Questions on: Miscellaneous
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: I am
looking for a mail order nursery that grows organically grown, hardy
fruit trees for the upper Midwest. I believe you have mentioned it in
the past in your column, but I cannot locate any mention of it in the
copies I have kept. How good is your memory? Thanks! (e-mail reference)
A: My memory only is fair most of the time, but on this matter it is pretty good because I just received the nursery’s 2007 catalog! It is the St. Lawrence Nursery in Potsdam, N.Y. It has good stuff that is well-adapted to our region. It is a husband-and-wife organization that has a group of very talented and dedicated employees. The address is 325 State Highway 345, Potsdam, NY, 13676. You might be better off calling for a catalog to get faster service. The nursery can be reached at (315) 265-0778.
Q: I am interested in growing organic vegetables for my family and the local farmers market. Can I do that by not using pesticides? (e-mail reference)
A: You can, but the term organically grown is a legal one that can’t be used without certification. There is a certification agency known as the Organic Crop Improvement Association that will certify your crops as organically grown. The certification will allow you to legally use its label. Rather than give spotty information in this answer, I suggest that you contact the agency chapter in North Dakota. The chapter is in Garrison and can be reached at (701) 337-5789. The contact person is Darlene Philbrick. She will give you the details. In the meantime, you can tell customers that you are working toward being organically certified.
Q: My carrots are a nice size and taste great as usual. However, every fifth or sixth carrot I pull has one main top, but has five or six legs. Can you tell me what would cause this? Also, my sister has been pulling out white carrots. What causes this problem? (e-mail reference)
A: It could be injury to the growing point from soil insects or nematodes. It also could be physical injury from a stone, aggressive cultivation or a hard physical object in the soil. The off-color is usually a result of environmental extremes, such as high soil moisture from continuous or nearly continuous rain or irrigation. It also could be caused by extremely high temperatures.
Q: Due to the dry conditions, I have been watering my garden more than usual, but the water is high in sodium. It seems as though my plants reach a point where they stalemate. I'm assuming it’s from the high sodium in the water. What, if anything, can I fertilize with or put on my garden to counteract the sodium problem? (Kensal, N.D.)
A: Nothing, except distilled or high-quality (low-sodium) water. Don't fertilize because that will compound the problem. Hope for some good soaking rains to come soon!
Q: We sprayed our garden with Ortho Weed-Be-Gone last fall. Consequently, some of the onions, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots did not grow. Will this spraying affect the eating of the rest of the vegetables? I know the weeds did not come up until this past week. I would appreciate your knowledge on this matter. (e-mail reference)
A: I don't think this herbicide is cleared for vegetable garden weed control. Technically, you are not supposed to consume the vegetables for safety reasons.
Q: Can you tell me where I might be able to find the product "Grass Killer" by Hy-Yield that you mentioned in your article last week? I have a problem with grass in my raspberries and strawberries. (e-mail reference)
A: Try the "Marts," such as Wal-Mart, KMart and Target. Also, all the local nurseries should have this or a similar material. Look for anything that has sethoxydim as the active ingredient. That's the stuff that works.
Q: I have two three-year-old gooseberry bushes that are healthy and full of leaves, but they have yet to produce any fruit. What could be the problem? (e-mail reference)
A: It could be that all the plants are male, which will not produce fruit.
Q: I have been told you cannot grow tomatoes and green/red peppers together. If so, how far apart should they be planted or should they not be in the same garden? (e-mail reference)
A: I haven't heard that and I've been growing them together for as long as I can remember with no dire consequences.
Q: A lady called me about eating avocado seeds. Are they edible? Can they be used for anything other than growing other avocado plants? (e-mail reference)
A: Do not eat the seeds because avocado seeds and leaves are considered poisonous.
Q: I purchased a "greenhouse" last year. Can plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers, be grown from start to finish (seed to bearing fruit) in my green house? I've battled a little with rabbits and other wildlife where we live and was hoping I could keep some things in the greenhouse all summer. My kids said that my greenhouse is not green, so I can't call it that. So now we call it the garden house. It's made of hard plastic. The roof has a couple of skylights and one side (facing south) has a big, curved window. That's where most of the shelves are for the plants. Also, what is the best product to use to kill grass and weeds in my flower beds and raspberries without hurting the plants that I want to keep? (e-mail reference)
A: You can grow those plants from seed to fruiting in your "garden house." Ask your kids if you can call it a greenhouse once you gets plants going in it. To control unwanted grass around plants, look for a product that contains sethoxydim. The product is called Grass Killer and is under the Hi-Yield brand name.
What do you think of growing vegetables in a bale of hay? Here's a
Web site http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/tomato/msg0308333916091.html?3. (e-mail reference)
A: Gardeners are crazy people and will jump at every novelty! It will work, but why do it? The hay will attract rodents, at least for the winter. Who wants to run around looking for hay or straw bales? The opportunity for disease and insect problems being transferred from the bale to the living plants is high. If garden space is not available, plant them in containers with good drainage and use pasteurized soil. Why go to the expense of using pasteurized soil in an unpasteurized bale of hay or straw? If you have a farm, then the hay or straw bales are readily available, but any farmer I know who wants to grow veggies will not resort to using a bale. Thanks for the good question.
Q: I have received a couple of raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and grape plants. According to the information I got, raspberries and blueberries can be grown in large pots. Is this a good idea or would it be better to grow the plants in a garden setting? Also, what is the best way to grow blackberries and grapes? We have never tried growing a garden in the past. The grapes are Niagra, the blueberries are Jersey, the raspberries are Red Latham and the blackberries are Ebony King. I know we need to get them planted as soon as possible, but how do we do it? I would appreciate any help you can give me. Also, we have purchased a trellis for the grapevines, but we don't know if that is the best way to do this. (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
A: You can grow the plants in large containers or in the garden. Planting them in the garden is best. Blueberries need lots of sphagnum peat moss and acid fertilizer to get them established and maintained. Keep the raspberries and blackberries separated because they can create quite a tangled mess if they start intertwining. You might want to go to my Web site on growing raspberries at www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h38w.htm for more information:
Q: I was given some blackberry plants. Should I grow them away from my red raspberries? Do they ramble or grow upright? How do I control them or cut them back? (Pelican Rapids, Minn.)
A: Grow the blackberries away from the red raspberries. Blackberries, at least the type I believe you have, grow upright. Blackberries and raspberries bear primocanes the first year. The second year the primocanes become floricanes, which bear the fruit and then die. You want to care for the blackberries much the same way you would raspberries, by removing the fruit-bearing canes in the fall and tipping out the fruit-bearing canes in the spring before new growth begins. Cut them back to about 36 to 40 inches.
Q: Is an avocado plant poisonous to animals? (e-mail reference)
A: The poison principle apparently depends on the species of avocado. It has been reported as the source of poisoning in rabbits, cattle, fish and canaries. The Mexicola avocado did not have the same results. To be on the safe side, assume the one growing in your house is poisonous.
Q: I had a problem with my carrots last year. When I harvested the mature carrots, there were holes in some of them. The ground over the carrots was not disturbed and I didn't see any tunnels leading up to the carrots. The sides of the holes appeared to be smooth. The carrots were healthy despite the holes. I began noticing the holes Aug. 1 and continued to notice them until I was done harvesting. Any idea what did this? (Driscoll, N.D.)
A: The symptoms you describe don't fit the pattern of the three most common insect pests of carrots that I know of. The three pests are the carrot rust fly, aster leafhopper and carrot weevil. What could be causing the problem is slugs because there was no tunneling or frass present. These critters often will leave nicely chiseled holes that you described. This would be especially true during a wet year, in soils with high organic matter or where mulch was present around the crop. These sneaky critters show up mostly during the evening hours to do their dirty work and then return to their hiding place at dawn. If the damage was by rodents, I'm sure there would be other evidence, along with more extensive visible damage. If the problem begins showing next year, send a sample to me for a more accurate diagnosis.
