Stillwater News Press

April 5, 2014

Seed to Table 04-06-14

It’s time to plant warm season crops

Dick Ortez
Stillwater NewsPress

— Hopefully your cool season crops are all in the ground. I have stopped planting them, and turned my attention to warm season crops. In all likelihood, if planted this late they will not have time to mature properly before it gets too warm, which will foster their going to seed and/or developed off tastes. For example, once it becomes too warm, lettuce will likely become bitter, even though it may still look attractive. Remember, you will have another chance at these as fall crops.

 At this point, you really need to turn your attention to planting warm season crops; if not, you run the risk of getting both types in late.  

The period from mid-April until mid-May is the normal warm-season planting window. Start with crops like snap beans, cucumbers, summer squash, sweet corn and okra. Then move to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant; finish with cantaloupe, winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, and watermelon. This sequence puts most crops in the ground at their more optimum time.

Of course, study a long-range weather forecast and avoid setting out tender bedding plants if it portends frost.

Have a game plan for protecting them in the event of a later frost.

Also, set plants out in the evening – on a low-wind day; this will give them overnight to equilibrate.

Finally, be sure to give them a drink. It may not seem like much, but I find these precautions make a world of difference in their appearance the next day – and beyond.

Over the years, I’ve learned to have my irrigation system in place “before” I plant. Both newly emerging seedlings and freshly set out bedding plants have very shallow roots and will need several shallow drinks early on.

Also, if you have not already applied your fertilizer, consider doing so as you plant. After measuring off a row, I scatter half of the recommended fertilizer directly in the row and till it in – making sure to disperse the fertilizer granules well. Dispersing the granules greatly reduces the risk of fertilizer burn to delicate rootlets. Later in the year, I apply the other half of the fertilizer between the rows, tilling it in as I cultivate to remove weeds.

No matter when you apply fertilizer, I strongly recommend that you have the soil tested to see precisely what is needed. Often it is the pH which needs adjusting; and no amount of fertilizer will help if the pH is off. If you have had it tested in the last two years, follow the same recommendations this year; a test every three years is adequate.

In the meantime, do not forget your cool season crops.

For example, as the weather warms, cabbage looper worms become a real threat to all your Brassica crops. You will definitely need to get on top of them quickly, with either conventional insecticides or Bacillus thuringiensis. And, of course, there are always weeds to eliminate - and the smaller they are, the easier it is.

Richard A. “Dick” Ortez earned a doctorate degree from Creighton University in microbiology. During the past 40 years, he has taught elements of food science at the university and medical school levels, operated a café, and run a truck farm and food processing business. He writes the “Seed to Table” column at his farm near Glencoe and welcomes questions, comments and suggestions sent to