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April 18, 2018
From west central Illinois...It was freezing (15 degrees F) then it got hot (79 degrees F), followed by a cold snap over the weekend (24 degrees F). The forecast for the coming week will be brisk yet more stable regarding temperatures with highs in the 50s and lows around the freezing mark.
With the cold weather, came precipitation, and more snow. The cool season crops in the field (arugula, head lettuce, bok choi, kale, and red cabbage) all seem to have held up well to the cold weather of this past weekend without any additional protection.
I was delighted to have had the warm temperatures and a break in the cloud cover the second week of April. Not only did the plants seem to enjoy the sun, it certainly improved my moral. Last week I vented the high tunnel and moved flats of cool season seedlings out in the open air. Meanwhile, flats of warm season veggies were moved into the high tunnel to begin the process of hardening off the plants. This past weekend I did the plant shuffle once again, moving summer crops back indoors to protect them from the freezing temperatures where they will stay until later this week.
Peach buds have finally started their first swell. By the time this article hits your inbox, I'm sure we will have hit the calyx green bud stage. Still, we have had a slow start to spring. I wonder if we'll set any phenological records this year. At last check, my area was around 106 growing degree-days.
This past Friday the 13, I saw my first garden pest insect, an imported cabbageworm adult butterfly (Pieris rapae). These insects are quite hardy, especially considering a few days prior there were three inches of snow on the ground. The destructive nature of this butterfly comes in its larval stage as a plush light green caterpillar with lines running down the length of its body. If you have ever grown a cole crop in Illinois (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, turnips, kale, and so on) you have met this pest. Scouting is critical to stay ahead of imported cabbageworm, to avoid excessive damage to leafy cole crops, which would make them unmarketable. Often the best indicator of imported cabbageworm is small-clustered holes in the leaves originating from the underside or near the center of the plant. Two methods of control we use are physical exclusion with row cover, and Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk). When using row cover, make sure to continue to scout in case an imported cabbageworm sneaks by your defenses. Natural enemies will also play a role in controlling this pest, which makes Btk all that more valuable since it only targets the larval stage of butterflies and moths. As pest caterpillars grow in size, they become more resilient to Btk.
Also from west central Illinois... We've been somewhat lucky in that we haven't received the large amounts of precipitation that many in IL did over the past weekend. I emptied a little over .3" for the entire weekend. With the winds that we had and the sun on Tuesday, the soil dried out rather quickly. Prior to these rains just a few fields of corn and soybean had been planted in the area, and those fields had soils that worked up very nicely. We had a low of 28 and 27 on Monday and Tuesday morning (quite a change from the high of 80 that we achieved on Thursday of last week). Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that were planted in unheated high tunnels made it through in good shape.
It snowed again on Sunday (and Monday) which meant we've had snows 3 consecutive Sundays. Lets hope the old saying won't hold true about precipitation on Easter Sunday.
We mowed off our asparagus on the 7th, and I noticed the first few spear tips showing on the 12th (after the few days of 70 degree temps). Since then however, there hasn't been any new growth. I applied glyphosate to help control emerged weeds (mostly dandelion and some winter annuals) plus a residual. It's important to apply glyphosate prior to emergence of spears or risk of injury can occur
We got our onions planted last week, on white plastic. There are numerous devices that have been utilized to help with onion planting, ours is pretty simple. Just a couple of sections of plywood that I drilled holes into to place bolts. These bolts are 5/8" wide with 2 ½" of the bolt protruding from the plywood and able to puncture the plastic and form the hole. This size works well when the soil is moist and the hole doesn't fall in. When it's drier we use a slightly larger diameter as the soil doesn't hold up well enough. Using this device punches 4 holes at once and we simple place the set in the hole and firm some soil around it.
There hasn't been any sweet corn planted yet in the area that I'm aware of. We still have to spread fertilizer, which I'll do the end of this week. The forecast is for highs in the 60's starting on Friday, so most likely we'll get the first planting in soon after fertilizing. Most producers will be planting tomatoes and peppers in high tunnels this week as they didn't want to risk cold weather injury.
Peach buds are just starting to show pink, and cutting into them didn't show any injury from the cold from Monday and Tuesday. Apples are from silver to just a little green tip showing. Blackberries have about an inch of new growth and blueberry buds are swollen and green.
From east central Illinois...Most growers have been busy transplanting seedlings and hoping for warmer weather. April has been cooler than normal in this area with the April 11 – 13 warm, dry period being the first time that many farmers were able to direct seed in their fields. This was due to our cool wet soils and cold, cloudy days.
Here in central Illinois on April 16, we had snow flurries with a high temperature of 35 deg. F and wind blowing at 30+ mph. Growers with high tunnels are doing better but in some cases plants near tunnel sides have suffered frost damage due to our having 5 days with sub-freezing average daily temperatures so far in April.
