Longer growing season, soil testing available for White County gardeners

By Tammy Garrett Published May 18, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Courtesy of Brittany Garrett

Cherie Bradley prepares soil samples to be sent to the agricultural testing lab in Marianna. The White County Cooperative Extension Service provides free soil testing for residents in preparation for their gardening projects.

SEARCY — Spring and summer in White County usually mean the sound of tractors, the smell of freshly tilled earth and the anticipation of home-grown vegetables as residents get started on gardening projects. This year, though, Mother Nature has had an impact on when planting activities can begin.

“Because of the cooler, wet conditions, we have an extended planting season,” said Sherri Sanders, White County agricultural agent. “Cool weather crops like lettuce and cauliflower that usually go in the ground in April can be planted through mid-May,” she explained.

Sanders said a negative result of the weather this spring has been an increase in diseases in shrubs and trees but said the problem will likely be temporary.

“We should see that correct itself now that the sun is out,” she said.

Although now is the traditional time to get summer crops such as sweet corn, beans and tomatoes in the ground, residents who aren’t able to plant right now because of recent weather conditions shouldn’t fret. Sanders suggested that a fall garden is a viable alternative.

“Just about all the crops we grow here have 50 to 60 to 75 days until maturity,” Sanders said. That means if they are planted by July though mid-August, fresh vegetables that might usually be reserved for the summer months can be enjoyed in September and October.

“That’s the beauty of Arkansas weather. You can go on vacation and come back with plenty of time to plant a fall garden,” she said.

To help residents get the most out of their gardening projects, the Cooperative Extension Service of White County provides a soil-testing service that is free and open to the public. Sanders encouraged gardeners to take advantage of soil testing so they can use the proper nutrients when treating gardens.

All that is needed is a quart-size zip bag of soil that includes samplings taken from several different spots in the area used for planting. The Extension Service will send the collected soil sample to its testing lab in Marianna. The soil samples are usually tested and returned to the Extension Service Office in Searcy in approximately three weeks.

“Once we get the results back, we can give them a prescription for what nutrients their soil needs,” Sanders said.

Because of the low pH levels in White County soil, Sanders said, lime is most often the recommended cure for gardening problems in the area. Without the increase of pH levels, fertilizer can’t be absorbed by the soil.

“I like to use the analogy of having a seed stuck in a straw,” she explained. “No matter how much the soil is fertilized, it won’t do any good because the soil can’t take up the nutrients if the pH isn’t right.”

On a positive note, Sanders added that the price of lime is usually less than the cost of fertilizer.

For those who want to have their soil tested, the Cooperative Extension Service of White County is located at 411 N. Spruce St. in Searcy. Information is also available by calling (501) 268-5394.

None Tammy Garrett can be reached at .

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