Now is the time when most gardeners harvest their crops and benefit from the labors. But even when we follow all the directions in the literature or on the seed packet, we can be faced with the dreaded situation of crop failure.
Poor crop response is often caused by conditions beyond our control. The weather can play a strong role in gardening success. Sometimes our failure to appreciate the crop’s needs or cultural limitations adds to the problem.
It is important that gardeners learn as much as possible about crop needs. I tell gardeners that it’s easy to know when there is a problem if you have an understanding of your plant’s needs and responses. Not all garden plants need the same conditions found within the confines of a small garden space. When a variety of plants are put in the same cultural system, different cultural practices may create problems. The needs of each plant group will have to be met for success every time.
However, there are some weather-related situations that may produce results not mentioned on the seed packet or in plant literature. With few exceptions, adjustments to gardening practices can accommodate most weather-related problems.
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Over the years, gardeners have asked me about crop problems. Below are some tips I give them. Hopefully no one gardener will experience all these problems in the same garden or in the year.
▪ Asparagus spears may be black or wilted early in the season from frost injury. Discard this type of spear. As the weather warms, the scales loosen and give healthy spears a shaggy look.
▪ Beans that fail to come up or give sparse germination may have been planted too early in cool soil. Beans germinate quickly in warm soil and produce a very uniform stand. As the season develops, healthy plants my have no fruit (beans) because the flowers frequently drop in hot, dry or windy weather.
▪ Beets that develop no root system are probably overcrowded and not thinned according to directions on seed packets.
▪ Small broccoli plants with poor heading and premature flowers may have been chilled too much in the garden center before they were planted. A light frost could have also injured them in the garden. Broccoli responds well to optimum levels of fertility.
▪ Carrots with poor root formation are probably too close together and not thinned properly. Several inches of room are needed between plants. Poorly prepared soil will produce poorly formed roots.
▪ Cauliflower is a plant that does best in the early season. Plants set out too late often form loose, small heads. The cauliflower head is actually the flower of the plant, and if it forms in warmer weather, it will not have the desired compactness. Starter fertilizer will get cauliflower off to a stronger start earlier in the season.
▪ Cucumber plants usually do well, but it is their fruit we seek for slicing or pickling. Discard misshapen fruit as a result of poor or incomplete pollination of the female flower. Cool, wet weather will often slow the activity of bees needed to carry the pollen. The same weather conditions may cause developing fruit to drop from the vines. A sudden wilting of the entire plant results from the disease carried by the cucumber beetles.
▪ Muskmelon will respond to garden conditions favorable to cucumber. Both plants have the same cultural requirements.
▪ Eggplant need warm soil for best growth and development. Small or stunted plants recover slowly. In future seasons use black plastic and drip irrigation to warm the soil around the roots and supply moisture to the crop. This is also a good recommendation for most warm season crops.
▪ Peppers were often subject to wilt disease in the past, but better varieties make this less of a problem today. Peppers grow as healthy plants with no fruit. Hot dry winds and warm nights or over fertilization will reduce fruit growth.
▪ Tomatoes are probably the most popular garden plant. Tomatoes will grow well as long as conditions in the garden are not extreme. Cool night temperatures below 55 degrees and hot days above 95 degrees will cause flowers to drop from the plant. Variations in moisture supply will also cause fruit to crack on certain varieties. Rotting fruit on the blossom’s end (blossom end rot) is not a disease, but a problem caused by low levels of calcium and irregular supplies of moisture. If you follow soil test directions and mulch, this problem passes.
An understanding of garden problems may not make them disappear, but gardening practices can be modified to reduce their impact on future harvests.
Bill Lamont is a retired professor and extension vegetable specialist from the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.