Crowd gets tips on plant care

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Sentinel photo by JULIANNE CAHILL
Penn State Extension Educator Thomas Maloney speaks about vegetable gardening Monday at the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — Rotation may be the secret ingredient to help your vegetable garden grow.

Penn State Extension Educator Thomas Maloney spoke on the topic Monday morning in the main hall at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. He said anyone who wishes to begin or improve a vegetable garden should consider the following elements:

¯Plant variety

¯Space available

¯Nutrient values

¯Insect, disease and weed control

Maloney said varietal considerations are critical to selecting plants that yield the product desired. Some varieties taste better than others, for example, and some are more disease resistant or less sensitive to harsh weather.

Maloney specifically pointed to tomatoes, of which there are two types: Determinate varieties, which produce one large flush all at once; and indeterminate varieties, which produce less tomatoes for a longer time.

These considerations are important for people who are interested in canning, he said. Gardeners who prefer to finish all their canning at one time would select different varieties than those who want to can several times.

Temperature is another important element, he said. There are cool and warm season vegetables that must be started and harvested at particular times.

Spinach, onions and lettuce are particularly hardy plants that can withstand weather conditions better than vegetables like cucumbers, snap beans

and summer squash.

Maloney recommends purchasing a soil thermometer for about $5, which is a useful tool for determining when it’s safe to start planting desired varieties.

Most importantly, Maloney said gardeners should consider plant rotation if they have the space to do so. This means moving plants around every two to three years — for instance, planting tomatoes where legumes were, and moving the legumes to the tomato plot.

Rotating crops helps control diseases, he explained. Many of the diseases in Pennsylvania are soil-borne and specific to one plant family.

Maloney said recently, Pennsylvania gardeners and farmers are seeing more bacterial spots on peppers and tomatoes. He said it is a soil-borne disease that doesn’t stay in the ground for more than six months.

“It’s kind of simple,” he said, but moving those plants to a different plot stops the disease.

Rotation is also a way to correct nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Tomatoes, for instance, require very nutrient-rich soil with lots of nitrogen. Beans do not, Maloney said. By rotating plants that need more nitrogen with those that do not, gardeners have an upper hand in balancing nutrients in the soil.

Maloney also recommends rotating deep-rooting crops with shallow crops to benefit soil structure.

More educational seminars and exhibits continue through Saturday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. For a full schedule of events, visit online at http://www.farmshow.state.pa.us.


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