There is nothing more frustrating than planting a vegetable garden and not producing a substantial crop of fresh vegetables. Numerous problems can contribute to low yields, but, fortunately, most of them can be avoided.
Most vegetable crops require at least 60 to 120 days from planting to producing fruit. Keep this in mind when planning your garden. When planting outdoors, it is virtually impossible to have vine-ripe tomatoes in early May because Georgia's last frost dates come in April. Nor can you expect pumpkins in October if the vines were planted after early August.
An issue that goes hand-in-hand with the time of year is the plant's age. Young plants often don't produce fruit from their first flowers. On squash and zucchini plants, the first flowers are often all male and won't produce fruit. Plants also may produce sterile pollen or only male flowers during hot weather. Cold weather can also inhibit fruit production.
So, the solution to this problem is to wait for your plants to mature or temperatures to change.
A lack of pollinators is another problem in the vegetable garden that can lead to poor fruit-set or misshapen fruit. Flowers need to be visited several times for complete pollination. This is a very frustrating problem because it’s difficult for a homeowner to remedy. To help pollinate your plants, rent a beehive if you are financially able and your neighborhood allows it.
Home gardeners often over-fertilize with liquid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen. An abundance of nitrogen encourages plants to grow leaves, not fruit, and most people would prefer to eat a tomato rather than a tomato plant leaf.
To remedy over fertilization, wait for the nitrogen to be taken up by the plant or leached out of the soil. To avoid this situation, take a soil test before planting season. Kits are available at your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office. Follow the directions for collecting the sample, return the sample bag and a list of recommendations based on the test will be returned to you.
When fertilizing your vegetable garden, always follow the recommendations from your soil sample results. These results can also be targeted to help you have optimum growth in your vegetable garden.
Water, both too much and too little, is also a common issue home gardeners run into. Too little water can create a stunted plant with few flowers and can cause the plant to drop both flowers and immature fruit. Too much water can cause roots to rot and fruit to drop.
An additional problem with watering is uneven watering, which can lead to fruit drop but more commonly leads to fruit cracking and blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is more common when the fruit is young. Fruit cracking is more common when fruits are ripe or very close to ripening. Both blossom end rot and fruit cracking are aesthetic problems. The fruit is still edible, just not as attractive.
To keep the plant roots cooler and the moisture more even, cover the soil with at least three inches of mulch. This will help reduce the incidence of both blossom end rot and fruit cracking.
Many minor problems can affect the quantity and quality of produce from your backyard garden. The good news is that many of these problems are easy to remedy.
For more vegetable gardening information, call your UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or visit online at extension.uga.edu.
(Amanda Tedrow is a Cooperative Extension agent with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)