Volume 14, Issue 33 ~ August 17 - August 23, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Garden Woes

Even a green thumb occasionally wilts

You would think the Bay Gardener would have a great garden year after year. Not this year. The 12 inches of rain in one July week did my garden in. On a silt-loam soil eight feet above sea level, my vegetable garden was so saturated with water for such a long time that potatoes rotted in the ground, several tomato and pepper plants died from verticillium wilt and my gita beans drowned. The zucchini and cucumbers gave up and wilted away, while the late planting of sweet corn laid flat on the ground and rotted in place.

I had to wear rubber boots to walk in the garden to harvest sweet corn, but snowshoes would have been more appropriate. I sank ankle deep in mud with every step even a week after the rain had stopped. To make matters worse, weed species that I have never seen before in my garden grew with such vigor that they outpaced the remaining tomato and pepper plants. Normally this time of year I have to operate my trickle-irrigation system two to three times weekly to keep the plants growing. I have disconnected and removed it.

My Christmas trees have also suffered from the super abundance of rain. Many of the newly planted trees have died, as have several trees three to five feet tall. Most fir tree species cannot tolerate wet soil. Surprisingly, only a few of the white pine trees were killed.

The excess rain did, however, give me larger peaches, many grapefruit-sized. Peaches larger than three inches in diameter are lovely to look at and wanted by many, but they bruise easily and many develop split pits, which lessens their keeping quality. Because of the excess rain, the peaches swell so rapidly that the pit splits open, forcing the flesh of the peach to also split open at the stem end. Such a cleft allows microorganisms to enter and causes some of the peaches to rot quickly.

For those of you who garden on sandy soil, consider yourself lucky. My gardening friend who gardens on sandy soil most summers goggles at my garden while his dries up; this year he has invited me to come and harvest tomatoes and peppers from his garden. This has been a hard pill to swallow, but since I look forward to canning tomatoes and freezing peppers, I have accepted his invitation.

I am planting a fall garden with cole crops [Bay Gardener: July 27; Vol. xiv, No. 30]. Just in case we have a dry fall, I will reinstall my trickle-irrigation system.

Save My Zucchini

Q I am trying my first vegetable garden. My zucchini squash look healthy but only produce squash about two inches long, which rot on the vine. My yellow squash next to it is producing fine. I have cut back on how often I water, but they continue to rot. What can I do?

—Erin Huebschman, Annapolis

A There are two reasons your zucchini are rotting. The large amount of rain we have been having causes zucchini rot, especially if your garden soil is heavy. The other potential cause is low calcium levels in your soil.

Try spraying the foliage of the plants with calcium nitrate fertilizer at the rate of two tablespoons per gallon of water or try to cultivate some gypsum in the soil surrounding your plantings. I suggest that you have your soil tested this fall. You will most likely find that the pH is on the low side and that your calcium levels are also low. This means amending your soil with the proper amount of limestone this fall for gardening next spring.

How are your tomatoes and peppers doing? If they exhibit blossom-end rot at the bottom of the fruit, that is a clear indication that your calcium levels are low.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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