Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Cultural and environmental issues impacting vegetable growth and productivity….

Finally, some rain after about 50 days of dry, and it has fallen across Grand County, according to local citizens who report on the CoCoRaHS website, the “largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States.” It certainly brought a smile to my face and everyone I talked with.

So now we find ourselves in the last week of July and gardens are in full swing. While we want our gardening to go well, some of our fellow citizens are having issues with their vegetables. In most cases, cultural and environmental issues are causing the impact to the growth of these vegetables.

The first very common issue concerns blossom end rot of tomatoes, and it is also seen on peppers and other vegetables. This is a nutritional issue related to calcium. In other parts of the country this is due to a lack of calcium in the soil, but we have plenty in ours. So for us, it’s an imbalance caused by the soil drying out, then getting wet when we water and drying back out again. This disrupts the calcium cycle in the fruit. Luckily, this is an easy cultural fix requiring that the plants be kept evenly moist. This brings to mind a comment I recently heard from a local gardener who had been led to believe that it’s good for vegetables to be allowed to wilt or become drought-stressed. Wilting of vegetables is not good and can result in less production, which most would consider not to be a good thing.

Of course, there is sort of an exception — with watermelons you can reduce watering as the melons ripen to improve flavor, but not to the point of causing wilt.

Another common issue is cracking or splitting of vegetables — especially tomatoes — but it also occurs with melons, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers. This can be due to excessive nitrogen, or plant genetics, with the latter often seen in jalapeno peppers or large-fruited tomatoes like beefsteak. However, the most common reason revolves around water issues, with the dry-to-wet soil cycle leading to cracking when the soil is suddenly flush with water after being dry, causing a surge in growth, which leads to cracking or splitting.

While we are on the soil moisture wagon, another common complaint involves cucumbers being bitter. When they are drought-stressed, certain compounds within the cucumber concentrate near the skin causing this bitterness. Often you can just cut the skin off and the flesh inside will be fine, but if not, just keep the soil evenly moist.

This next one is relatively basic. When you are growing root vegetables such as carrots, beets, turnips or potatoes and aren’t getting well-formed roots it’s usually due to two main reasons. These involve either overcrowding due to insufficient thinning, or compacted and/or rocky soil. If you consistently have this problem you might want to try building and using a raised bed for your root crops.

A really common problem is sunscald, which is basically sunburn for vegetables. Sunscald damages the skin of the vegetable, leading to the yellowing of parts of tomatoes or large tan colored spots on tomatoes or peppers. It can also happen with melons and squash. It’s really important for us, due to our incredible sunny days, to make sure we get good vegetative leaf growth on our plants so they are shaded and the fruit doesn’t burn. Using shade cloth might be something to consider if your plants aren’t leafing out enough.

Another common issue involves vegetable leaves yellowing. While this could be caused by diseases, that is less often the reason. Cultural or environmental causes include dry or overly moist soil, lack of nutrients and most commonly, plants getting older with lower or older leaves yellowing toward the end of the season.

No one ever said gardening would be easy but it can be fun, especially when everything is going well. Luckily, gardeners are a hardy lot and just keep going.

Thought for the day: “Every garden is a chore sometimes, but no real garden is nothing but a chore.” —Nancy Grasby

Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at [email protected]

ByBy Michael Johnson

Utah State University Extension Agent, Grand County