Rain…too much of a good thing?

KC Tomato Times

Edition #4

Growing a garden in Kansas City is akin to riding a roller coaster most years.  We’ve had our ups and downs with temps and rainfall and it’s been both smooth and quiet as well as rough and bumpy!  The good news is that the cool season crops are still doing well as our temps have stayed in the 70’s for the most part.  My spinach bolted FAST this year and we didn’t get to eat much of it, but the lettuce is still doing well and we’ve had many salads all spring. Once it does get hot enough for those cool season crops to be finished producing, you can plant squash, okra, or beans in behind them.  If you’re done with that part of the garden, I highly recommend mulching over the area to avoid having it become a weed bed.  Newspaper works very well for this even though it is a bit unsightly at first.  The paper will break down and can be worked into the soil next year adding more humus. The bad news is that we’ve not had the heat to really make those tropicals (tomatoes and peppers) take off.  It’s not all bad news though…those plants are growing…roots!  The deeper that root zone, the more able they are to withstand the rigors of July and August when they will grow amazingly fast.

Most of my tomato plants are around3-4 foot tall now with the exception of the romas which never get that tall.  I’ve been tying the ones up that are on fences with this stuff: STRETCH TIE .The ones in the cages I’m just guiding them up and up.  Next year I’d like to grow all plants in cages…it’s just so much easier to do.  Also, most of my plants have finally set their first wave of fruit.  It’s always the second best day of the gardening year when you spot those first baby green fruits ( the best day of the year should be obvious!).

With all of this rain, it is critical that you keep a daily eye on your plants.  A heavy rain can knock a vine over and if you set it upright and tie it, there will be no damage usually.  If it stays bent for a day or more, it can kill that part of the plant.  Also with all of this rain and high humidity there can be fungal problems in the garden.  To avoid this, make sure all of those bottom branches are kept off the ground.  Just prune them with some scissors or garden shears and toss them in the compost bin.  You may also want to get on a weekly fungicide regimen during times of high humidity and rain.  I try to stay organic as much as possible, but one non-organic, but very safe product to use is Daconil also known as Chlorothalonil which is available locally as Ortho Garden Disease Control .  You can buy it in a 29.6% diluted rate and add 2tsp of it to a gallon of water in your sprayer and it’s very safe to use.  In fact, you can harvest fruit the day after application.  It’s not organic, but from what research I’ve done, it’s less toxic than some commercially available organics .  If you absolutely want to try something organic, here’s a recipe I found on GardenWeb that a lot of people recommend.

“Start with 1 Gallon of Compost Tea — If you buy a commercial compost tea concentrate, dilute it according to label directions. If using homemade compost tea, use 1 cup to 1 gallon of water.

To 1 gallon of compost tea, add the following:

1 ounce of black strap molasses
1 ounce of liquid seaweed concentrate or 1 teaspoon of powdered seaweed
1 ounce of apple cider vinegar

That is the general formula for Garrett Juice.

To use it as a fungicide, add 1/4 cup garlic tea and 1 tablespoon of baking soda.

Apply to plants with a sprayer, making sure to spray undersides of leaves.”

Whatever method you use, do it regularly to avoid blight or other fungal problems that can wipe out a lot of plants quickly.

When these heavy rains hit, having well mulched plants is essential.  Plants that have the soil around them exposed to heavy rains can be leached of nutrients and the plant can suffer.  If you notice yellowing leaves, it is likely that the rains have washed all of your Nitrogen away and you’ll need to fertilize.  Using the plastic film mulch all but eliminates this problem for me as the heavy rains run off the sides of my beds and don’t pound the soil and knock out the nutrients.  Side dress your plants now with some more 5-10-5 or even some 5-10-10 fertilizer about 2 tablespoons per plant…don’t let it touch the stems though.  With all of this rain and humidity, I’d avoid foliar feeding for a while though.

For those of you growing peppers, there’s one bit of advice I can give you for now…PICK THEM!  The more you pick peppers, the more productive they will be.  As soon as those pepperoncini and jalapenos are the size of your thumb, pick them and the plant will immediately get to work making more peppers.  With the bell peppers, you can leave the fruits on the plant until they ripen to yellow or red, but if a plant sets a fruit in the main fork of the plant, pick it or move it out of the way or it will split the plant in half as it grows.

If you’re growing cucumbers or beans, avoid handling them when there is water on the leaves as fungal diseases are easily spread this way.  wait until the dew has dried up in mid-morning and then pick your cukes or beans.

Hopefully by the next time I blog, we’ll be counting the days until that first tomato ripens!  Until then…enjoy yourselves out there!

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