Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Fall Gardening and an End to Drought
Summer is finally coming to a close in Texas, and I know many of us were beginning to wonder if it ever would. The heat this year, as well as the drought, were tough on even professional farmers. Boggy Creek Farm lost their entire tomato crop, disappointing many fans of Larry's famous smoke-dried tomatoes. Gardeners all over Central Texas lamented bitter herbs, dry and crackly greens, and blossom end rot on tomatoes and summer squash. Finally though, the merciful rains have come again, and all at once it seems! Nothing feels better to me than the first rains of the "rainy season" here in Austin, coupled with the first Fall breezes. All that says one thing to Central Texas gardeners--it's time to plant!
This blog is meant for other gardening hobbyists, veteran and newbie alike, and I will try to keep it interesting and up to date. Primarily, I would like it to be based on your questions, so please write in with them! Unless you request otherwise, I will post them on the main page and answer them there as well. That way, others can chime in with additional advice, and I get to learn something too.
To get us started, let's talk about something that I have heard a lot about this summer and mentioned above--blossom end rot. Many people think it is a result of too much moisture, as rotting usually is, so they are confused when it happens in the middle of a drought. The actual cause of it though, is a calcium deficiency or lack of adequate calcium mobility in the plant, which can result from insufficient or inconsistent watering, excessive vegetative growth due to a nitrogen overdose, or simply calcium-poor soil. So to avoid it you must:
A) Ensure you have adequate calcium in the soil, which can be achieved with a simple soil test, available at gardening centers, or, if you are fairly certain that your soil is low in calcium, a simple soil amendment such as a natural fertilizer with high calcium, also available at gardening centers.
B) Ensure that you do not over-fertilize with nitrogen. This will also prevent burning of some plants and tender seedlings.
C) Water regularly and consistently. It is as important that your watering schedule is consistent as it is that it is sufficient in volume. Water small seedlings lightly, but once the plant has developed its true leaves and has a little better hold on the ground, it is best to water every other day in the summer or every three days in the winter, and to water deeply. Different plants have different requirements, but most need drainage to avoid root rot. Watering too heavily can also cause weak root structure. You want the roots to reach down and out for their water, so they grow long and strong and provide your plant with structure. Read seed packets for individual watering recommendations.
I got it this year too, so it is fresh on my mind. I think next year I am going to prune my tomatoes more to avoid that "excessive vegetative growth" issue, and I am going to try to rig up my rain barrel to a timer to water. I would love some advice on that!