Preparing a vegetable garden for the fall harvest

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2016

For green-thumbed Pearl River County residents, preparing vegetable crops for the fall harvest is crucial to keep plants healthy.
Dr. Eddie Smith, MSU Extension agent and Pearl River County coordinator, said the first step in preparing a vegetable garden is the most important.
“Before cropping any vegetables in your garden, I suggest getting a full test done to see what the nutrient levels are in the soil,” Smith said. “In this area of Mississippi, we have a lot of clay soil, which is not ideal for growing healthy crops, so finding ways to bring the pH levels up in the soil is very important.”
A common method of increasing the pH level in soil is pulverized dolomite lime, or “garden lime.”
Dolomite lime is a calcium magnesium carbonate rock that, when crushed into a fine grain, can be used to raise the pH level in soil so plants gain the nutrients, Smith said.
“When the pH levels are too low in soil, plants cannot get those basic nutrients it needs to thrive,” Smith said.
To test the soil, local gardeners can send a soil sample to their county agent for analysis or use home soil test kits.
Along with applying dolomite lime, Smith said killing all the weeds and adding any organic matter to the garden bed will help the plants thrive in an organic setting. The organic matter— grass clippings, dead leaves and even animal manure— also helps the garden drain more efficiently. Another way to ensure proper drainage is to plant in rows instead of sporadically throughout the garden bed.
Insects are another problem that gardeners face in the county during the fall. Smith said the first step in controlling infestations in a garden is to know what insects are in the area.
“Treatment for harmful insects in your garden depend on what the amount and type of insect is in that area,” Smith said.
Each insect reacts differently to different insecticides, and some of the chemicals are harmless to plants but damaging to the pests. However, Dr. Blake Layton Jr., entomology specialist for the MSU Extension, said the most common insects in the county are fire ants and caterpillars.
To reduce the number of caterpillars, Layton suggests using insecticide with spinosad. The chemical is harmless to all plants and will effectively take care of a caterpillar problem.
“Caterpillars can be extremely harmful to a vegetable garden, and should be monitored at all times,” Layton said.
If the garden is close to fire ant mounds, Layton suggests putting a perimeter of ant bait around the garden, not inside, to keep the ants away from the plants. However, if they are already in the garden, he said to use the insecticide with spinosad to fix the problem.
However, Smith said gardeners can avoid using insecticides by building healthy soil and keeping foliage dry.
One of the most frequently forgotten techniques of gardening, which can end up being the most harmful to plants when ignored, is following the proper schedule of watering the garden.
“Watering your garden in the morning is ideal for any plant. It allows the water to evaporate throughout the day, unlike watering your plants in the evening,” Smith said. “If you water your garden in the later times of the day, water will remain on the plants for a long period of time and eventually produce fungus on the plants that can ruin garden beds.”

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