Blackwelder: Answers on spring crops

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2011

The weather is finally becoming more spring-like and perfect for vegetable gardening.
April 15 is typically the last day you have to worry about frost in this area, but many home gardeners are chancing the weather and trying their luck with tender vegetables. Be prepared to protect tender vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers over the next few weeks.
Below are ongoing questions from vegetable gardeners this week.
Q: Is it too late to plant potatoes? Can we use whole potatoes left over from last year?
A: You can still plant Irish potatoes, but I would only use certified seed. Left over potatoes often have disease problems that can reduce their yield. Cut the seed potatoes into 1-inch cubes with a healthy eye that hasn’t sprouted. Potato eyes are the dimples on each potato that will sprout and will produce the plant. After cutting potatoes into cubes, allow them to set for a couple of days before planting. The open wounds will heal over to prevent rotting in the soil.
Q: The turnips I planted earlier in the year now have yellow flowers and are not growing. What is wrong with my plants?
A: Turnips and other members of the Brassica sp. family bolt or prematurely flower if stressed. Some varieties are more susceptible than others.
Q: What direction should I run the rows in my garden?
A: If practical, run vegetable crops east or west, however, it really doesn’t make that much difference in our area. Make sure your gardening area has full sun or at least eight hours of bright sunlight during the day.
Q: I planted my broccoli and cabbage seed earlier this spring with no luck. What happened?
A: Your seed most likely rotted in the cold, damp soil. Plant early vegetable seed such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. seed in the late summer for a fall crop. It’s always a safe bet to use transplants in the spring.
Q: I have been trying to grow spinach for three years now with no luck. Can you tell me why it is so difficult to grow spinach?
A: Spinach can be grown on a variety of soils, but it grows best on fertile, sandy loam high in organic matter. The soil pH is probably an issue since spinach is very sensitive to acid soils. The pH for growing spinach should be between 6.4 and 6.8. When the pH varies from this level, problems occur.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities on Facebook or website at or call 704-216-8970.