From the St. Louis Metro-east... The pattern of rain and cold temperatures continues to hold. Night temperatures have been hovering near freezing, some morning slightly below and some mornings slightly above. Strawberries have been the most problematic, requiring frost protecting several morning in the past week. Wind was an issue on at least one frost event, making frost irrigation less than ideal. Wind speeds the morning of the 16th were sustained at 17-18 mph with gust upwards of 30 mph. It is increasingly difficult to deliver a uniform irrigation pattern needed as wind speed picks up. Sensitive crops are protected when irrigation is applied sufficiently throughout the freeze event because water freezing is a heat releasing process. During high winds though, the opposite can happen due to evaporative cooling (phase change from liquid to a gas) or sublimation (phase change from solid to a gas). Application rates have to be increased to offset evaporative and subliminal losses.
The entire region is running two to three weeks later compared to 2017. One grower reported plasticulture strawberry (field) harvest started April 21st in 2017 and is estimating a May 10 harvest for 2018. An asparagus grower reported starting harvest on April 11 in 2017 but field are showing no signs of emergence yet for 2018. 2017 was a very early year though. Compared to 2016, we are still running 5-10 days late.
Peaches, depending on location and cultivar, are anywhere from red calyx stage to full bloom. Sufficient live buds are being reported and as of this writing a full peach crop is expected. Apples are at ½" green to tight cluster; crop looks good.
Even around roller coaster temperatures and rainfall, new planting of tree fruit and small fruit are being reported. Some sweet corn growers planted last week during a small window of warm and dry. Hopefully the seed will survive and payoff in early yields.
From southern Illinois... We have slowly been feeling more spring like overall, but still have had some cold days and mornings over the past few weeks. Over the weekend of April 7th & 8th, temperatures dropped down into the upper 20s as predicted. The coldest temperature I had in Murphysboro was 27° one morning, but there were 3 consecutive mornings of lows between 27-30°. This did have some impact on some of the early peach varieties in bloom (when the flower/fruit is most vulnerable), but from grower reports, a "heavy thinning", has been observed. Given these temperatures, there actually was more injury than was expected, especially compared with the upper teens we saw during bloom last year. Sometimes there are some things in Mother Nature we just can't explain, but we are grateful when they work in our favor. Otherwise, last week things did actually dry out enough that we could get some field work done, but we did have wind and rain come through last Friday (4/13). We got about 1.7" of rain in total from this system which slowed field work again. It has been cool since then with lows down to 30-32° over the weekend and the first part of the week. Today (4/18) we are warmer but windy with highs up in the 70s and sun. We are supposed to cool off a little for late this week, still having some lows in the mid to upper 30s, but from there we are supposed to be warmer and the extended forecast does not show low temperatures below the 40s so maybe, just maybe, we are getting closer to being out of the frost/freeze events for the spring.
I did get potatoes planted at home last week while the soils were still dry. Both there (hilled) and at our office (plasticulture) we planted a potato variety trial looking at 10 different specialty colored potatoes. Be looking for results and information from this trial later this year. Peaches, pears and sweet cherries are blooming and apples are at tight cluster. Tart cherries are not blooming yet but with decent weather will probably be blooming in another week or so. The cold did hinder some early low tunnel tomatoes, but grower reports of using heavy row cover over slitted plastic row cover did help minimize any injury to the point that most plants should recover from our 20s about a week and a half ago.
Did I mention it was windy last Friday (4/13...yes Friday the 13th :) before that cold front? Just how windy? Well windy enough to blow the cover right off of our small high tunnel at the Jackson County office. I checked the data from the Carbondale weather station and max wind gust recorded was 47.4 mph so I wasn't crazy it really was windy. This was a 6-year rate poly that was put on November of 2013 and having been 4.5 years old and through 5 winters I would say it had a good useful life. It did have some holes and was showing some wear so this was not completely unexpected but never the less, not really planned either. The wind got inside and the plastic actually ripped right down a crease where it had been folded from the manufacturer. About ¾ of the cover came off. I promptly cut off the loose plastic and then used a heavy ratchet strap to hold down the remaining part of the plastic to prevent any further damage. Fortunately, the plastic ripped and did not cause any damage to the structure itself and we still just had cool season crops in the tunnel so the temperatures were not a problem. We got new plastic ordered that morning and it showed up yesterday (4/17) morning. It was a calm day and we put the new plastic on yesterday afternoon. It was sunny and in the 60s so the plastic stretched well and I think we got it fairly tight. Just a friendly reminder, if you have older plastic on a tunnel it never hurts to have a spare roll of plastic on hand. For us it wasn't a big deal given the crops and weather, but if either of those factors were changed it could have been more problematic. Nothing could have been done on Friday regardless of the wind, but there were a few calm mornings that, if truly needed, we could have gotten the plastic on sooner if we had had it on hand.