquitoes. Renew as required. A soft pesticide can be mixed in with the canola oil.
  • Use a chilli spray. To make it, blend half a cup of chillies with 2 cups of water and a drop of dishwashing liquid.
  • Insecticidal potassium-based soap may work on the small or younger hoppers.
  • Specific grasshopper biological insecticides are available in some countries such as the USA.

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