Q: Does cloudberry, also known as bakeapple, grow in North Dakota? If so, would you know where I could obtain some seed or plants? (e-mail reference)
A: I doubt it. They require or are found in native peat bogs, which indicate a highly organic and acid soil. The question is not hardiness, as they are said to grow in Minnesota, New York and New England. Cloudberry also can be found in subarctic tundra. I checked a 2006 catalog from St. Lawrence Nurseries, in Potsdam, N.Y., but it doesn't have cloudberry listed.
Q: I have about 20 acres of what is considered "farmable wet ground." I would like to grow some type of crop on it. Do you think it is a good area for raising wild rice? How do I go about raising and harvesting it? Do you know if there is a market for it? (Sebeka, Minn.)
A: Growing wild rice is light years from my expertise. I do know there is a market for it. Perhaps the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can help you. According to the DNR Web site, wild rice grows best where clear, shallow water flows over a soft, mucky bottom, such as in the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, or in spring-fed lakes and marshes. Though some wild rice grows in Wisconsin and Michigan, Minnesota is the only state where wild rice is found in great abundance.
Q: I have several questions for you. The questions might be more appropriate for springtime, but they are pertinent to me now as I begin to think of this coming spring. I have a couple of patches of asparagus that are healthy and bearing well. I do have a problem with grass in both patches. I have been told that Poast will control the grass. You also have suggested Vantage. Are asparagus plants dicots? Can I use either of the herbicides on raspberries to control grass? Lastly, can I use either of them on horseradish plants to control grasses? I enjoy your column and look forward to reading it. (Richville, Minn.)
A: All I can tell you is to follow label instructions and guidelines for use of Poast and/or Vantage. I don’t have the current label, so I am unsure which crops are on the list. If horseradish is not listed, it is against the law to use it on that crop. Asparagus is in the lily family.
Q: Have you any ideas for root and carrot storage? We have a dirt floor under the house. The temperature is around 55 to 60 degrees, but 40 degrees is recommended. (e-mail reference)
A: Carrots need as close to 100 percent humidity as possible and temperatures ranging from 32 to 40 degrees or as low as possible without freezing. Higher temperatures accelerate decay. They should not be stored in plastic bags because it will accelerate decay. For more than you would ever want to know about carrot and other vegetable storage, go to the online version of the USDA Agricultural Handbook at www.ba.ars.usda.gov/hb66/contents.html. Scroll down on the contents until you come to the carrot section. Click on that and download the three pages of specific information on carrot storage. There also is information on many other vegetables and fruits.
Q: I have tried looking on the Internet and in older books for instructions on harvesting and preparing amaranth. I can't seem to find anything. I have a few plants and I was interested in experimenting and making flour. Do you have any thoughts or recommendations? (Moorhead, Minn.)
A: Go to the following sites- http://chetday.com/amaranth.html, www.bobsredmill.com/recipe/ingredient.php?pid=32 and
http://waltonfeed.com/self/amaranth.html - for information on the use of amaranth, which is a very healthy natural grain. There should be enough information at these sites to keep you and your family well fed for a long time. Enjoy!
Q: Someone wanted to know what to do with their tomatillos. She wasn't even sure she was spelling the word correctly. The plants have pods and are shaped like a Chinese lantern and the inside is a sticky green. I've never heard of tomatillos and couldn’t find any information on the Internet. (Foster County, N.D.)
A: Tomatillos can be used for making salsa. Go to http://gourmetsleuth.com/tomatillos.htm for all the information you would ever want on this tasty, useful fruit.
Q: I just got a call about bitter lettuce in a garden. What causes it and can anything be done about it? (e-mail reference)
A: Lettuce can become bitter in taste when it is subject to hot weather and seed stalks form. Wash the leaves well and store in the crisper in the fridge. The bitterness should disappear.
Q: Do you have any advice for identifying the differences between nightshade and garden huckleberry? I have planted garden huckleberry for the past two years, but I think I also have nightshade growing in the same area. Please help! (e-mail reference)
A: Garden huckleberry plants resemble pepper plants. Huckleberry is bushy and erect. The flowers, appearing in clusters in July, are small and white. Each plant will bear hundreds of half- to three-quarter-inch berries, ripening from green to deep black. One plant should produce enough berries for a single pie. The fruits are not edible until fully ripe and cooked. They are toxic if eaten unripe and the raw fruit is bitter. The berries are ready to harvest about two weeks after they turn black, the skin has changed from shiny to dull and the flesh is very soft. The interior pulp will turn from greenish to purple when ripe. The flavor of the berries will improve if you allow the berries to remain on the plant until after the first frost. The plants have some cold tolerance and may continue to ripen after light frosts. If there are any plants in your garden that do not strongly resemble a pepper plant, don’t eat! This is as far as I can go on this. If there are “weedy” looking plants growing, they are likely nightshades. This is an unusual crop for a home gardener to cultivate.
Q: Can you please tell me what vegetables have a short root system? I have an area behind my house that used to be an ally, so the soil is very hard. I put 6 to 7 inches of dirt on top of the hard soil, so I want to plant something that has “short roots.” (e-mail reference)
A: Leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, lettuce, collards, cabbage, broccoli and onions, have the shortest roots. Peppers may or may not work, but they are worth a try.
Q: Are horseradish leaves safe to use? I was told to put the leaves in a crock when making crock dill pickles, but I also was told they could be poisonous. (e-mail reference)
A: The leaves are considered poisonous to livestock. As little as eating 1 percent of the body weight has resulted in swine death within three hours. Whoever told you to use the leaves apparently has gotten away without poisoning anyone, so perhaps it is in the processing that the poison is eliminated or destroyed. I still wouldn’t use it if I were you. Why take a chance?
Q: I have horseradish that keeps coming back in my garden area. It is irritating me to no end. Since I have clay soil, I am thinking about pouring a concrete slab for a patio over the area where it is coming up. Do you think this will eliminate the horseradish or will it spread underneath and pop up somewhere else? Is there anything else I can do? (e-mail reference)
A: Thanks for the e-mail about horseradish! Let this be a good lesson for those who are contemplating growing this plant that is impossible to get rid of! Concrete has been known to do it in. If you can, prior to pouring the concrete slab, do all you can to dig out the remaining rhizomes. Then pour the concrete nice and thick!
Q: Are there perennial vegetables other than rhubarb and asparagus? If so, what are some other perennial vegetables? (e-mail reference)
A: The common perennial vegetables are rhubarb, chives, top multiplier onions, horseradish and asparagus. Everything else is an annual or biennial.
Q: I have a new greenhouse that I am using to grow vegetable and annual seedlings. The seedlings are good, but not as compact as I see in commercially grown six packs. I have measured the light in the greenhouse and it is sufficient. I have heat, so I can control the temperature. Is there a certain fertilizer that I should be using to keep everything compact and increase the flowering? Could it be that I am keeping them too moist? I would appreciate any advice you could share with me. (e-mail reference)
A: It is likely that you are growing them too warm, especially during the night hours. High light intensity and warm days equals good growth, while cool nights help keep everything compact. You also should be in the hardening off stage now or should have been some two to three weeks ago. This is where you gradually reduce the water and temperature to start exposing the plants to the outside environment. This builds compact growth and prepares the plants for the capricious weather that typifies our northern summers.
Q: When is the time to spray my fruit trees? (e-mail reference)
A: Spray the trees with lime sulfur during the dormant stage. Use an all-purpose fruit tree spray (insecticide/fungicide) when the trees are in the pink stage and with a Bordeaux mixture and Sevin during the fruit-set stage. Repeat the application in two weeks.
Q: We use horse manure on the garden. Is it OK if I put manure (been in a pile for a few months) on the garden now, till it and then eat raw carrots out of it in a few months? I’m sure that putting the manure on in November and letting it sit over the winter is the best. (e-mail reference)
A: It might be OK if it is mixed with the usual straw. It depends on the amount of precipitation that affected the pile over the past few months. I would go lightly in case there is still a toxic load of salt in the manure. To be on the safe side, it would be better if you could let it sit until this fall and then till it in.
