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Leon McDonald shows his produce to customers Ronald and Joan Fuller of Caddo at the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Leon McDonald shows his produce to customers Ronald and Joan Fuller of Caddo at the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market.

Skimpy harvest
Drought delaying growth of crops, impacts farmers market

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

The drought is delaying the growth of mostly beans and potato crops of farmers who do not irrigate and who sell their produce at the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market.

Leon McDonald of Athens, who sold spinach and squash at the market Tuesday, said the drought has given him a skimpy harvest.

"This is the worst year I've had," said McDonald. "We had the setback when the frost came in April and killed a lot of stuff. Now, we are trying to bounce back, but the drought is holding us back. It's keeping green beans, potatoes, okra and cabbage from growing."

Ruth Freeman of Cullman and Wayne Brown of Gum Pond, shared similar stories.

Freeman said his crops are delayed, but are starting to produce for market.

"The drought prolongs productivity of the crops," Freeman said. "The hot, dry weather causes a big insect problem and that affects greens and stuff like that. Every day we're seeing something new come in that's been delayed by the hot weather."

The heat and lack of rain kills beanstalks.

"The drought is really hurting the area's green beans and potato crops," said Brown. "Right now the beans are in the blossom stage, and if they don't get water, the blossoms fall off and the stalks will start drying up. I've been hauling a lot of water to keep the beans going."

Rain not likely

Rain is not likely to happen with a high pressure area sitting over the Southeast. With highs in the upper 80s and low relative humidity in the forecast for the remainder of the week, the best chance for rain is Saturday or Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Huntsville. No meaningful rain has fallen at Pryor Field Regional Airport since May 16 when .14 of an inch fell. The Decatur area has a rain deficit or more than 10 inches since March 1.

Unlike the other farmers, James Hanserd of Athens and Anita Williams of Falkville, are not losing produce.

Hanserd said he hasn't experienced loss from the drought yet, but it might happen.

"I really can't tell right now," said Hanserd, who sold leafy cabbage, greens, potatoes and onions at the market Tuesday. "I know it's going to affect my crops. We had to replace a lot of stuff from the cold snap and it's not at the stage where I can tell yet."

Although there's no rain, Williams' plants are getting plenty of water.

"We have an irrigation system, and we're not losing now," Williams said. "But, we did lose a lot during the cold snap."

Farmers without irrigation systems said since rain is so scarce they must spend more time in the fields watering the plants to keep the drought from destroying their harvests.

Best buys

The best time to get first choice of vegetables is before noon at the MoFarmers Market on First Avenue Southeast The market is open Monday through Saturday.

Tips on dealing with drought in home gardens:

  • Use mulch. Mulch prevents moisture from evaporating directly from the soil surface and can greatly reduce competition from weeds. Always work mulch well into soil.

  • Reduce evaporation. Water your garden in the late afternoon or early morning, times when the least amount of water evaporates from leaves.

  • Watering. Give thorough soakings rather than multiple light watering to promote good root development.

  • Harvest. As soon as fruits and vegetables ripen remove from plant. Pull up plants that are no longer productive.

    - Source: The Old Farmers Almanac

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