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Archive for Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Moisture presents new set of problems in garden

May 10, 2006

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I'm swearing off predictions. I have tacked up a Post-It note that contains a stern message to myself: Never, under any circumstances, tell your readers to prepare for drought right before we get almost two weeks of ground-soaking rain.

Obviously, this message required a jumbo Post-It, not one of those little postage stamp-size notes.

While most of northeast Kansas now is within an inch of the normal year-to-date rainfall levels, low precipitation in fall and early winter means we are still lagging in subsoil moisture. Still, the weather forecasters' doom-and-gloom warnings of a 21st-century Dust Bowl this summer seem a bit ridiculous now. That will teach me to pile on when the experts start predicting extremes, as I did in late April.

The big issues for many vegetable gardeners now are that the soil has not been able to dry out, the temperatures have remained cool, and most days have been overcast. Such circumstances affect vegetable gardeners differently.

For people who were hoping to plant tomatoes, beans and other garden crops in early May, the wet soil has been an obvious impediment. Unless a garden has sandy, quick-draining soil, the ground may not have had an opportunity to dry out long enough lately to allow for digging and such. Unfortunately, there's nothing to do but wait.

For folks who planted tomatoes and other crops in April, before the rains hit, the continually damp soil, combined with the daytime highs in the 60s we've had lately, is not good. Such conditions encourage blight and other maladies in tomatoes and make many hot-weather vegetables less resistant to disease. Certainly, an overnight chill every night doesn't help either.

Early tomatoes may snap out of it once the temperatures rise again, but it may be prudent to put in a few additional plants once the weather turns.

I will be surprised if folks who seeded green beans in April will get much of a crop. Beans have difficulty germinating in cool soil, and sprouts will not thrive. The good news for people who started beans early and those who have yet to sow is that beans can be planted - or replanted - yet this month.

The lack of direct sunlight also presents problems. Not only have the summer crops started in April suffered from a lack of sunshine, but the clouds are covering up the main method for drying out and warming the soil.

The crops that are loving this weather include lettuce and greens, onions and cole crops. All of the above require cool weather during their growing season. Greens and cole crops can be ruined by too much hot weather, while the flavor of onions is directly tied to the temperature while they were growing. Onions that get started in cool weather tend to be sweet, while those that do most of their growing in the heat often have a bite to their flavor.

You'll notice that peas and snow peas are not on this list of crops that love the lower temperatures. That's because they are somewhat ambivalent. While they like it cool, they could do without the wet or clammy soil. Peas are susceptible to powdery mildew, and the current conditions encourage this disease.

Obviously, these weather conditions won't last all summer, but I'm going to resist the temptation to predict when, exactly, the heat wave will hit.

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