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2013 – A Whacky Year for Vegetable Gardening

Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat

 

Trevor Garden PhotoPhoto by Trevor Hylton. Photo 1 A bit of art added to a garden design. 

 

July 26, 2013, Release for Tallahassee Democrat

 

By Glenn Mayne

 

 

2013 has been a very strange year for vegetable gardening.  Perhaps it was the extended cool spring, or the fact that we really never did have a killing freeze, yet we experienced numerous days where the high temperature was lower than normal.  We did experience a brief period of highs in the 70’s during early February, which brought out a lot of early blooms.  These are the conditions that I observed at my place, which is near Meridian & Timberlane roads.

 The first indication of an anomaly was the slowness of Pontiac red potatoes to break ground.  Since 1974, I have planted this cultivar during the 1st week of January and three weeks afterwards, as if on cue, the first plants broke through the soil.  In 2013, it took five to six weeks for them to emerge their first leaves into the air!  A second indication was I had wonderful lettuce all the way up to mid-May – highly unusual.  There was also a dip down to 30 degrees in late February, which is not unusual nor is it generally harmful, but this year, this slight freeze caught my blueberries in full bloom – zapped them good and reduced the yield by 90%! Ugh!!!

 I always plant spring vegetables on the closest Saturday to the spring equinox, which this year was March 16th.  Usually, I have a reasonable stand after 10 days, yet some replanting is always required.  In 2013, I had to replant a total of five times, the latest being on May 13th.  This is the most replanting I’ve had to do in over 39 years of growing vegetables in Tallahassee!  Never have I experienced such poor germinations in so many different cultivars!  I did several soil temperature tests during late April at four inches deep.  The soil temperature was still at 68 degrees, which is borderline for seed germination.  The soil temperature is usually over 70 degrees at that time of year.  I believe that the cooler soil temperature was a major factor, yet I am not sure I understand why the soil stayed so cool for so long.  I found that it was not just me – a fellow vegetable gardener out east of town told me the same tale of woe during a lunch together in late April.  The Tallahassee Museum farm garden also had slow and late germination, well into April.

 What cultivars had to be replanted this many times?  All southern peas (blackeyes, crowder and white acre), lima beans and butter peas, okra, cucumbers and green beans.

The worst germinators were white acre peas and butter peas.  I finally just stopped planting and went with the stand I had.  It seems that most all equatorial originating cultivars (mostly from Brazil and Africa) were the worst at germination.  While I am grateful for the yield I have harvested, I am troubled by the fact that I usually have my garden space plowed under by mid-July and take the rest of the summer off.  This year, I am still harvesting and battling heat, bugs and wet weather into late July and it seems, early August!  Late seed germination means late ripening of the fruit.  Not a pleasant way to spend a summer!

 Is there a solution for this condition?  Getting more sun on the soil earlier comes to mind, but that would entail tree removal and like most Tallahasseeans, I do like my trees!  I think I’ll do some trimming for more sun, but not full removal.  Let’s see if it repeats itself in 2014.  It could have just been a fluke in 2013! 

 

Glenn Mayne is a Master Gardener volunteer with the Leon County Cooperative Extension Service.  For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu.  For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov

 

 

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