Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rain, Finally

Finally! Some serious rain. According to the National Weather Service, our area has had a deficit of about six inches for the year. It appears we may be on track to make up much of that deficit during the current rain event. This could not have come at a better time for many crops, such as cucumbers, melons, and squash. These vegetables are about 90 percent water, so having enough soil moisture as the fruits are maturing is important.

The downside of the rain is the greater tendency for many of our warm weather crops to develop problems with fungal disease. Cloudy, wet weather favors mildew, blights, and other problems. If plants have been spaced properly to allow for good air circulation, you have the best defense against these problems. We can also hope that the rain will let up for a while and a period of sunshine will ensue. This is the ideal situation, allowing foliage to dry off and the pace of photosynthesis to increase.

From now until about the end of August, vegetable gardens around the region should be at their peak of variety, abundance and flavor. If you plan on doing some home canning with produce from the farmer's market, this is a great time to stock up. We have regional markets every day of the week, and the big market in Knoxville takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Market Square.

Backyard gardeners will be harvesting everything from late beets to early corn. Just about the only crop that won't be ready yet is okra, which usually waits until August to make its debut. We have had great success with heat tolerant lettuce varieties this year, and as a result we still have a couple of heads in the refrigerator for dressing sandwiches. Having lettuce past the Fourth of July has been a real treat. In case you missed the earlier post, the variety we like best is 'Jericho.' It is sort of a cross between romaine and butterhead, and remains sweet and tender despite the punishing heat we had in early July. We will definitely plant more of this one next year.

As long as the rain hold up, about the only chore you have in the garden at this time of year is weeding, which the rain actually facilitates.

And don't forget, it's time to start thinking about fall planting. If you intend on growing cabbage, broccoli or another member of that group, July 20 is the date for starting seeds. This gives you plants ready for the garden by August 20, and allows 90 days of growth before the first freeze, expected around November 20. The average first frost date for this area is October 20, so frost-tender crops will need to mature in under 90 days if they are planted now. Cucumbers and summer squash are a possibility. Virtually all the cool season crops can be planted between now and August 20. Top choices are beets, carrots, leeks, peas, and turnips. Fast maturing leafy greens, such as spinach and mustards, should wait until mid-August or the seedlings may die from summer heat.

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