Q: Are there other options for postemergence crabgrass control in a vegetable garden other than using Treflan? The label gets a little complicated. Are there other concerns beside potatoes (says to plant after application) and what rate would you recommend? (e-mail reference)
A: The label for potatoes says, “Apply after planting, prior to crop emergence or after crops have emerged. Do not cover with treated soil if applied after crops have emerged.” The label also is explicit with the other vegetable crops. Absent is sweet corn. As a “grass,” it is sensitive to applications of Treflan and certainly off-label. Postemergence use is limited to careful spot sprays with Roundup.
Q: We seem to lose our zucchini every year to vine borers. Is there a simple and effective way to prevent this? (e-mail reference)
A: You can rotate the planting site or do pre-emptive spraying. If this doesn’t work, stop growing zucchini for two to three years. Hopefully, you have neighbors who would be happy to share their bounty with you during that time.
Q: I am trying to find some salsify seed. Do you know where I can find it? I have three seed catalogs, but none of them has it. (Hecla, S.D.)
A: Salsify, good old “vegetable oyster,” was a popular herbal root sold in seed packets when I was a sales representative back in the Dark Ages. Try the J.W. Jung Seed Co. Salsify is listed on page 46 in my catalog. They can be reached at www.jungseed.com.
Q: Why is it that my Meyer lemon produces flowers but none of them are female? In addition, the rose bush I have has been plagued every year by Japanese beetles. They don’t seem to be attracted to any of my other plants. I’ve been told it’s a bad idea to use traps. Is there any other effective way to deal with them? (e-mail reference)
A: Plants respond to the environment around them. Many species produce male flowers first, followed by the female blooms that are pollinated by the remaining males. If you want to read a very good book explaining botanical action and oddities in the garden, get a copy of “Sex in Your Garden” by Angela Overy. It’s an enjoyable and informative book. In your case, it is very likely that this crop of flowers will produce only males and nothing else. There is a possibility it may produce some female flowers later on, with just a few of the male flowers left. Be sure to get your paintbrush out and dab the pollen around the ripe stigmas. Pheromone traps or pesticides, it has to be one or the other. You can apply systemic insecticides that are absorbed by the root system and kill the beetles as they take in their last meal. The female sex pheromone should be available in your location. This attracts the unwitting males to mate, which are then trapped and future generations eliminated. This doesn’t stop the females from feeding at that time, but they cannot reproduce any offspring.
Q: What is wild rhubarb? I have plants that look like rhubarb, but grow a center stalk with seed (burrs) that stick to your clothes. I consider them nuisance weeds. I have observed other plants that look just like rhubarb, but with no center stalk. What is the difference? Which plants, if any, are safe to harvest and eat? (e-mail reference)
A: What you are describing is Burdock, Articum minus, which is in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Rhubarb is in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) and is closely related to curly dock, Rhumex crispus. Common names are deceptive and one shouldn’t make judgments based on those, especially if you are considering eating it. It isn’t worth taking the chance unless you are absolutely sure of what you are looking at and you know of someone who has eaten the plants and lived to talk about it.
Q: I would like some information as to why my son’s table peas turned brown at the base of the plant this year. Could it have been some sort of blight? (e-mail reference)
A: It was likely a fungal disease known as Phytophthora, the result of wet, cool weather. Hopefully there will be better environmental conditions next spring.
Q: This is my first year trying to grow zucchini, so I have no idea when it’s ripe. I’ve tried to research zucchini online but all I get are recipes. (e-mail reference)
A: Zucchini does not need to ripen. In fact, zucchini tastes better if eaten before it reaches full maturity. Allow it to reach a desirable size for your taste and harvest. The more you keep them picked, the more they will produce. Soon you will have enough zucchini to take care of half the town!
Q: This is the first year I’m growing tomatoes, jalapenos and bell peppers. Do I have to replant every year or will these plants produce every year? (e-mail reference)
A: All the crops you listed are annuals so they need replanting every year because the frost kills them in the fall. The two most common vegetable plants in most gardens that are perennial are rhubarb and asparagus.
Q: A lady brought in a sample of flax from her garden that has rust. The cool conditions and her watering seem to have provided the proper environment. Will the rust spread to the rest of her garden? Should she dig up the rust infested flax now? I don't know if there is any treatment other than resistant varieties. (Hettinger, N.D.)
A: She should dig up the rust infected flax. I don't know what the alternate host is for flax rust, but I doubt it is any of her garden flowers or vegetables.
Q: My sugar snap peas were hammered by powdery mildew last year. I grow my plants in raised beds and planted where I grew tomatoes last year. I prefer not to use fungicides. Are there any resistant sugar snap or sugar Ann peas available? Are there any cultural practices that will discourage powdery mildew? (Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: Sugar Ann and sugar snap are both supposed to be resistant to powdery mildew. Culturally, anything you can do to avoid water splash, increase air circulation and sunlight penetration will help.
Q: My neighbor would like to try growing some lingonberries, but I think lingonberries need acidic soil. Should she work in a bunch of peat moss to make the soil more acidic? Is there something else she should do? (E-mail reference)
A: Use plenty of sphagnum peat and fertilize with an acidifying fertilizer. There are plenty on the market. Aluminum sulfate is the strongest acidifier followed by ammonium sulfate.
Q: In a December article someone asked about cloudberry or lingonberry. It seems every area has a native berry quite similar. In our area it is the buffalo berry. In Alaska it is called salmon berry. The jelly from all of them is very similar and the berries seem to have enough natural pectin to jell on their own. In the same issue there was a question about a spruce tree smelling like rotten eggs. We had a similar experience. Often animals in the wild will mark an area with their scent. I'm quite sure this was the reason that the warmer it got, the worse it smelled. (Wimbledon, N.D.)
A: Good information. Thank you for writing!
Q: I planted my muskmelons next to my cucumbers last spring. The cucumbers tasted very good despite the fact that we had no rain after July 3 and I couldn’t water them. On the other hand, my muskmelons did not taste very good. Someone told me that the muskmelons could have crossed with the cucumbers because they have a similar seed and that's why the muskmelons did not taste good. Is it possible for muskmelons to cross with cucumbers? (Center, N.D.)
A: No, not with the initial planting and subsequent fruit set. Melons just don’t like the dry conditions.
Q: I have a 5-year-old gooseberry plant that has never had berries. The plant is huge and gets small white flowers on it in the spring. I have never seen it start to produce berries. The flowers fall off and nothing happens. Do I need another one as a pollinator? It is on the west side of a garage and gets at least six hours of sun a day. It is watered regularly. The grasshoppers have stripped the leaves around late July or early August for the last two years. Is this the problem? Should I cover it? Should I move it to a sunnier location? Should I fertilize more often? (Tabor, S.D.)
A: You probably have just a male plant. They are dioecious which means it needs both a male and female plant to produce fruit. Visit a local nursery and see if you can find one that is a female or already has fruit on it.
Q: We have collected about 1,600 berries with the intent of starting a significant number of seedlings. You once mentioned that a solution of lye-enhanced water should be used to emaciate the fruit for easy removal of the seeds. What would be a recommended concentration of the lye-enhanced water in terms of the amount of lye per water volume or weight? Also, what type of yield might we expect from the seed planting? (E-mail reference)
A: The usual recommendation is one teaspoon of lye per gallon of water. Soak them for at least two days and repeat if the berries are still sticky. Be sure all the berries are covered with the solution. Rinse and allow to dry and then rub the berries over a screen to separate out the pulp and seed. Soak everything in water. The pulp and empty cones will float to the top while the seeds will sink to the bottom. Some may have only one seed, others as many as a dozen. As to the anticipated yield, that depends on the seed maturity at time of harvest. Stratify the seeds in a moist sand/peat mixture and store it for about 130 days at a temperature between 35 to 40 degrees F (can be done in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator). Plant the seeds after that. The seed should germinate the following spring, assuming you did all of this in the fall. If not, they should sprout in about six weeks assuming the maturity is adequate and the stratification (chilling) requirements have been met.
