Vegetable gardening, termed the return of the Victory Garden during the pandemic, is rewarding. It provides exercise and a place to take out frustrations on the weeds. There are many resources providing gardening advice. The information from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is science-based and relates to our growing conditions. A few gardening tips for the early growing season are provided below.

After planting vegetable seeds, remember to thin out the plants. This means removing some of the seedlings, according to the spacing listed on the back of the seed packet. More information about plant spacing is available in Table 4 of Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky (ID-128) found at http://daviess.ca.uky.edu/content/horticulture. Thinning out the seedlings improves air circulation around the plants, which reduces disease development and allows space for the plant to mature. More seeds than needed are planted because not every seed germinates and grows. It may be hard to thin out the seedlings, but this benefits the other plants.

Generally, vegetable crops require full sun for the best production. If grown in a shady location, plants may be weak, unproductive, and more susceptible to pests. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Lettuce will grow in light shade.

Vegetable crops need nutrients. It is best to test the soil in the garden before planting to avoid under- or over-fertilization. Damage to crops can occur by improper application or excessive use of fertilizer. Plants that are over-fertilized are more susceptible to disease and insect pests. Too much nitrogen applied too early to tomato plants will result in beautiful green plants, but the fruit will not set. Applying fertilizer during the growing season is needed. For tomato plants growing in the ground, fertilize the plants, also called sidedressing, 1 or 2 weeks before the first picking and again 2 weeks after the first picking with 5 tablespoons of a high nitrogen analysis fertilizer such as 33-0-0 per 10 feet of row. The amount of fertilizer used in raised beds depends on the type of soil or soilless media used. For information about sidedressing other vegetables, consult Table 17 in Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky (ID-128) at http://daviess.ca.uky.edu/content/horticulture.

Watch for weeds. Hand pulling or hoeing out weeds when young, 2 inches tall or less, is easiest to manage. The smaller the weed, the smaller the root system and the easier to remove. When hoeing out weeds, scrape a sharp hoe along the top of the soil to cut them off at the ground level. The goal is to avoid loosening too much soil so you don’t end up covering the weed with soil again and replanting it. If the soil is tilled too deeply, the shallow roots of the vegetables may be injured and more weed seeds are turned up, resulting in more unwanted weeds growing.

Avoid weeding when the soil is wet because it is difficult to remove from the roots and some of the roots may remain in the soil. We also want to avoid walking in the garden and compacting the soil. Pulling weeds from raised beds may be easier as the soil should be loose. However, a raised bed requires more water.

After pulling up bigger weeds, remove as much soil from the roots as possible, and take them out of the garden to prevent them from growing again. Plants with a tap root like dandelions must be dug out of the soil; otherwise, if the root breaks off in the soil, the plant will grow again.

In a bigger garden grown in the ground, a rototiller is helpful to control larger weeds between rows. Removing weeds is a season-long task, but watching for them encourages us to scout for insect pests and diseases.

To continue to help manage the weeds, remove them before they go to seed, or in other words, before seeds are produced. For some weeds, the seeds remain viable and still germinate and grow after 20 years or more. Also, eliminate weeds around the border of the garden to prevent their seeds from getting into the growing area. Don’t forget to remove soil from the equipment used in the garden to avoid moving weed seeds to other areas and to protect the tools.

Mulching the garden soil reduces weeds and soil erosion and conserves moisture by 50% by slowing down evaporation. In addition, mulch keeps the vegetables clean due to less contact with the soil. Organic mulches, such as lawn clippings from a lawn that was not treated with an herbicide to control weeds and quality straw, can be worked back into the soil in the garden at the end of the year. They should be applied at least 2 inches thick. Make sure that rain is penetrating through the mulch. In order to spread the clippings and straw farther, place 6 sheets of newspaper on the soil and spread the organic matter over it. Check under the newspaper to make sure water is penetrating through the paper. Make sure the grass clippings do not contain weed seed heads to avoid introducing more weeds into the garden.

For more information about growing vegetables, contact the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Service by leaving a message at 270-685-8480 or emailing daviess.ext@uky.edu.

Annette’s Tip:

Mulching tomato plants is important to keep the soil evenly moist to manage blossom end rot. Blossom end rot occurs when environmental conditions prevent the distribution of calcium to the fruits. The fruit rots and is not usable.

Consumers have raised questions about meat supply and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. To help them sort through the information, meat specialists from three land-grant institutions recently joined forces to offer practical, science-based answers. Many of the questions revolve around food safety and the concern that humans could get COVID-19 by eating meat that was handled by a worker with the virus. According to Dr. Gregg Rentfrow, Meat Scientist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment,

there is currently no evidence of the disease being transmitted through meat. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus, and it is transmitted through personal contact.

Consumers should follow proper food safety measures and make sure to cook meat to the recommended temperatures. A reference guide for safe cooking temperatures is available at https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature.

Another question the Cooperative Extension meat scientists have encountered is the possibility of consumers getting sick by touching packaging that may have been handled by a food service worker with COVID-19. Dr. Jonathan Campbell, Meat Extension Specialist for the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, says that according to the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the answer is no. The FDA says you do not need to wash your food containers to prevent COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Campbell said the best way for consumers to protect themselves is by thoroughly washing their hands before and after handling food packages. Never try to wash meat in the sink, spray it with chemicals, or dip food into a cleaning solution. Household cleaners are not meant to clean our food.

Consumers are concerned about processing plant closures due to their employees contracting COVID-19. Dr. Rentfrow said he and his colleagues from Penn State and Ohio State University are trying to soothe consumer anxiety about the supply chain. They emphasize that the meat industry is devoted to maintaining the food supply. Although some plants have temporarily closed and others have slowed production, the meat industry began preparing for these interruptions before they began. The specialists are confident things will get back on track soon.

The Ohio State University Extension Meat Science Specialist, Dr. Lyda Garcia, says meat plants that have closed are deep cleaning so they can reopen as soon as possible.

They are going beyond normal cleaning and sanitizing and working with their local and state health departments to get back to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. Consumers do not need to panic buy or stock up on meat; rather just try to maintain their traditional buying patterns according to Dr. Garcia.

Overall, total meat sales have declined across the United States, but retail sales continue to increase. Temporary restaurant and foodservice establishment closures have caused the decline in meat sales. According to Dr. Rentfrow, the industry is working with the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service to meet retail grocery store needs by redistributing meat products previously intended for restaurants and foodservice establishments. All are working together to make sure the food supply is safe and that consumers are able to get the products they desire.

Some meat plants have reduced production while they try to put social distancing and other measures in place to protect their workforce. Many are staggering their shifts, breaks, lunch times, and even taking employee temperatures. Dr. Campbell said they are doing everything they can to keep their workers safe and to ensure a safe product for the consumer. Some plants are going above and beyond and doing overall health assessments for each worker at the beginning of each shift and also requiring them to wear masks, gloves, and eye protection. Most plants are continuing to pay ill workers while they recover at home. Meat inspection is already mandatory by law. Meat inspectors are present in all processing facilities. According to Dr. Rentfrow, the meat industry as a whole holds consumer safety as a top priority. Everyone is doing their best to make sure food is safe and plant employees are well and ready to work. Consumers can do their part by avoiding overbuying. As packing plants slow production, grocery inventory could decrease if we have an increase in consumer purchasing.

 

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