Thinning and harvesting are vital to healthy gardens

I’ve said it before and will say it again: You can’t do anything about the weather. Your gardens are going to grow regardless, and you really must try to keep up with them just as if the sun was shining every day.

Take thinning your crops — lettuces, radish and beets, for example. Always searching for the good, it is an absolute wonder to me how easy it is to thin crops right now because of the wet soils. Seedlings just slip right out of the soil without disturbing neighbors. And, if it is raining enough, the soil washes off and you can eat ‘em right out in the garden.

And because the soil is so damp, it is easier to replant some of the thinnings in new spots. This is a must for beets because what you planted was not a seed but rather a pod that contains six seeds.

Next, some crops need harvesting. It is hard to lay bare your garden, I know. But it isn’t for show; it is to eat out of. Kohlrabi, for example, taste best when baseball size, as in hardball, not softball. Lettuces are not supposed to flower. And, of course, there are those radishes that simply lose flavor if they get too old and big.

Snap peas, regular peas and beans should be harvested when the pods reach size. You do not want the seeds to mature. Harvesting them will cause the plants to continue to flower and produce.

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In the flower garden, it is time to start deadheading annuals. Cosmos comes to mind. Pinch back the stem on which the finished flower sits and the plant will finally branch and fill out. And, you will get lots more flowers. Marigolds, calendulas, fuchsias and other plants which have finished flowering should be checked.


Poppies in our gardens are finished blooming. They spread, which may be fine, but if you don’t want them to now is the time to get those pods.

All this crappy weather may have impacts on your greenhouse plants too, because insects may not be doing their thing. After all these years of hand-pollinating tomatoes, going from one plant to another, I finally learned each tomato flower has male and female parts, meaning it can “self-pollinate.” (Yes, I am embarrassed.) All you have to do is shake the plants when in flower. So, tap the base stem or cause the support system holding your tomato plants to vibrate.

Or you can be a bumblebee. An old electric toothbrush mimics their vibration of tomato flowers. Of course, a good breeze will shake the plants, but that may require you leave the door open, which, in turn, requires better weather than we have been having.

Wait a minute! Pepper flowers self-pollinate as well?!! I am so embarrassed. The same toothbrush trick loosens the pollen in these flowers too. No more Q-tips or “borrowing” the wife’s camel-hair paintbrush to paint from flower to flower!

At least cucumbers need hand-pollination in the absence of insects. Here there are male and female flowers. You know what to do. Do let insects in when the weather cooperates and they will work for you.

Finally, a word about all those spruce cones. People are noting how many more cones there are this year than normally. They attribute those to this winter, but these cones started forming last summer.

Some were worried the high number of cones is a sign of the spruce beetle pandemic. It isn’t. What causes a spruce tree to amp up cone production like this is stress. In this instance, it was stress caused by last year’s spring and summer weather.

Which brings us to the question: What will next year’s spruce cone production look like given our just passed snow-filled winter, the windiest spring in five decades, and an awful weather start for this summer?

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: You missed out on the July Picnic in the Garden because it is so popular. The next Garden Picnic is Aug. 24. Learn more at And, there is so much going on between now and then. You do not have to be a member, but why wouldn’t you join? Check it out. Learn more at

Leaks: It is bad enough out these days without having to be soaked because you need a washer. By the way, those brass quick connects have their own size washers.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.