Q: My gooseberries always have a lot of blooms but never any fruit. What do you think is the problem? (E-mail reference)
A: The gooseberry plant species are dioecious, which means it has separate sex flowers on different plants. You probably have all male or female plants. A mix is needed for pollination to take place and fruit to develop.
Q: Has anyone attempted to grow cloudberry or lingonberry in North Dakota? I am doing research on my family, which is mostly Scandinavian so I am interested in these fruits. (E-mail reference, N.D.)
A: If they are grown here, it is a well kept secret. You might contact St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam, N.Y. Their e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and their Web address is http://www.sin.potsdam.ny.us. Or, you might just want to give them a call at (315) 265 6739.
All of their material is organically grown. They may have other contacts that can help you. The owner's name is Bill MacKentley. He is very knowledgeable, but give yourself time when you call because he likes to talk!
Q: Some folks who may start raising commercial vegetables would like to get their hands on a chart of USDA standards if they exist. It would help them decide if the project is feasible. (Bottineau, N.D.)
A: I don't know of anything that the USDA has that isn't pre WWII. You might try Ohio State's Web site. I've used them several times. Go to: http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~vegnet/ It has loads of information, which should help them in making a decision. Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois have information as well, but they seem to zone in on pest control, disease and weather problems. I would like to suggest that you and your client get the NRAES 104 publication Sustainable Vegetable Production From Start up To Market. It covers everything from asparagus to tomatoes, seeding rates, expected yields, pest controls and post harvest handling. It can be ordered from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., or from a local bookstore. Their email is: email@example.com . The phone number is (607) 255-7654.
Q: I was eating a peach tonight and found inside the pit, a stringy, black, soft, rubbery substance. It was black and kind of mushy. Would you happen to know what this is? (E-mail reference)
A: It was probably the peach seed itself. The pit is just the outer covering of the seed. Based on your description and the time of year, the seed could have begun rotting by the time you got to it. The fact that the pit was open is an indication that the fruit was overripe.
Q: Someone in the area just called and said that her jalapeno peppers are very mild this year. They are as mild as a bell pepper. What could be the cause? (Bowman, N.D.)
A: Could be the wrong pepper or they could still be immature. Mine are nicely sinus clearing, voice changing hot! I suspect the wrong pepper.
Q: I've never grown melons before so I’m wondering; do you have sure fire tips as to when a cantaloupe is ripe? I've heard they get yellow bellied and twisted stems. I think I smelled an aroma when I was rustling the vines that make me think they are close to being ripe. I spent a nickel on the seeds last fall so it wouldn't take many to get my money back. (Gwinner, N.D.)
A: I go by the aroma while some go by the stem attachment to the melon. Both seem to work so pick your method and enjoy!
Q: Our lawn was recently sprayed with Trimec but the wind carried some of it into our vegetable garden. Is the produce safe to eat or is there a time period we should wait? Should we treat them with something? (E-mail reference)
A: Is there symptomatic evidence the spray impacted the vegetables? If so, then they should not be eaten. If there is no evidence, then follow normal washing and rinsing precautions.
Q: Could you please tell me how to prevent my pea plants from getting a white mold that eventually kills them? It happens every year around the beginning of August no matter how dry it is. I always water with soaker hoses. (E-mail reference)
A: There are several approaches to controlling this disease. Rotate planting sites but only in un-shaded areas and where good air circulation is available. Use resistant varieties and pre-wash the foliage with plain water. Spray the foliage with fungicidal soap or a baking soda solution.
Q: I know someone who wants to make jam out of black nightshade growing in his garden. Would you recommend it? Do you have a recipe? I understand these were used for jam by our Grandparents and early settlers. (Bottineau, N.D.)
A: I do not recommend it for a number of reasons. I am not going to recommend anything that is growing wild and is a member of a genus (Solanum) that contains many species that are poisonous. Misidentification is always a possibility. The poison in the fruit depends on the degree of ripeness at the point of harvest. They need to be very ripe and well-cooked. Misinterpretation of ripeness and cooking time is again a possibility. Different people have different reactions to these plants. Some can tolerate the alkaloids that are present, others cannot. Why find out the hard way by being taken to the emergency room at the local hospital? There isn't a "need" to do so because we are not in a famine so why take a chance with something marginal? There are plenty of other crops coming into maturity now that make excellent jams.
Q: Our peas got covered with a white-powdered substance about half way through the season. I'm guessing it is powdery mildew. We grow green arrow peas, which we prefer, because of their larger size and yield. What options are available to control this problem? (Mylo, N.D.)
A: A number of options are open. Don't plant peas in the same location every year. Don't save seed from the previous year's crop, instead use clean seed purchased commercially. Select mildew resistant varieties. Improve air circulation and sunlight penetration via selective pruning. Use fungicidal soap that is available commercially.
Q: I have a question about Ortho Bug B Gone Multi Purpose garden dust. The active ingredient is permethrin. The label indicates that it is effective on bugs, beetles and worms on most garden plants but does not mention green beans. Is it safe to use this product on green beans to control beetles? (Milbank, S.D.)
A: The product is a common and effective insecticide for all vegetables. There should be a general post application time on the label. If not, don't worry about it but be sure to wash your vegetables completely before consumption.
Q: I have a friend from Aberdeen, S. D. who would like to grow a moonseed vine (called yellow medicine here in southwestern Minn.). Could you suggest a source of plants or seeds? (Marshall, Minn.)
A: I don't know a source. This is a vine that produces poisonous fruits that resemble grapes and should not be grown where children are apt to consume them. Botanically, this plant is known as Menispermum canadense if you wish to pursue this further.
Q: Do we have a company in the state that specializes in garden seeds for our climate? (Williston, N.D.)
A: Yes, the company is Meadowlark Seeds of Casselton, N.D. Call (800) 493-7333 to get a copy of their catalog or place an order directly online. The company is run by an Association of Marketing Students, so your order will go to a good cause! They also have a web page at: www.mls.central-cass.k12.nd.us .
Q: I love sweet peas but have been unable to grow them. This year I intend to plant them on the southeast side of my house with a trellis behind them. The soil is heavily amended with peat moss and manure. The seed packets always say to plant early, but how early is early for western North Dakota? (E-mail reference)
A: Soak the seeds first in tepid water, that is as pure and as low in salt as possible, overnight or 24 hours. Then plant when the soil can be worked and the frost is out of the ground. They are pretty tolerant of spring cold snaps.
Q: I received a question on eating purslane. The man said he found it in the Old Farmers Almanac. What do you have or can find on this? (Fessenden, N.D.)
A: Yes, purslane is edible. The younger the plants are the more tender and tasty. It is used like spinach or in a salad.
Q: I am teaching a sex education class and use question boxes. One of the questions, where are the sex organs of a green pea? (E-mail reference)
A: You have to go back to the flower for the sexual parts of the pea plant. The pod and the peas are the result of sexual fusion between pollen from the anther (male part) and the embryo sac (female part) within each flower. After fertilization takes place, the familiar pea pod begins to grow.
Q: This spring I received a package of red carrot seed which produced carrots that made seed the first season. Have you ever heard of it? I haven't in 55 years of gardening. Just curious as to why. (New England, N.D.)
A: Interesting enough, neither have I! My guess is that the seed was "treated" in some way (i.e. cold exposure, chemicals, etc.) to overcome the normal biennial character of the plant. Were the carrots any good?
Q: We have some big muskmelons that are beautiful on the outside. Inside, just under the skin, there are small (3/8 inch) dark spots. We have to peel the melon and then cut out the spots. The remainder tastes very good and sweet. (Brookings, S.D.)
A: You are probably catching the start of a pathogen of some kind. Keep the patch monitored and the melons picked as they ripen to keep the problem from spoiling the rest of your melons.
Q: This year I planted jalapeno peppers for salsa making. When are they ready to pick? Do they turn colors? Can they be left on indefinitely? About how big are they supposed to be? Also, someone once told me the longer you leave them on the vine the hotter they get, but don't water them. Any truth to that? (Williston, N.D.)
A: Go ahead and harvest them - I assure you they will be hot enough for just about anyone who lives in N.D.! As for the truth of the last question, I don't know. I've never heard that tale but I doubt that it’s true.
