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Early vegetable harvest depends on soil temperature and moisture

Would you like to harvest vegetables early? The soil should have sufficient moisture and suitable temperature for the species. If the soil is too wet and cold, the seeds will rot. If the soil is too dry, the seeds will not germinate and sprout.

• Select soil with the best drainage. Water keeps the soil cool. The amount of heat needed to warm a given amount of water 1 degree will warm the same volume of dry soil 15 degrees. Dark-colored soils should warm faster, but they usually contain more water and are cooler during the spring than loam or sandy soils.

• Soil that slopes to the south or in raised beds will absorb more heat than level areas, and northern slopes are much cooler.

• Apply such soil amendments as gypsum, lime, organic matter and fertilizer as needed. Planting in unsuitable soil is a waste of time and resources.

• Select early-maturing varieties. Tomato varieties vary from 40 days to 100 days from transplanting to first harvest. Some varieties have more heat, disease and insect resistance; are smaller; are more productive; or have special flavor, color or size of fruit.

• Windbreaks should increase the soil temperature 2 degrees to 6 degrees for up to 50 feet. The structure should not be solid, but spoilers or larger plants are suitable.

• Cold protectors (plastic/water and row covers) have resulted in harvest about one month earlier. Walls o’water will protect the plants from freezing and warm the soil so they will mature faster. Row covers will help prevent freeze damage. Cold protectors should be used if the crop is planted extra early.

Black plastic should result in a larger harvest and maturity one to two weeks earlier. Black plastic is good for most crops during the cool spring. White plastic was best for tomatoes during the hot season in Texas and other Southern states. I used white plastic bags around two Merced and two Surefire plants that produced 60 pounds. The largest tomato weighed 14 ounces.


“Home Vegetable Gardening” by Sam Cotner is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Texas A&M University Horticultural Gardens off Hensel Drive in College Station.

Pre-register by calling Susan at 845-3658, or go to

The fee is $10 for garden members and $15 for nonmembers. On-site registration costs another $5.

• Elmer Krehbiel is a retired Texas A&M University professor and a Brazos Valley Master Gardener. Write to him c/o the Brazos County Cooperative Extension, Office, 2619 Texas 21 West, Bryan, Texas 77803 or e-mail him at


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