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Pat Munts: Even seasoned gardeners can have crop failures

Sat., July 5, 2014, midnight

When, at the behest of a reader, I started focusing on beginning gardening topics this year, I never expected to write about this one. I am having multiple crop failures this year in the vegetable garden. The consolation is that it happens to everyone at some point – even experienced gardeners.

The first crop I started having trouble with was my garlic. It emerged from under its blanket of winter mulch in fine shape with 100 percent survival. Maybe that should have been my first clue. I fertilized it with blood meal in late April and thought I was good to go.

We pulled off the curlicue scapes in early June to prevent the plants from misdirecting energy away from the bulbs. Shortly after that I noticed that the stems were starting to die back, a good month before they normally would. I turned off the drip line to the box to reduce the amount of water they were getting – garlic likes it dry in the last half of its growth cycle. It didn’t seem to help. This past weekend most of the stalks have turned brown, which means there will be very small bulbs if any. I still don’t know why it happened other than too much water.

I got my corn in mid-June – late for my garden – and only a few shoots have emerged as of last weekend. There will be no corn “knee high by the Fourth of July” this year. The cool temperatures haven’t helped the situation. Corn needs really warm soil to sprout and we haven’t had much warm weather to date to warm it up. I may have planted the seed too deep as I was hurrying to get it in. I’ll just have to be patient, I guess, and plan for a very late harvest in September. Let’s hope we don’t get an early frost.

Lastly, my beets and parsnips – which were planted Memorial Day weekend – haven’t appeared yet. The carrots and cilantro are up and doing well. The parsnips may have failed because I was experimenting with pelleted seed. Small seeds are often coated with clay and a bit of fertilizer to increase their size, making them easier to plant accurately. They do take a while to germinate, but a month? I am really surprised about the beets. They are usually pretty tough. The only thing I can think of that could have gone wrong was that I planted the seed too deep. Note to self: Read that packet’s directions again.

I will replant the parsnips as we like to overwinter them and dig them in late March. After a winter of cold temperatures they are so sweet and a nice early spring treat. I will plant basil later this week in the bare spots as the warmer weather we are expecting will warm the soil nicely for this heat-loving crop. With any luck I should be harvesting in mid-August and making some tasty pesto. All the bare spots also mean I can plant the fall garden earlier.

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at

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