Q: I made a mistake and sprayed our garden with Tempo 20 WP. The active ingredient is cyfluthrin. It can be used in food handling areas but not on food crops. Can I use any of the produce from our garden or are there certain types that I can use? (E-mail reference)
A: If it isn't on the label, you should not consume it. Since this is a Bayer product, you might try getting on their web site to see if they can provide you with a label or further information. I am sorry, I don't have a label in my references.
Q: A client is growing leaf lettuce in an old tub with no drainage. They didn't want to drill holes in the old tub. The leaf lettuce has turned out okay, but moss has been growing on the soil in the tub. The’re wondering if the lettuce is going to be safe to eat with the moss there. I would think it would be safe, but what do you think? (Cando, N.D.)
A: Should be no problem. But as always, wash fresh produce before consuming it, no matter where or how it is grown, to be on the safe side.
Q: A friend of mine has a garden and is trying to raise zucchini squash, with not much luck, I am afraid. The plants look great, but the fruit that sets on does not mature. When the fruit is about ready to be picked the bloom end gets yellow and soft and is not useable. He asked me what I thought it was. I said I am not sure but that I will e-mail you. I do know that last year he had a worm or bug of some kind that bored into the stem. He said he has looked and has not seen that this year and I know he did not plant in the same place in his garden. He does water quite often, not a lot at one time, We hope you can help. (Armour, S.D.)
A: You are going to probably find this hard to believe, but it sounds like your friend's zucchini is suffering from blossom end rot. We often hear of this on tomatoes and peppers, but it can occur on squash as well. I suggest mulching around the plants with peat moss or something similar to keep the soil evenly moist and the roots undisturbed from hoeing. Generally this malady shows up on early fruit setting, which yours is doing, and as the plant's root system matures, delivery of calcium to the blossom end of the fruit is more assured, resulting in a decrease or elimination of the problem.
Q: We have a problem with zucchini plants. We have nice big plants that bloom every day, but the blossoms close and fall off and there are no zucchini on the plants. We have fertilized the ground and we keep it moist. Please tell us why there are no zucchini forming. (Mobridge, S.D.)
A: The zucchini are producing only male flowers -- common initially -- then they begin producing some female flowers which will then, of course, bear the fruit you are looking for.
All you need for now is patience. I’ve never known anyone who grew these squash to be deprived!
Q: We are looking for a good book on the care of fruit trees, particularly apples and plums. We are very interested in pruning information. We do not need a book with a lot of pretty photographs but a more "professional" quality book that has diagrams. Any recommendations? (Bismarck, N.D.)
A: I suggest a visit to a major book store like Barnes & Noble to visit their horticulture section. I find the publications put out by the Reader's Digest organization to be quite informative and authoritative. Seek those out to see if they can be a help to you.
Q: Can you please tell me where I can find horseradish seed or roots and when to plant it? (Canova, S.D.)
A: Park Seed Co. out of Greenwood, SC has it. You can call toll free at (800) 845-3369 or visit their website at www.parkseed.com.
Q: Do the new white plastic milk jugs allow the sunlight to pass through like the clear plastic jugs did? A gardener cuts the bottoms out and uses them for frost protection. He doesn't take them off every day and would leave them on for a long period of time. (Ellendale, N.D.)
A: The white plastic milk jugs will diffuse the sunlight where the clear will not. It will actually be better for the plants as the diffused light cuts down on shadows, maximizing light all around the plant resulting in better growth.
Q: A producer asked how to make his own carrot seeds. Could you tell him what he needs to know? (Napoleon, N.D.)
A: Since carrots are biennials, he has to leave them in the soil for a second year, making sure the crowns are protected with mulch going into winter. After winter, the carrot is then "vernalized" and flower induction takes place, with a seedstalk being formed. From there, he is on his own.
Q: I would like to know if miniature carrots are grown from seed, or are they cut from big carrots? If they are grown from seed, how long does it take from the time they are seeded until they can be harvested? (Robinson, N.D.)
A: There are both, carrots that are cut to miniature size and true miniature carrots. They will take between 50 and 70 days before harvest, depending on variety, site location, and cultural practices.
Q: I am writing for a lady who has a couple of questions. She bought an avocado from the local grocery store and started an avocado tree that she has been growing inside. It is now 4 feet tall. She wants to know what to do to get it to produce fruit, and would it grow outside in our climate? She has no knowledge of the variety, because it was just a fruit bought over the counter. Can she produce a banana tree from the seeds in the bananas at the grocery store? I guess I am a little confused by this question, and maybe just a couple banana facts could clear this up for her. (Mohall, N.D.)
A: What great questions! Thanks for sending them on to me. The avocado is not a tree for our climate; it grows in Southern California. Up here, it can be grown a few years as a novelty houseplant, nothing more. When it starts to get ungainly is the time to dump it and begin again.
Bananas do not produce seeds, as they are reproduced asexually via a process known as parthenocarpy, and the resulting fruit is known as a berry. Banana plants are very rhizomatous plants, producing what are called "pseudostems" that the fruit is actually produced upon. In essence, the plants are sterile, so no seed is formed, but a semblance of seeds may be observed when one cuts a banana in cross-section, as the fruits develop from the ovaries of female flowers, leaving numerous black dots where the ovules on the axile placentas aborted. They cannot be excised and they will not germinate.
Q: I'm looking for some sources for berries suitable for the northern tier of North Dakota.
I'm interested in smaller commercial quantities. Hardiness and price will be determining factors in any purchases we make. (E-mail reference)
A: Contact Dan Kelner at The Juneberry Patch in Velva, N.D. He is the major supplier of Juneberry stock for our region and a good man to know for information on growing them. His cell phone number is (701) 721-4947 and home phone number is (701) 624-5119. For raspberries, try Pattie's Raspberries on the Prairie in Bowden, N.D. Pattie runs the farm and is very knowledgeable and helpful. Her number is (701) 962-3355. Perhaps one of these folks can help you with suppliers of other crops you are interested in.
Q: I am fortunate in having several places available to place a garden. My favored spot lies between two groves of trees and is almost completely protected from wind damage and drying. The same trees that protect it, however, also shade it partially. I would estimate no part of the garden gets more than six hours of sun on a summer day. Is this possibly the reason why I seem to get more upward growth (sometimes spindly) than fruit production (tomatoes, for example)? What vegetables might be most appropriate for this area? The other favored area has complete sun but a high water table under it (near a small lake or slough). It is high enough that trees started near it have died over the years. What "crops" might be best for this area? I have had terrible luck growing vining crops (regardless of area, watering, fertilizing, etc) such as squash, pumpkins, and gourds. We have a hive of honey bees nearby and there always seems to be bumble bees around also. Any suggestions? (E-mail reference)
A: Vegetables, especially those that bear fruit like tomatoes and peppers, need as much sunshine as they can get to produce that fruit. Shade causes the plant tissue cells to elongate and cell walls to become thinner. In essence, the photosynthetic factory that produces energy for fruit production is greatly reduced, resulting in poor or low fruit production. The best crops to grow in such locations are the leafy ones like lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard, and possibly cabbage. You can still grow something in the full sunlight/high water table location. I would suggest going with a raised garden. Get some 1" x 12" boards and cut them into appropriate lengths, secure them to the ground with stakes, and bring in some good sandy loam from an outside source. Voila -- you have an instant productive garden, and should be able to grow any legal crop there. Fruit set on vine crops like cucumbers, melons, etc. is dependent on bee activity, and bee activity is dependent on the weather cooperating. Many times the flowers are open and the wind is high, it is raining, or it is too cold, and the bees cannot do their job. When that happens, locate the male flowers, remove, and use them as pollinators to the female blooms that open. The difference between male and female blossoms is quite obvious, and the best example I can think of for educational purposes is the Easter lily. When the flower opens, the two sex organs are apparent–the yellow, pollen-laden anthers and the pale-green pistil (usually with a sticky surface). With cucumbers, the flowers are either monoecious -- each plant producing female and male flowers -- or gynoecious, which produce only female flowers. In those varieties, the seed packet will have some pollinator-plant seeds coated with a colored dust for identification. Then there are also parthenocarpic cucumbers which are seedless, and have renounced pollination altogether. On monoecious plants, the first blossoms to appear are the male, followed by female blooms, which delays fruit production. The same basics hold true for the other vining crops- - melons, squash, and pumpkin. If you want to assure bee activity, interplant with borage. I did one year, and had enough fruit off the vines to start my own farmer's market! So, the bottom line: be sure you know what "type" of vine you are planting, and make sure you do everything possible to assure insect activity. They do a much better job of distributing the pollen than we do. Otherwise, seek out the first blooms, which are male, and go to work on the female flowers when they open.
