Everything Cucurbits need should be in place before they commit to setting a heavy crop. Setting as much seed as possible gives the plant’s genes a better chance for the future, but it won’t take unnecessary risks. Factors which make a plant “nervous” include food shortage, unfavourable temperatures, disease, low light intensity and shading from competition with weeds or other plants. A farmer might allow a fair number of weeds to grow before weeding, but the plant doesn’t know the area will be weeded and makes provision for a lower crop as a safeguard.
There will be a delayed response after weeding which may cost farmers more than they bargained for. Many don’t consider this. T he plant feels confident when still growing into open ground. With enough food and water and good climatic conditions, it will go for maximum growth when it doesn’t perceive competition. But as soon as the rows start to grow into each other and there’s no more open ground, the plant starts breaking by aborting flowers. To mature the first fruits safely, the plant will sacrifice the later ones. his may result in peculiar situations. “Good” farmers may feel they can maximise yield potential by providing perfect growing conditions, as they see them.
Their “poor” neighbours may plant the same variety at the same time at the same spacing but, due to high fertiliser costs, provide less than ideal conditions. However, the “poor” farmer may have shorter internodes and higher fruit set per plant before the vines meet in the middle. O ften, the first farmers will only get half the yield. They’d stand in waist-high, lush growth and feel cheated and confused when they see their neglectful neighbour with double the yield. It really hurts when a farmer with a crop under pivot irrigation is beaten hands down by a dryland neighbour.
This all results from not understanding how the plant reacts to competition. f course the “good” farmers will want an explanation and the first thing to come to mind is pollination. hey’ll notice young fruit going yellow and reason that the foliage is too dense for the bees to see the flowers. his is rubbish. Bees fly right under the canopy and won’t miss a single flower. It’s all about spacing. More about that next week. – Bill Kerr ((016) 366 0616 or e-mail [email protected]). |fw