We started out the 2009 gardening season with a record number of new gardeners, excited to raise food from their own garden, save a few dollars and enjoy the nation's most popular pastime.
Then the rains kept coming. At this writing, gardeners are reporting probably some of the most varied gardening experiences I have witnessed as an Extension educator. Gardeners reporting on gardens in the Wabash Valley are using words like "disappointed" and "frustrated."
This article addresses some of the basic gardening woes, we have been getting calls about and attempts to provide constructive suggestions to move forward with the 2009 garden.
Certainly the most frustrated group of gardeners are those who did not get much planted this spring. Great expectations turned dismal for many with poorly drained soils and limited gardening time.
For this group, the year should not be considered over, as we can do quite well with many garden vegetables in a fall gardening effort.
If you haven't gotten much planted by this writing, why not consider some plantings in late August for a fall garden? Cool season garden vegetables can do quite well in our area.
While plans for sweet corn, melon and tomato plantings may have slipped by, the fall garden can yield high quality produce that escapes many of the normal seasonal insect pressures. The fall garden may require some watering if we have a dry September. Contact your Purdue Extension office for more information on planning for a fall garden.
The second most frustrated group of gardeners has to be those who planted, only to fall victim to pests.
Weed pressure has been severe because of the bank of weed seeds and rainfall. Mulching can help control weeds by keeping them from germinating. The cleanest patch of tomatoes I have viewed this summer were mulched with grass clippings right after plants were set. Mulching cool clay soil can keep soil temperature lower and that can be a problem for cool soils. Also make sure the directly applied grass clippings are free from herbicide treatments. Some insects thrive during the cool, wet season of early June. Flea beetles gnawed away on eggplant and young corn that was seemingly stagnant during early June.
Hot, humid weather has provided better plant growth, which is our best ally in dealing with flea beetles.
Early planted tomatoes have been a mixed bag of results. Early blight crept into some plantings, as the rain drops splashed early blight fungal spores up into the lower leaves of the tomato. A mulch layer can also aid in disease management by keeping spores from splashing up into the plant. Keep in mind your Purdue Extension office has several resources to assist you in dealing with pest management issues in the garden.
A group of frustrated gardeners that I belong to are those who have cared for plants but will not harvest because the rabbit, deer, chipmunk and squirrel took risk and robbed us of our output. Fortunately, the Wildlife Conflict Information Hotline is available to gardeners and farmers in Indiana. The hotline maintains a phone service from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The person on the other end of the phone will address your wildlife concern and provide information that is legal and grounded in science.
You can contact the hotline at 1-800-893-4116, and yes, they provide consultation regarding mole control.
Despite the weather, there are still some nice vegetables growing in the area. The heavy rains have been harsh on our clay soils, but we can amend those soils with compost to improve water infiltration and holding. Some larger gardens may benefit from tile drainage to improve plant growth. Some gardeners may think about raised beds or container vegetables if their soil is beyond help.
Remember to contact your Extension office if you want information to improve your garden.