Q: I have horseradish taking over everything! How can I get rid of it? (Alcester, S.D.)
A: Horseradish, when it behaves like a weed is extremely hard to control. There are a number of products to try, but I’d suggest giving Roundup the first shot. It that doesn’t do the trick get back to me and I’ll confer with the best weed control minds in the country to figure out a way to control it for you.
Q: I am looking for information on moving some wild chokecherries and June berries into my yard. Do you have any publications that would advise me on procedure? For example, can they be mixed in the same bed or line of plants? (Sheyenne, N.D.)
A: I don't have any publications pertaining to that procedure in particular, but I will send a couple of related publications since you gave me your mailing address. There’s no reason the two can't share the same bed. The chokecherries will tend to sucker quite a bit. If that doesn't bother you, no big deal. If it does, think it over before moving any into your yard.
Q: Do you have any information on pre-emergence herbicides for gardening and flowers? (Bottineau, N.D.)
A: Pre-emergence for flowers and vegetables mostly falls on Preen and Treflan. Simply refer to the labels for crops/plants covered, rates, and timing. Usually clean cultivation is needed, and watering in for incorporation. There are restrictions that need to be followed.
Q: I've started a gardening project in Los Angeles using drought-resistant plants on large plots of land that the fire department considers fire-hazards. The owners of the land let me transform the land for my Earth Garden Project. However, I've never studied xeriscaping. Is there literature that you can point me to so I can learn more about my project? (E-mail reference, Los Angeles, Cal.)
A: There is all kinds of information out there. The Denver Botanical Garden in Denver, CO is an excellent source, as well as two books, "Xeriscape Plant Guide" by Denver Water, published by Fulcrum Publishing, in Golden, CO, phone (800) 992-2908, ISBN # 1-55591-322-9, and, "Creating The Prairie Xeriscape" by Sara Williams, ISBN # 0-88880-357-5. There is more, of course, but those two references should give you just about all you would need.
Q: I changed garden areas, planted 12 hills of straight eights and have gotten three cucumbers (lots of blooms). I have tried to pollinate but evidently I'm not very good at it. We did have a real cold spell when the cucumbers were just coming up and they didn't grow very fast for a while. I am sure it is too late, but I purchased another variety of seed and have sowed them along a fence row and will try to let them vine up. I'm truly at a loss. My zucchini isn't producing well either. I've had one come to maturity. There have been three or four that have gotten mushy before growing very much. (E-mail reference)
A: If you get those late plantings to set fruit for you, let me know. That will have to be some kind of record! The mushy ends on the squash are caused by a physiological disorder known as "blossom end rot." That's right, the same thing that hits tomatoes and peppers, and it is caused by the same problem -- growth spurts from sudden rainfall or irrigation, preceded by a drought period. Simply throw them away, and don't worry about it, as it is not your fault. It happens to everybody.
Q: I want to know what to do with dill in my garden that has aphids in it. Can I still use the dill, and is there something I can do to control them? (Grafton, N.D.)
A: Aphids and dill go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, dill is often used as a trap crop for aphids and to attract predatory insects like lady beetles to feed on them and protect the rest of the garden. You can use organics like Neem or pyrethrum to control them with no harm for culinary purposes.
Q: I started to eat apricots, and I would love to know the vitamins and nutrients that are in them. Are they good for the hair, nails, and skin? (E-mail reference)
A: Even though I am a horticulturist and not a nutritionist, I have the same interest as you, and believe it or not, some very credible references. Fresh apricots contain 85 percent water. Each 100 grams (about 3.5 oz) of fresh apricot provide 51 calories of energy, 319 milligrams of potassium, 2700 International Units of vitamin A, and only 1 milligram of sodium. Fresh apricots also contain 0.4 gram of protein, 0.1 gram of fat, 4.9 gram of carbohydrates, 0.2 gram of fiber, 3.0 milligram of calcium, 5.7 milligram of phosphorus, 3.5 milligram of magnesium and traces of iron, zinc and copper. Everything else is in relatively small amounts-- vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and a modest level of folic acid. Just about all fresh fruits are good for the hair, nails and skin. Besides all this technical stuff, they, along with their cousins, peaches and nectarines, are simply delicious to eat, and make excellent pies and jams.
Q: I need to replant my raspberries and asparagus plants. When is the best time, fall or spring, to replant and what chemical can be used as a pre-emergence? Also, I’m cleaning out a 60-year-old shelter belt and need to spray. What is safe to use? (New England, N.D.)
A: If I understand you correctly, you are asking for weed control in all instances. Casoron is registered for weed control in raspberries; Simazine can be used in many tree plantings, as well as can Casoron. For asparagus, Sinbar, Poast, and Treflan (most common) are used for weed control. Check label for rates, timing, etc., before using. Raspberries and asparagus are best replanted in early spring before new growth emerges.
Q: Is there any danger using vegetables from a garden where the weed killer "Preen" has been used? I’ve heard both ways and would like to make sure. (Oakes, N.D.)
A: It is safe as long as label directions were followed. The product has been used on vegetable gardens for years.
Q: I am having problems with what appears to be blossom end rot in zucchini. Can that be the case, and what can I do to prevent it? (Fort Yates, N.D.)
A: Blossom end rot is possible in all vegetable production, and the cause is the same whether it is on tomatoes, peppers, or squash: irregular watering (or rainfall) cycles, root damage, too fast a rate of growth for the calcium to reach the end of the fruit when the cells are forming.
Q: We live in a new development and are looking at trees to put in -- one in the front yard and a few in the back. I am wondering about a "nannyberry." How big does it get, is it hard to grow, is it a slow grower and are the flowers and berries messy? We don't want messy fruit in the fall. (Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: You needn't worry about the nannyberry fruit. It all gets eaten by the birds before it ever has a chance to become messy. It gets 18 to 20 feet in height with a spread about 10 feet and a beautiful fall color. I highly recommend it!
Q: I have a spot in my vegetable garden that only gets about five to six hours of sun a day. Is there any type of vegetable that would do all right there? I hate to have all that wasted space. (E-mail reference)
A: Yes, the leafy types: lettuce, endive, cabbage, Swiss chard, celery, and spinach.
Q: My apricots, pears, cherries, plums, apples, and grapes are blooming. What happened? Five different pears are blooming, one tree has 83 clusters of flowers, with five or six to a cluster. I wish I had some bees. Do I need to worry? ( Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: Spring came--suddenly! Don't worry, you'll get your fair share of fruit set.
Q: I have a grapefruit plant I started from seed. I put it outside last summer and it bloomed! It is now 28 inches tall and I would like to cut it back just above where it bloomed so it will branch out more. Will this work? (Osage, Minn.)
A: Yes. Go for it!
Q: I have big, overgrown cherries with insects inside. What's the best guess on what the problem is, what product can I use and at what time? (E-mail reference, Linton, N.D.)
A: These are the chokecherry midge larvae. The only answer is to remove the infested fruits shortly after they appear to reduce the numbers next season. No chemical treatments have proven effective for this pest.
Q: Do you have any information regarding salsify? I would like to know because I have an old cookbook that originally belonged to my grandmother. The book is a collection from a town in South Dakota. The recipe says to peel the salsify and cut it for use in a soup. Is that salsify vegetable the same root that comes from what I know as a weed known as salsify? I understand that the weed's root when boiled tastes like oysters. (E-mail reference, Napoleon, N.D.)
