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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

No-Soil Gardening (page 4 of 5)

by Howard M. Resh

Plant Care and Training

The easiest way to support vine crops like cucumbers and tomatoes is to tie their stems to polyethylene string running from a support bar attached to ceiling hooks or from a support frame. Place hinged plastic stem clips under a strong leaf stem every foot or so along the plant's main stem. The clamp's hinge pinches the string when the clamp is closed. For additional support, wind the string around the main stem of the plant--one or two wraps between each set of clips.

Train tomatoes and cucumbers to single stems and peppers to two stems. On tomatoes, pinch out all side shoots at leaf axils when they are about an inch long.

Remove all suckers and tendrils from cucumbers. Also remove all fruit for the first 3 to 4 feet (using a step stool if necessary) then allow every other fruit to grow up to the support bar. Cut the top of the plant there allowing two side shoots to grow over the support bar and two-thirds of the way back down the main stem before pinching their growing tips. Allow all fruit to grow on these two stems. After they have produced fruit, cut them back to the second side shoot near the overhead support, and these will start growing again.

Tomato flowers must be hand-pollinated. Vibrate the flowers for several seconds with your finger or a soft brush. Once fruits set, remove all but five per cluster to obtain uniform production and ripening.

Tomatoes need about three months from seeding to first harvest, cucumbers about two months. The plants will grow for up to a year but become less productive with age and therefore should be replanted after six months. Each plant within this period can yield 20 pounds or more of fruit, while cucumbers should produce two or three fruits per week during their harvesting period. Peppers take longer to mature and produce fewer fruit than tomatoes.

Butterhead-type lettuce such as 'Bibb' is ready to harvest 35 to 40 days from transplanting, about the same time as for leaf lettuces. You can also cut them at less than half that age to use with herbs and small-leaved vegetables in a mesclun mix.

Harvest herbs regularly as soon as they have enough leaves that their growth won't be set back by picking. Pinch off any flowers that form on mint or basil to keep the plants vegetative. Prune back any woody stems that develop, especially on basil.

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