Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 23, 2013

Recent rain didn’t lengthen summer growing season

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Area produce sellers have said that the recent bouts of rain have helped give their gardens a bit of a boost, but did not necessarily extend the summer growing season.

“It really didn't extend the growing season for us, at least not by much … plants take time to recover and begin production again, and the temps just go back up and shut production down again,” said Trish Whitinger, who with her husband Dave, run “A Time to Farm,” a 90-acre natural homestead in Jacksonville.

Whitinger has been “acting as market manager” for farmers markets in Jacksonville and Rusk, assisting Lois Hutson, a Lone Star Military farm specialist who coordinates the summer projects.

As a result, farmers “know that's how things are, and we just plan for it,” grateful for the excess produce they harvested this summer, she said.

Tony King, who – with his wife Jo – operates Hall's Produce Stand on U.S. Highway 69 South, between Jacksonville and Rusk, said the more mature tomatoes on his plants were damaged by the rain, describing how “the rains cool them too quickly,” bursting the skin.

He also lost cantaloupes during that same time, but produce like peas “are doing all right,” he said. “(The rain) will help the peas and squash for a while. It ended up getting too hot for the beans, but you can have squash and peas for a pretty long time.”

According to a Texas AgriLife crop and weather report filed last month by Robert Burns, “As thunderstorms pushed through the area, most of the region received rain, from 0.2 to 5 inches,” with heavier rains greatly improving growing conditions, according the site www.agrilife.org.

While downed treas wreaked havoc on fence lines, “hay harvesting was in full swing with good quality and quantity reported,” Burn reported. “The harvesting of vegetables and blackberries continued with fair to excellent results. Farmers were starting to market vegetable crops such as squash and onions. Some farmers were preparing to dig potatoes.”

Vegetable production, Whitinger pointed out, naturally slows down in the heat.

“When plants get stressed because of the heat and lack of rain, they shut down production or just die,” she said. “Even with extra rain, many crops will take many weeks to recover, while some won't recover at all.”

Some, like eggplant and okra, “keep growing no matter what, so eggplants and peppers are happy with the rain,” she said. “For the next two weeks, I expect the farmers to have purple hull peas, pinto beans, zipper cream peas, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, watermelons, and the last of the tomatoes.”

Farmers will continue offering fresh produce at local markets through the remainder of the month – Tuesdays in Jacksonville and Thurs-days in Rusk – then will take a break until the beginning of October, when they begin selling harvest from their fall crops, which already have benefitted from the recent rains.

“Where it really makes the difference is in the new crops that have been sown. Farmers must plan crops about three months in advance of selling them. As you can imagine, it is very hard to start plants when it is dry and 100 degrees out. Lots of farmers in the area won't even try for fall crops under those conditions. This year has really been ideal for getting those pumpkins and fall crops started,” Whitinger said, who added that five inches of rain fell at the family farm last week. “We're very grateful for the weather, and are excitedly anticipating a very productive fall market.”

While “we have no control over the weather,” King said, “we'll manage if the good Lord lets us.”