A: Salsify is a root crop known as "vegetable oyster." It should grow well in North Dakota because of its very hardy nature. In fact, my references say that it can be left in the ground through the winter. The seeds should be readily available in most in-store seed racks. They need to be directly sown in deep, stoneless soil that is free of manure. They are carefully dug in October before freeze-up, or again in April after the soil thaws. For storage, treat them the same way you would carrots. Apparently the success comes from peeling them after boiling, not before. Clean them thoroughly under running tap water, cut them into sections about 2 inches long, and boil for about 25 minutes in a lemon juice flavored water. Drain and squeeze off skins, dress with some melted butter and chopped parsley. Varieties to look for are Mammoth-Sandwich Island or Giant.
Q: Thank you for your comments on terrarium building. However, I'm at a loss for which plants to use. My children are schooled at home and we are looking forward to putting a terrarium together. I'd appreciate any names of plants that would be best to use in Oregon. (E-mail reference, Ore.)
A: Terrariums are fun to make and observe during their grow-in. They are a perfect living microcosm of nature, but unlike natural settings, they do not have any drainage capabilities. Here are the basic steps in building a terrarium: Obtain a clear glass container that has a top big enough to get the soil, plants and hands into. Line the container with activated charcoal chips, about half an inch thick. This makes up for the lack of drainage, keeping the air and environment smelling sweet and not septic. Next try to find a potting soil mix that is labeled "for terrariums only"; if not available, then obtain a good potting soil mix that has been pasteurized and appears to not be too rich, dense, or moisture retentive. If it does, then add some vermiculite or perlite. If you are not happy with any of the potting soils that are available, try to get one of the soilless mixes. There are two basic ones on the market, the Cornell Mix or the UC mix from the University of California. You can probably have better luck getting the UC mix in your part of the country. It is sold under the names "First Step" and "Super Soil." Whatever you use as your soil, make sure it is at least 1 inch thick for root stability. Plants are an open field. Generally foliage, not flowering, houseplants are used. Purchase them small, of course, wash or shake most of the soil off the roots and set them in with either your fingers or bamboo sticks. Insectivore plants like Venus fly traps, pitcher plants, hedera ivy, date seeds, citrus seeds, ferns, and creeping fig are all fun. Add some moss from outdoors, gathered from the north side of a tree or off some damp soil for interest. Drop in a stone or two, and voila, you have your terrarium made. Mist the planting with distilled water; cover the top with saran wrap; uncover if the interior fogs up, then recover. Keep in bright, indirect light. Under a fluorescent light is best; do not set it in a sunny window or you'll cook the plants! Any store or nursery that sells houseplants should be able to help with some of the details that I may have left out, but this should get your started in the right direction.
Q: A number of years ago we planted a row of comfrey on one end of our garden. Over the years it has taken over our entire garden. I thought I could get rid of it by plowing it under, but the more I work the ground the worse it gets, for it regrows from the roots. Is there anything I can do to eradicate the comfrey without using chemicals? I want to keep our garden organic. (Dent, Minn.)
A: The organic way to control this and other persistent weeds, is to cover the area with black plastic, and cover that plastic with as much hay or old newspapers as you can spread. Leave it that way all growing season. This does two things: It eliminates light necessary for growth, and deprives the plant of good gas exchange so anaerobic (airless) conditions develop. Where "volunteers" or "escapes" show up, simply cook their goose literally, by pouring boiling water over the crown.
Q: Why wouldn't a garlic plant produce cloves? Is there an insect that tunnels into potatoes? People say the potato problem is not dry or soft rot. The potato is hollow. (E-mail reference, Carson, N.D.)
A: A non-clove producing garlic could mean a number of things: planted too late or planted in the spring and harvested too early, a non-adapted variety, not enough direct sunlight (they need a minimum of eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight), planted too deep (although not likely), or too much nitrogen in the soil. Concerning potatoes, yes there are almost a "ton" of insects that invade the potato tuber--wireworms, European corn borer, and cutworms to name a few. But there is a disease known as "hollow heart" that generally affects large tubers and is caused by a prolonged wet spell after dry weather. These tubers are prone to rotting in storage. The remedy for this is to keep the plants well-watered during extended dry spells.
Q: Last spring I received this plant from a friend. He called it an egg tree. It had tiny white eggs like bird eggs. They started out all white, but after a few weeks they turned pale yellow and then bright yellow. Can you tell me anything about this plant? We had it outside in a large pot all summer and brought it back in this fall. Now it has lost all of its foliage and died. I would like to get another plant, but I have no idea what kind it is. (Moorhead, Minn.)
A: As luck would have it, I asked my colleague, Barb Laschkewitsch, if she heard of your plant, because I certainly hadn’t. After giving it a little thought and some catalog searching, she came up with it! I’m lucky to be working with such a smart person! It is on page 45 of the current Park Seed Catalog, and is known as the "Easter Egg Plant." It is in the same family as tomato, potato, and of course, egg plant. Since it is an annual, its dying is normal. Order some seed and plant some more. Park Seed Co. can be reached at: 800-845-3369, or via email at
Q: Due to illness I've had to quit gardening and move into town. I enjoyed every bit of gardening and have some tips for you. If you want to raise a good garden keep plenty of shallow pan water troughs all around the garden and keep the water fresh. The birds are attracted to the water as well as animals. The deer drink the water and pluck the fuzz balls off the vine crops but leave the vegetables alone. The birds will live in the garden and get insects off the plants. The birds even will pull the little weeds for you. All you have to do is use a rotary tiller after each rain, and your eyes will pop at the sight of large vegetables. (Stanley, N.D.)
A: Gardeners always appreciate these nuggets of information from other experienced gardeners. Thanks for taking the time to write. Any chance you can pursue container gardening? It would help to keep your spirits up.
Q: With seed catalogs arriving--and the last of last season's produce waning--we and our 85-year-old gardening cousin have a few garden seed questions.
First, are you aware of a seed which produces an acorn-type squash that's orange (like a pumpkin) on the outside? I had some of these among my regular green acorn squashes. I don't remember planting orange-skinned ones, and it shouldn't be a blend because I always start with new seed for squash. We like the orange ones. The inside flesh is similar to the green variety, but even better.
And second, do you know a place where we can purchase seed for the baby carrots that have become so popular in grocery stores? (Hoven, S.D., e-mail)
A: Concerning the baby carrots first, one firm I came across that carries them is the Vermont Bean Seed Company, whose telephone is (803) 663-0217 and Web address is www.vermontbean.com.
Another company that I found with baby carrots is in Johnny's Selected Seeds, which also offers a yellow acorn squash known as Table Gold. The telephone number for Johnny's is (207) 437-4395, and the company's Web address is www.johnnyseeds.com.
Q: How do you recommend storing carrots and parsnips over winter? (Velva, N.D.)
A: The best advice with our modern houses is to leave them in the ground. Mulch them just before snow arrives with plenty of straw. When you need a carrot or parsnip or two, brush the snow and mulch back and harvest what you need. People have been successful at keeping root crops well into January with a good mulch and snow cover.
Q: I planted a "hardy" nectarine this spring and it did beautifully. It grew branches 16 inches long with 4-inch leaves. How can I protect it this winter? How about a sewer pipe with a 6-inch diameter closed at the top and braced to keep it from blowing over?
Also, I have a fig plant, which spends the summers outdoors and winters inside, that has stopped bearing. It used to produce small figs that fell off. What's wrong? (Burlington, N.D.)
A: An open sewer pipe is what you want, not a closed one. You can keep it from blowing away by driving rebars inside first, then around the outside, allowing them to extend about a foot above the soil; or, simply stake the sewer pipe as you would a tree--three stakes and twine. That also will hold it in place. I am afraid of root damage if the pipe is driven into the soil too far.
The fig simply needs to build up more carbohydrate reserves before it will bear again. Just have patience.
Q: Last year I received a free packet of seeds labeled "Solanum guineese; Garden Huckleberry." The plants are beautiful with huge, dime-sized fruit that I would like to make jelly out of. My neighbor told me they were poison and a noxious weed. Is this true? Also, can a weed in the nightshade family cross-breed and make huckleberries poison? (Carrington, N.D.)
