University of Illinois Extension

Vegetable Gardening Q & A

Maintaining a vegetable garden is an ongoing process, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"We often find familiar questions arising every season," said Ron Wolford. "Here are some questions and answers that may prove helpful."

When can I pick my cucumbers?

Cucumbers can be picked at any stage of development. For pickles, pick them when they are about 2 inches long. For slicing cucumbers, pick at about six to eight inches long and for making dill pickles, pick at four to six inches long. Pick every other day. Do not allow cucumbers to turn yellow. Best time to pick cucumbers is early in the morning. Pick and store in fridge.


My cucumber vines wilted almost overnight. What's going on?

It sounds like bacterial wilt disease. The cucumber beetle will often overwinter in garden debris or weeds around the garden. Your young cucumber plants were infected with the disease by the feeding of the cucumber beetle. It takes weeks for the symptoms-wilting to show up, and you will usually have a few small cucumbers on the vines. There is nothing you can do to save the vine at this point. Remove all dead plants from your garden at the end of the growing season and cut down weeds around the garden to reduce early season infestation by cucumber beetles.

How do I know when my onions are ready to harvest?

Onions are ready to harvest when their tops have flopped over and turned yellow. This usually occurs in late August-early September. Dig up the bulbs and let them air dry for a few days in the sun. Store the onions in a cool, dry place.

My tomato plants are full of flowers, but they keep dropping off. I have just a few tomatoes on the plant. What is wrong?

The 95 degree plus temperatures we have had this summer can cause tomato plants to drop flowers and not set fruit. When the weather hopefully cools, this problem will end.


What are the large green caterpillars eating my tomato leaves?

You have encountered the tomato hornworm. The hornworm is a large green caterpillar with white stripes. They can grow to almost four inches long. The hornworm's identifying characteristic is a black horn on the last abdominal segment. Hornworms feed on the leaves and fruit. They blend in so well that they often are not noticed until the damage is done. Control by handpicking.

I have big cracks in my tomatoes. How can I prevent this?

Mulching your tomatoes will keep soil moisture uniform and help to alleviate this condition. Cracking of tomatoes often occurs when we get a heavy rainfall after a dry spell. Try planting tomato varieties that are resistant to cracking like 'Supersonic'.

Are squash blossoms edible?

Squash blossoms can be eaten raw or cooked. Harvest the male blossoms for eating. Female blossoms will have a small swelling just below the petals. The stem of the male blossom has no swelling. Cut the blossoms at midday when the blossoms are open. Leave an inch or so of stem. Rinse the blossoms in cool water and store in ice water in the fridge. They can be battered and fried.

I am a new gardener. What are some things I can do in my vegetable garden to reduce insect and disease problems?

Try following some good gardening procedures that will reduce your need for pest controls. Choose a sunny location for your garden with at least six to eight hours of sun. Water the vegetables without wetting the foliage by using drip or soaker hoses. This keeps the foliage dry and reduces disease. Have your soil tested and add organic matter to your soil each year. A healthy soil will allow you to grow healthy plants that can better withstand insect and disease problems. Choose disease-resistant vegetables for next year's garden. Don't plant the same vegetable in the same spot year after year. This just invites disease and insect problems. Spacing vegetables properly and caging, staking and trellising vegetables will provide good air circulation around plants. This helps to reduce foliage disease. Scout your garden a couple times a week for insect and disease problems in order to catch problems early. At the end of the gardening season, remove all dead and dying plants especially those that had any insect and disease problems. Removing the plants will reduce overwintering sites for insects and disease.

For more information, check out the University of Illinois Extension website, Watch Your Garden Grow at: