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Pine Bluff training and new ideas

March 16, 2017

I am hoping that today was the last of the winter weather, and looking ahead we are moving back into spring.  I have had a fire in the fireplace almost every night this week, which I love, but I will give that up if we can get past these cold days.
I had a great class of Master Gardeners today in Jefferson County.  They had a lot of questions and were very engaged in the classes.  I forgot to take a picture after we started, but it was a full class.   I was asked today what I thought would be the impact of these cold temperatures on tomatoes and peppers that were purchased early or on shelves at the garden centers that surprising are still green.  Many have seen them at some of the big box stores in racks, and they are as surprised as I am that they didn’t die the past few nights and they don’t think they were protected all that much. Even if they are green and growing,  I still think they are impacted. Tomato plants exposed to low temperatures or planted in cold soils often results in purple foliage.  This is due to a lack of absorption of potassium when the plant is exposed to low temperatures.  The leaves will usually turn green as they warm up and begin to grow, but they often are stunted for the season and less productive.  Peppers are more sensitive than tomatoes, but with both, even if the plants were not outright killed by below freezing temperatures, chilling can cause stunted growth, wilting, surface pitting or death of foliage, and also make them more susceptible to disease. Low soil temperatures also stunt plant growth and prevent root development.  That being said, it is still just March 16 and we don’t recommend planting tomatoes and peppers in central Arkansas until April 15 and in the northern tier even later.  Even in the southern fringe April 5 is an early planting date.  So there will be a new crop of tomato transplants by the time we should be planting that have not been exposed to our week of winter weather.  Buy those at the correct time and have good production.

The seasoned Jefferson County Master Gardeners were on hand to treat the new trainees to a wide array of snacks and lunch.  I am expecting great things from this group!  This afternoon agent Lee was going to do some hands on activities with them teaching them how to use simple things you may have at home to create a self-watering container.   He is also leading the way to using zoom for training Master Gardeners and producers. He told me he had a guy from Germany on earlier in the week speaking to producers.  I think we need him to do a session for our PNG Leadership conference to give examples to the rest of us.

One of their biggest projects is the youth vegetable garden that is right outside the extension office. This is a huge garden and they have it prepared and ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates.

For me, it was back to the office to meet with our other three horticulture specialists to devise a plan of action for a monthly zoom meeting with our county agents to update them on what is going on in the horticulture world.  What’s up Wednesdays will start soon with timely topics and what we are seeing around the state.  This is an idea that has been needed for a long time, and I am thrilled to see it about to launch.   This is a great way for us to connect with agents statewide and then they can share with their clientele.



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