If you've been worrying about your tomatoes this year, you aren't alone. Even Master Gardeners are having a time of it. "Crops are two to three weeks behind where they should be at this time, " said Margie Karl of Mapleton, president of the Master Gardeners of Peoria County, a group of "green thumb" experts organized by the University of Illinois Extension service to provide assistance to the gardening public.
If you've been worrying about your tomatoes this year, you aren't alone. Even Master Gardeners are having a time of it.
"Crops are two to three weeks behind where they should be at this time, " said Margie Karl of Mapleton, president of the Master Gardeners of Peoria County, a group of "green thumb" experts organized by the University of Illinois Extension service to provide assistance to the gardening public.
"First it was wet and cool and then wet and hot. Then (temperatures) went from cool to hot and back to cool," she said, explaining why tomatoes that should be red by now are staying green.
"The cooler evening temperatures have been a problem. We've had it drop into the 50s in July. Plants like tomatoes want it warmer than that," said Karl.
The cooler, wet weather also makes it easier for disease to spread, she said. "I know that fungus is an issue for some people this year," said Karl.
The weather problems haven't slowed the Junior Master Gardeners, a group of 8- to 12-year-old children who have been tending their own plots in Karl's spacious backyard.
Seven children are involved in this, the first year of the program in Peoria County. It is one of four registered junior gardening units in the state, said Karl.
"It's not just a garden club. They learn about soils, insects and the environment," she said.
Elsewhere in central Illinois, Loretta Ortiz-Ribbing, the crop systems specialist for the Extension unit in Macomb, said gardeners might notice that tomato plants are doing well - except for the tomatoes.
"The energy of the plant is going into foliage rather than blossoms that turn into fruit," she said.
Gardeners and farmers can expect more disease this year, said Ortiz-Ribbing.
"The cool, wet weather is a breeding ground for disease. Apple growers are seeing fire blight and scab. In southern Illinois, peach growers are battling brown rot," she said.
If there's a bright side to all the precipitation, Ortiz-Ribbing said the bug problem may be slightly reduced.
"Insects tend to get beaten up by the rain," she said. "But they're out there. We've heard reports of western bean cutworm and Japanese beetles this year."
Farm crops also slowed
Farmers in Illinois got a late start getting their crop in the ground for the second year in a row. Continued rain has slowed growth this summer across the state, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
"Crops are continuing to lag behind the five-year average," noted the state's weekly crop report. This year marks the slowest start for corn and soybeans in 12 years, the report said.
Woodford County Extension crop sciences educator Pete Fandel said conditions in the area were extremely variable. "Some fields are doing really well while others have sections of five-foot corn alongside 10-foot corn," he said.
Some farmers may have "pushed the envelope too hard," trying to get a crop in the ground under wet conditions and now face compaction problems, said Fandel.
"I think conditions are steadily improving. We'll have some 200-bushel-an-acre fields but not as many as last year," he said.
One benefit to the cooler weather this summer - temperatures are averaging about 7 degrees cooler than normal this July, according to state statistics - is that pollination, delayed by several weeks this year, favors the cooler weather, said Fandel.
"The conditions in August - when the (corn) ear will develop - will determine yields this year," he said.
Princeville farmer Ted Gilles pointed to wet spots in his corn field on a conservation tour held on his farm earlier this month. "This year won't be as good as last," he said.
The impact of extensive rain on area fields will take its toll this year, said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau. "There are going to be more wet spots than last year. There's going to be less of a yield in those areas but it's hard to tell the impact on the total crop," he said.
Kirchhofer said the farm bureau is looking into organizing a fly-over in August to allow farmers to look at wet areas in fields from the air. "It could be beneficial to see what needs to be done in certain areas," he said.
Overall, the season could still be a good one, said Kirchhofer. "We had a record harvest last year. Rain makes grain, so while results probably won't be as good as last year, yields could still be above average," he said.
Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.