Diseases, Insects and Animals

These three things constantly threaten gardens. Here are some effective tactics for keeping these threats at bay.

key to controlling pests

Early intervention and constant attention is the key to controlling pests.

Early Intervention

Be sure to examine plants for signs of damage and make sure you vary the times you check for infestation. Different varieties of insects are active at different times of the day.

There are many ways for you to protect your crops: through pest-repellents, traps or just simply picking the pests off plants. If the foliage on your watermelon curls, puckers and turns yellow, your plants may have aphids. You can spray the plants several times with water early in the morning, once every other day to rid the plants of the bugs. If the leaves of your melon plant dry up and turn black, your plants may be infested with squash bugs. The best way to rid the plants of squash bugs is to handpick the bugs from the leaves.

Okra Pests

okra plants are susceptible to root disease

Okra plants are susceptible to root-knot nematode, microscopic worms that live in soil and attack plant roots.

Be sure to fertilize with compost, which produces fungi that attack nematodes. Some other pests of okra include Japanese beetles, corn earworm and virus wilt. If you must use an approved garden insecticide, spray the base and leaves of the plant. Your local garden center can recommend the best and most safe pesticide.

The best way to provide nutrients to your plants is through fertilizers and amendment. To add the fertilizer at midseason to the watermelons, apply 3-5-5 fertilizer into the soil around the base; then water the area to prevent burning from the fertilizer. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist and avoid wetting the leaves. Slight wilting of the leaves is normal in the middle of hot summer days, but do not allow the soil to become so dry that the leaves remain wilted into the evening.

You can also spray plants with liquid and water-soluble fertilizers. Time the applications for early morning, early evening or a cloudy day. Water evaporates more slowly at these times and the crops absorb more nutrients.

Fertilizer

fertilize okra monthly throughout growing season

For the okra, I added a 10-10-10 fertilizer, around the base of the plants and watered it in.

To keep the plants happy be sure to fertilize monthly throughout the growing season.

Okra must be harvested every day so that the plants will continue to bear. If you leave pods on the plant, it will stop producing. Frequent harvesting encourages plants to develop new flowers and pods. In late summer be sure to prune okra plants to encourage growth of lateral branches, which will produce new flowers and pods. Using a small hand pruner, cut the okra main stem back by one-third its height, and then water the plants well to promote strong, new growth.

Harvesting Okra

wear long sleeves and gloves to picking okra pods

Many people develop contact dermatitis from touching the prickly hairs on okra plants and pods. The okra pods, called "lady fingers," should be bright green and free from shriveling and discoloration. To harvest the okra, use a pruner to cut the pods from the stem, leaving a portion of the stem on the pod; pulling the pods off may damage the plants.

Test the tenderness of the pod, try to cut into an okra pod with your fingernail. If you cannot cut through with your fingernail then it is tough and should be cut off and composted. Be sure to remove any overripe pods to stimulate continuing production. You should be able to make successive sowings from May through mid-August. The plants will produce until frost, which quickly blackens and kills them.

Ripe Melons

determine if melons are ripe

Melons require a little more practice to know when they are ripe.

They will mature in 80 to 100 warm days. You should harvest melons early in the day after the plants are dry and be careful not to damage the vines. Pick every other day at the beginning of the season and go over the patch every day at peak season.

To determine if melons are ripe, look for ones that are very heavy and have a hard rind. The side where the watermelon has rested should be yellowish, not white or green. You should also thump the melon soundly with your finger and listen for a deep thud. Under ripe melons will sound high-pitched and tinny. But don't rely just on the "thud", If you cannot cut into the skin with your fingernail, it is sufficiently ripe.

Keeping Okra and Melons

store melons at room temperature

Stored at room temperature, melons will keep up to two or three weeks after harvest.

Storing them in the refrigerator will help hold them a little longer.

Okra is best when it's eaten the day it's picked. Okra does not store for more than 1 or 2 days, so it should be prepped quickly after harvest, unless it is stored in the refrigerator and it will hold about seven days.

There are a few tips to remember after harvest time is over. Crops should be rotated to help reduce disease and nematode problems. Okra plantings should not follow vine crop plantings such as squash or sweet potatoes. Also okra seed does not keep well so buy fresh seed each season.

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