By Wade Hutcheson
University of Georgia
It's been a tough summer on vegetables, but the troubles actually started with a cool spring.
May's weather kept soil temperatures cool and early-planted vegetables from growing well.
Soil temperatures must be right
I planted some early corn in April when soil temperatures were right. Just after I planted, though, temperatures cooled and much of my corn didn't germinate. What did grow grew slowly.
June brought warmer weather. But about the time vegetables started growing, above average rainfall came. As a matter of fact, we are now almost 11.5 inches above average in rainfall received this year.
The corn, finally beginning to tassel and set ears, was then rampaged by Japanese beetles and corn earworms. My tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables had tremendous rot due to the rain.
Points to remember
There are two take-home lessons for this year:
First, soil temperatures are important. When soils are cool, warm season crops like corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peas and beans will not grow well. They like soil temperatures above 65 degrees.
Second, use mulch under fruiting crops to keep the fruit off the ground and to reduce the amount of soil splash onto stems, leaves and fruit.
But alas this summer is beginning to come to an end and we can now turn our attention to the fall garden. Cole crops such as greens, including turnips, collards and mustards, along with broccoli, carrots, onions, pea pods, cabbage and lettuce can be planted now.
Often, fall gardens have fewer pests, too. It's also a lot cooler outside so gardening isn't as stressful.
Prepare plot now for next year
If you're not planting fall crops your garden spot still requires attention. Debris left over from the spring and summer garden should be removed or deeply tilled under. This will reduce pest problems next year.
A cover crop can then be planted. Cover crops prevent erosion and also can add nutrients and organic matter when it's later tilled in.
A mixture of wheat or rye, not ryegrass, mixed with a few pounds of clover makes a good cover crop. Don't forget to inoculate the clover seed. Purchase legume seed innoculant when you purchase cover seed and use a little cola to slightly dampen the seed. Dust the seed with innoculant and mix to coat each seed.
Clover takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and moves it into the soil. White, crimson or Yucchi clover can be used.
University of Georgia horticulturist Bob Westerfield recommends leaving the clover between the rows so you have a living mulch that continues to contribute nitrogen to the soil. Tilling the cover crop under will add nutrient-rich organic matter.
Test soil this winter
A soil sample should be taken in November or December so you can address fertility concerns. The results include specific recommendations for adding lime if needed as well as a fertilizer recommendation.
Taking a soil sample is easy and the test costs only $8. Take several "core" samples from the area. Each core should represent about the same amount of soil from the surface to a 6-inch depth.
Mix the cores together in a clean plastic bucket and then remove a large pint to submit for the sample. Place the sample in a paper bag to carry in to your local UGA Extension Service office. Results will be mailed to you in about 10 working days.
Yes, it was indeed a tough summer for our vegetable gardens. But some planning and addition of a new practice or two just may make next year's better.
(Wade Hutcheson is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent serving Spalding, Henry and Newton counties.)