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Hot weather harms home gardens

Weeks of hot, dry weather are causing disappointment for home vegetable and fruit growers who, despite lavishing care on their plants, aren't seeing the fruits of their labors.

"I am getting tons of calls," said Jerri Lephiew, Ouachita County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. "Everyone's garden is crashing. People aren't seeing fruit setting on their plants."

Home gardeners are lamenting the lack of tomatoes, beans, squash and okra.

Lack of fruit set can have many causes. High nighttime temperatures are a major problem. Several cities in Arkansas saw record highs recently. The heat can causes the plant's flowers drop. No flowers, no fruit.

"If nighttime temperatures don't fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit during flowering to early fruit development, tomatoes just won't set fruit," said Sherri Sanders, White County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

The high temperatures can also have an effect on ripening. "Temperatures in excess of 110 degrees inhibit the ripening chemistry of the tomato in a similar manner to which cold temperatures damage fruit ripening," he said. "However, there is always the alternative and that's fried green tomatoes."

The same goes for green beans, Andersen said. "They won't set pods when there are high temperatures, especially high nighttime temperatures."

"Squash is probably being affected by water and heat stress," he said. "When it cools down a little bit, the fruit will come back.

"The okra is more perplexing," Andersen said. "They usually take the heat quite well."

Dan Chapman, director of the University of Arkansas' Fruit Research Station in Clarksville, said the heat was also affecting blackberries and peaches.

"In blackberries, it's not the female flower, but the male flower that can't take the heat," he said. And you have to have both to get fruit."

"Our peach crop is down, the fruit size is down and all the growers have had problems with size and quantity too," Chapman said. "It's just a pitiful year."

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