Generally speaking, the crop that we are most interested in at this point of the year is alfalfa. The corn and soybeans may have been planted, and in some areas, may be starting to emerge. The main concern in alfalfa in terms of insect pests is the alfalfa weevil. This year, it is especially problematic due to increased GDD accumulation. The early warm temperatures pushed us to about two weeks ahead of where we were last year in terms of our accumulated heat units. This is reflected in the progression of the alfalfa weevil, not only in size, but in number. Most fields were not over threshold, but certainly showed weevil damage and the weevils that were feeding ranged from 1st to 3rd instar.
While scouting alfalfa fields, its important to inspect the entire plant. The prolonged cool and wet weather that we have been experiencing has been perfect for development of Sclerotinia crown and stem rot in alfalfa and clover fields. It can be easy to confuse this disease as winter kill, but further inspection of the plant, especially near the crown can reveal white, mycelial, cotton like growth. You may also find sclerotia in or on the stems and crown. Once the weather warms up and fields dry out, this disease will likely stop progressing, and some infected stands may recover and produce sufficient yields in subsequent years. Keep in mind that those sclerotia will remain in the soil for many years waiting for perfect conditions to start the disease cycle again.
With the cold temperatures extending into our early growing season many growers with high tunnels are using heat sources such as wood burners and gas stoves to keep their high tunnels warm. If you are doing this, please make sure your vents are clear and that all of the exhaust, fumes and smoke are making their way out of the tunnel. Double check to make sure chimney pipes are snug and the joints are not loose. Plants, especially tomatoes, are very sensitive to ethylene gas, a by-product of burning and when the smoke or fumes from the stoves are making it back into the tunnel, the plants are exposed to the ethylene for prolonged periods of time. Plants exposed to ethylene will show signs of epinasty, or a downward spiral of shoots and curling leaves, as well as blossom abortion.
Other than vegetables in high tunnels, some cole crops and lettuce are planted. Onions and fall planted garlic are also handling this cool wet weather with relative ease. As a word of caution, wet soils and cold temperatures do not equate to great growing conditions for both transplants and direct seeded crops. Some crops handle it much better than others. For crops like summer squash, peppers, and tomatoes, it would be wise to hold off for a bit longer be fore attempting to get them in the ground.
Small Fruit and Orchards
Apples are at petal fall. Peaches are at petal fall and, in some cases, shuck split. No CM or OFM concerns at this point in the orchards. We did observe some frost or freeze damage on some apple blossoms, but there are more than enough healthy blossoms to cover any loss from the freeze that occurred.
Blueberries are in full bloom and have no concerns at this time.
Strawberry varieties that were early to bloom, and left uncovered, likely suffered heavy bloom loss due to the freezing temperatures that we experienced. Some early blooming varieties had very few, if any, healthy looking blooms. They will still put on new blooms, but do not expect large yields from early season strawberries.
Grapes also experienced some damage due to the cold temperatures. Currently, grapes are around the bud burst stage. Some buds that were exposed to the cold have died; others look damaged. In another week or so, we will be better able to tell the extent of the damage that occurred to the grapes.