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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Area gardeners battle heat, bugs, drought

Friday, July 29, 2011

Go Green Festival organizer Jenny Underwood sprays mineral oil on her corn tassels in the Thayer-Mammoth Spring Rotary Club community garden early on July 22. Garden pests and disease are more destructive when plants are stressed by weather conditions, such as excessive heat and drought.
Early on Friday, June 22, Thayer resident Emma Wrenfrow was busy in the Thayer community garden alongside Highway 63 pulling up her plot of corn plants, already turning brown in the relentless sunshine.

Not to be discouraged by the year's troublesome gardening weather, Wrenfrow said she plans to start her fall garden there as soon as she gets the spent corn stalks out of the way.

Wrenfrow said she was more fortunate than many local gardeners who have not yet harvested their first crop, delayed by the excessive rain and cool weather this spring.

Emma Wrenfrow cuts down spent corn plants to make room for a fall garden.
"That's the trick, to get it in early," Wrenfrow said. "Some people didn't start planting until after school was out."

In an adjoining plot, Go Green Festival organizer Jenny Underwood was spraying mineral oil on her corn tassels, a month behind Wrenfrow's crop. The all-natural oil repels beetles.

Underwood said she is just a second-year gardener and appreciates having the community garden as a place to learn from seasoned gardeners such as Wrenfrow, Boyd Clark and Marie Russell, among others.

Tomatoes affected by black rot.
The weather has been especially challenging this year, ranging from too cold, too wet, too hot and too dry. The extreme conditions delayed planting for many, and then stressed young plants in the heat, creating a prime opportunity for bugs, as the weakened plants failed to defend themselves.

Tomato diseases have been a problem, Underwood said, pointing out several green tomatoes suffering from black rot, an indication of calcium deficiency.

Underwood, who prefers organic remedies, said antacid tablets are pure calcium and can be planted with the seedlings to prevent black rot.

Gayla Fletcher of Oxford, Ark., reads a newspaper from the L.D. Friend produce stand on the Salem square Friday, July 22. Fletcher said orchards have required much more water this year because of the humidity and drought.
On the Salem, Ark., square, Gayla Fletcher sat in a lawn chair in the shade selling peaches for L.D. Friend, who maintains a couple thousand acres of peach and nectarine trees. The 10,000 or so fruit trees must be watered twice daily (five gallons per tree each morning, and five gallons at night) during hot weather, Fletcher said.

"When the humidity is high, you have to water more," Fletcher said, adding that other pests also create challengers for growers.

"It's upsetting when you're watering all those trees, and the deer eat them up," she said of the 300 trees she and her husband planted at their Oxford, Ark. home. Of those 300 trees, only 15 remain.

"Water, water, water," said Amy Whitfield of how to garden in the Ozarks.

Whitfield's son, Justin Taylor, 16, was on the Salem square selling his grandmother's produce and homemade jam.

"I've been doing this ever since I can remember," Taylor said.

"They're never too young to learn to pull weeds," Whitfield said, adding that her son started gardening at age 4.

Every evening, Taylor fills a 250-gallon tank with water for his family's two-acre garden. He said chemical bug sprays also have been necessary this year.

USDA meteorologists say the current heat and drought conditions are not likely to dissipate soon. High temperatures at night (above 75 degrees) also do not give plants a chance to rest, affecting yield.

"As we head into August, certainly with a large ridge of high pressure parked over the United States, there is the potential for additional heat and stress on crops in the Midwest," meteorologist Bard Rippey said in a press release. "How exactly it plays out remains to be seen. Day to day variations, obviously, are too tough to determine at this point."

Rippey said the extremely high humidity and lack of overnight humidity is similar to weather in 1995 with spring wetness and late planting, followed by a mid-July heat wave that took a huge bite out of the potential for crops.

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