Gardening in Georgia: Heat, Humidity, and Scorched Tomatoes
Gardening in Georgia can be rewarding as well as challenging. Our state did not experience a real winter this year. Did we have any cold weather? Yes, but not enough to kill back our plants and that is extremely unusual. Honestly, I cannot remember a time when our plants survived an entire winter without dying back to the ground. Due to mild temperatures, we had many plants, such as the Iris, blooming months before its natural schedule.
My husband and I decided, at the beginning of the year, that we should grow a portion of our food. This is a growing trend that has been gaining momentum in the past 15 years. Not knowing much about the food we consume or what pesticides or herbicides are used, is scary and intimidating in this era of food borne illnesses. We buy organic when we can, but still cannot be sure of the farming practices behind such food. Organics are more readily available in the local grocery store these days; but, are usually twice the price of the non-organics. So, why not grow a portion of the food we eat? How hard can it be? Actually, it's extremely hard, indeed.
Is It Summer Already?
Gardening year round is something most Georgians have been able to do for a good while. The last two years have brought even milder conditions than normal during our winters. And, the lack of cold weather is taking its toll on our environment and gardening practices. Everything is off schedule including trees, flowering hedges, grass-everything.
We sowed seeds in January for lettuce, radishes, and carrots. The lettuce was particularly prolific and to our surprise did not get consumed by aphids. It was hardy and did not bolt until April; indeed we got our money’s worth from the low cost seeds. We actually loaded up many bags of lettuce to share with friends and relatives. We vowed never to buy lettuce again during winter months after being so successful with this crop.
The radishes and carrots did not fare so well. While we did get a few decent radishes, the intense heat that came early caused them to stop producing around the end of March. The carrots performed even worse. By the time the tops were bushing out, the bottoms stopped growing. I did manage to get a serving portion out of the crop when preparing the plots for summer plantings.
Sticky Pollen is a Problem
Toward the end of May, the temperature in Middle Georgia was rising above the 90 degree mark. We usually average between high 70s and low 80s during the month of May; this allows for gardeners to change out old plantings in anticipation of the summer months. We were not allowed such a luxury this year.
When temperatures rise above 90 degrees along with high humidity, many plants including the heat loving variety, stop producing. If the plants happen to continue to produce, the pollen may be too sticky from the humidity to pollinate the fruit. It has been such the case with our yellow . The plants have been lush, big, and healthy but the fruit shrivels up from lack of pollination. Even undertaking the additional step of hand pollinating the fruit has had little success due to stickiness of the pollen. summer squash
The tomatoes have been much better producers in the garden despite the heat and humidity. We have been able to can several batches of tomatoes for the upcoming season of fall soups and stews. Although tomatoes love the heat, they have suffered under blazing temperatures of 114 degrees. In early June, we had several days that lingered between 108 and 114 degrees; not many living things, including humans, thrive in such horrific heat. The tops of a few tomatoes, which receive direct sun, got burnt during this week , but most survived due to a lot of watering and mulching.
The Beefsteak tomatoes, grown from seeds, are more the size of junior hamburgers. We have fed them plenty of homegrown compost and organic fertilizer to be healthy and productive. We can only attribute their measly size to the extreme heat stunting their growth.
In contrast, the Roma tomatoes, purchased as plants, seem to be thriving in the heat compared to their slicing cousins. They are producing like crazy with healthy stalks and leaves. The beautiful Romas will hopefully result in producing many jars of homemade tomato sauce.
At the time of writing this Hub, we have at least three more months of summer temperatures to help the garden survive through. The summer squash is still struggling to produce, but it looks as it’s setting more fruit. The sweet potato slips planted in May are expanding their vines throughout the garden and over everything like Kudzu. We are anticipating having many sweet potato pies during the holiday season to enjoy with friends and family.
Best of luck in weathering the challenges of vegetable gardening!
About the Author
Catherine Dean is a freelance writer, gardener, quilter, and blogger. Her professional background includes nonprofit program development, grant writing, and volunteer management. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Georgia College & State University.
Her blog, Sowing A Simple Harvest, chronicles a modern couple trying to live a simplistic, sustainable life. To explore Catherine's professional credentials, visit her website. She can also be followed on Twitter.