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Wet spring a set back for N.H. gardens but dry August holds promise

  • Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bob Jones picks the tomatoes from the garden outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bob Jones picks the tomatoes from the garden outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • The small patch of corn in Bob Jones's front yard at his home in Concord offers few prospects for a harvest. The corn was an experiment for Jones and so far has yielded one ear of corn. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    The small patch of corn in Bob Jones's front yard at his home in Concord offers few prospects for a harvest. The corn was an experiment for Jones and so far has yielded one ear of corn. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Bob Jones picks the tomatoes from the garden outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Bob Jones weeds his raised bed of peppers outside his home in Concord on Thursday afternoon, August 29, 2013. Despite having a decent pepper harvest, Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • The small patch of corn in Bob Jones's front yard at his home in Concord offers few prospects for a harvest. The corn was an experiment for Jones and so far has yielded one ear of corn. Jones and his fiancé have had a tough time in the second year of keeping a garden in their first home because of weather fluctuations. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Really, all Bob Jones cared about were his hot peppers. And their good showing in his garden this year was ample compensation for the poor performance of his potato crop. And his corn crop. And the abundance of weeds.

“As long as I got to make hot sauce, I guess I’m okay,” he said.

Jones is in his second full season of gardening at his Concord home. He had a potted tomato plant on his apartment patio and was eager to plant and tend a garden when he bought his first home in July 2011. Last year, most of the crops – even the prized pepper – just didn’t live up to expectations.

“I don’t know enough to know what I didn’t do well,” he said. “It’s been a trial-and-error thing for me.”

But Jones isn’t alone in settling, in finding happiness in whatever the garden gives him this year.

Becky Sideman had to plant her potatoes four times because they kept dying. And Sideman is an expert: She’s the sustainable horticulture production specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, so if anyone should know how to plant a potato, it should be her.

And Sideman said Jones should not blame himself for a potato harvest that consisted of only three plants with nickel-size Tater Tots on the end.

Blame the rain. Her own first three attempts drowned in the early summer deluges that fell on New Hampshire.

“We had a very wet start to the summer, and wet feet are not good for most vegetable crops,” she said. “The degree to which gardeners had a bad time had to do with whether they had a wetter or drier site.”

Weeds have taken over many gardeners’ domains. Blame the rain for that, too, Sideman said.

“They grow so fast, and with the water, folks haven’t been able to weed as easily or as often,” she said.

And those gardeners who complained of tomato plants browning and dropping their leaves early in the season? Blame the rain and the humidity, which allowed fungal diseases – harmless to humans – to fester on the leaves.

The best cure for an overly wet garden is solid preparation, Sideman said. Choosing a well-drained site – in case the summer is wet – but with ample opportunity for irrigation or easy access to water – in case the summer is dry – is the key. Vegetables especially need dry soil so their roots can breathe and to encourage them to grow deep in search of the water table.

But most home gardeners don’t get to choose their planting sites.

Building raised beds or even just mounding soil high for planting rows keeps the roots of vegetable plants dry even if there’s water puddling in the rest of the garden.

It’s too late to start over this year, but the good news is there’s a lot of good news.

Cathy Neal, the landscape and nursery horticulture specialist at the cooperative extension, said the summer has been on schedule for landscape plants.

The wet spring and early summer created lush, leafy plants that are just starting now to drop their leaves.

Apples “size up nicely” when the weather is consistently wet in the early summer, Sideman said, and she said orchards can expect a productive crop.

The first few weeks of August were dry, which kept plant pathogens, such as late blight, at bay. The same diseases can plague trees and blunt the leaf-peeping season, so the future looks bright for foliage fans.

And even home gardeners have reasons to be hopeful, Sideman said.

“Even in small gardens, when things are looking bad, you get so depressed looking at it. But at this time of year, with all the heat we had, stuff looks a lot better,” she said. “I think for lots of people, we’re on the upswing. The garden is feeling like a happier place to be.”

Her own plot has rewarded her dogged, determined efforts. That fourth planting of potatoes is “rocking and rolling,” she said.

Jones agreed.

“It looks like a mess out there right now, but we’ve gotten plenty of tomatoes, and I got plenty of peppers,” he said. “As long as we got some stuff out of there, it was worth it.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments1

I disagree relative the comment it being too late start anything. Ten days ago a planted my second crop of waxed beans,they are three inches tall and will harvest them hopefully Columbus Day weekend for the third straight year. The seasons are changing, take advantage of it. I agree banner year for hot peppers.

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