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How to deal with heat stress, harvesting in summer gardens

How to deal with heat stress, harvesting in summer gardens

Tips for avoiding stress on summer gardens

The summer is always hot in Nebraska, but some years can be more difficult on our plants than others. This year we are seeing slow ripening of many of our crops and some of our plants show the heat stress more than others.


Wilting is occurring on many of our plants lately, especially on peppers and cucumbers. Peppers wilt in the heat and they look terrible, but they will be fine and still produce well. When you notice wilting on your plants, ensure that they are getting proper irrigation and are mulched properly. When plants are wilting due to heat or drought stress, they will often look much better or completely recovered in the mornings and be wilted later in the day.

Poor pollination

Poor pollination also occurs during the heat. Even though our plants are producing, tomatoes are not ripening up. When temperatures are consistently as hot as they have been, tomatoes may develop but they don’t turn red.

According to Purdue University, the pigments responsible for the red color in our tomatoes are not produced when the temperatures exceed 85 degrees. So, when we see long stretches of very hot weather, our tomatoes will not ripen.

Also, at temperatures above 94 degrees, pollen becomes sterile, causing them to flower and not produce fruits. Give the plants some time and a little cooler weather, and they will produce delicious fruits.

Harvesting summer gardens

Once the weather shifts, we will begin to harvest summer crops. Tomatoes should be harvested when the tomato is firm and colored correctly for the variety you are growing. Make sure you know what you planted to know what color they should be, there are green, purple, yellow, red, and orange tomatoes. Red tomatoes can be harvested, if necessary, when not fully red in color. They will finish harvesting on the counter inside with their full flavor if picked early, but after pink begins to show up on the fruit.

Zucchini plants are easy to grow and will produce plenty of harvest for a family from only one or two plants. If you planted too many zucchini plants they are easy to store as well. Zucchini should be harvested when the fruit is young and tender and when your fingernail easily penetrates the rind. Most zucchini should be harvested when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches in length.

Zucchini is easily missed and they are fast growing vegetables. If you have some zucchini harvest that is too large for grilling or slicing or for freezing, you can use the large produce for baking. Remove the seeds and shred what is left for use in many baking activities like zucchini bread or muffins.

Peppers should be harvested when they are firm and full sized. If it is a red, yellow, or orange variety, they need to be left on the plant for an additional 2-3 weeks for coloration to occur. Peppers can be easily frozen for consumption later.

Cucumbers should be harvested when they have grown to the size that is best for the use and the size determined by the variety. If you are using the cucumber for a sweet pickle or for baby dill pickles you would want the cucumbers to be 1 ½ to 2 inches long. For fresh slicing cucumbers harvest when they are 7 to 9 inches long.

 If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at 402-223-1384,, visit the Gage County Extension website at, or like her Facebook page at and follow on Twitter @Nikki_Stoner.

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