A: Tell your neighbor that potatoes are poisonous if they are green, but not if they aren't green. The same is true of garden huckleberries. Unripe, they are poisonous, but when ripe, they are not. They will not spread like weeds unless you allow the fruit to drop; they are annuals and will be killed with a hard frost. There's nothing to worry about concerning cross breeding.
Q: What is the correct way to grow garlic? I have some of the small leaves that grow on top of the long stalk, above the ground. If I plant them, will they produce garlic? Bigger ones? (Jamestown, N.D.)
A: Yes! Plant them around Oct. 10, about 3 inches deep. Next year, select the largest bulbs, and separate out the cloves, and plant again in October. Garlic is generally harvested at the end of July or early August.
Q: I see an unusual berry plant growing in great numbers along sloping sides of a couple of overpasses on I-29 in the Grand Forks area. The berries hang in large clumps on the underside of plants 2 feet tall. (Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: The fruit is of the Blake chokecherry--Aronia melanocarpa. It is safe to eat, although one has to wonder why the birds don't go after these berries like they do my apples, Juneberries, tomatoes etc!
The Blake chokecherry is widely distributed from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Michigan in natural habitats. It is completely hardy in North Dakota, but the flowers are not showy and the species tends to sucker, leading to large communities. Cultivars are available.
Q: Can you save seed for the next year from kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, carrots, rutabagas and bushbeans? Will inbreeding be a problem? I also would like some information on how to keep squirrels out of my garden. (Berkley, Mich.)
A: I've only saved seeds from beans and carrots before, and it didn't seem to be worth the effort on the biennial plants. But, if you would still like to, here is the information I was able to find.
For bush beans, which are annuals, you must allow the pods to reach full maturity and dry up. You can harvest the seeds in early fall/late summer from the dried pods.
Carrots, which are biennials, take two growing seasons to get seeds. Store the carrots after the first season in a cool, dry place without their tops. Replant the root in the spring and it will send up a flowery stalk. This will set seed in late summer. Collect seed after it dries up.
Radishes, which are annuals, flower the same season, sending up a long flowering stalk—but I've never seen the seeds.
For turnips, kohlrabi and rutabagas, which are biennials, you must dig up roots after the first year and replant the second year. They will then send up a flowering stalk the second year.
Use Ro-pel to keep squirrels out. Ro-pel is used to keep rodents away. Spray on your plants once a year, but make sure not to spray it on any edibles! Other things to try include hot pepper spray and cheap men's colognes.
Good luck and thanks for writing!
Q: We plan
retire in Custer, S.D., and I would like to know
if the following bushes and vegetables would grow and thrive when
the altitude is 5,280 feet. All of
South Dakota is in the 4 zone, but what effect does altitude have on raspberries, blueberries, apricot trees, rose bushes, asparagus and gladiolas? (Eagle Butte, S.D.)
A: The effect of altitude, to the extent you are talking about, is to lower the hardiness zone number to 3. Winters come earlier, stay longer and get
colder than close to sea level. I would suggest you get some historical records from South Dakota State University or the local weather service for low
temperatures at that location, and base your decisions on that.
Denver is also a mile high city. It isn't so much the low temperatures that kill the plants there as it is the wide swings in weather.
To be on the safe side I'd look at zone 3 plants and check the precipitation totals for the growing season as well as the year-round temperature
Q: I would
like to know how to get avocado pits to grow. Can
you help me on this? (Watertown, S.D.)
A: Avocado pits grow easily into nice houseplants. Using African Violet or similar potting soil, immerse the pit halfway into the soil with the pointed end
sticking out. Keep moist, and in about six weeks you should see new growth starting. These plants generally have a lifetime of two to three years before
most people dump them.
Q: I am
writing in regards to raising carrots. The last few
years our carrots get all covered with hair-like roots. They grow
all ugly shapes and sizes. We live in sandy
soil, so I am wondering if it's a fertilizer deficiency. (Clearfield, S.D.)
A: The carrots are reflecting a herbicide residue presence. Try some again this year to see if the herbicide has broken down or leached from the upper
surface. If the problem recurs, try in another location. Sometimes dagger nematode activity can cause the same symptoms, but certainly not on a
wholesale basis as you imply.
Q: I am
looking for more information on starting a juneberry
plantation on some land north of Bismarck along the Missouri
River. I currently have a few acres of wild
juneberries along the edge of an old field and have thought of trying to put in a 10-acre field of cultivars. I was wondering if you know of a U.S. source for juneberry
cultivar suckers. Also are there any juneberry farms in existence in North Dakota? Is there a specific cultivar that does better in North Dakota? (Bismarck, N.D.,
A: There is a North Dakota grower and distributor in Velva who I know would be happy to talk with you concerning development of a juneberry
plantation. His name is Dan Kelner and he runs The Juneberry Patch. Contact him during business hours at (701) 338-2065.
Q: I have a
question about the germination of pea seed. I have
tried soaking the seed before planting, and I tried using a
substance that is suppose to aid the
germination. I plant the sugar snap peas, radish and carrots about the end of April or first part of May.
The carrots and radish do fine but the pea seed germination rate is about 5 to 10 percent. The seed seems to rot and shows no sign of germination.
Another problem is with my yellow wax string beans. The seed germinates, but when I check the garden I often find only the stem or sometimes half of the bean seed
and the first leaves missing. I am wondering if black birds or robins have a taste for bean seed. I do not find any cut worms. I have had to place grass clippings over
the rows of germinating sweet corn to keep the black birds from digging up the seed and the plant with it. Should I try that on the beans? (Faulkton, S.D.)
A: You've got me stumped about the pea seed not germinating. I don't have any idea why they wouldn't. Any time I have ever planted them they took
off without a hitch. Perhaps the soil is too cool for germination to commence? I don't know.
Yes, black birds, flea beetles and rabbits love bean plants in the sprouting stage. If your grass clippings work with the corn, try the same with the beans.
Q: I have
growing an avocado pit in water. It has many
roots now and I wish to plant it in my garden. Someone has
advised that the 1- foot plant now has to
be cut halfway up, to encourage growth. Is this true? Please advise, many thanks. (E-mail reference)
A: If you cut the mainstem (there should only be one at this point) this will force branches to form, making a more compact and attractive plant. Be
careful in moving it either to a pot or outdoors that you do not injure the root system.
Q: I need
figuring out what is wrong with my vegetable
garden. Most of my tomato leaves are tightly curled and
misshapen. Some plants have died and some continue to grow
and a few have set fruit but they look bad. The potatoes show
some sign of the same problem but not to the same extent. The
green beans never put out any new leaves after sprouting. I did a
second planting and it looks like they are doing the same thing.
The other things in the garden look good. I did work peat moss
into the soil. Other than that I can't think of anything
different. We have used this spot for several years and have
never experienced any problems like this before. The
extension agent thought the tomatoes might have a virus. Is there
any way to confirm this? If it is, do you have any suggestions
for preventing it for next year? (E-mail reference, Williston, N.D.)
A: It is difficult to tell what the problem is with your tomato and potato crops from your description. It doesn't sound like a virus disease however. Next year, try rotating your plantings to something in another family -- peas, beans, corn,cabbage, or something similar, but not into peppers, eggplant, tomatoes or potatoes. Secondly, I suggest that you obtain stock that is listed as being resistant to the common diseases. You could just have a soil problem. I suggest a soil test to see where it stands nutrient-wise. Test for N,P,K, soluble salts, pH, and organic matter content. Send a pint dry, to Soil Testing Lab, Waldron Hall, NDSU, Fargo, ND 58105. They will bill you about $25 for the services.
Q: Can you
tell me what to look for when purchasing seed to
ensure that it is disease resistant? Also, would it be a good
idea to move my garden if I have diseased plants in it now?
A: Generally anything that is tagged with the designation of AAS - All America Selection - is disease resistant. Any that are designated "F1 Hybrids" are also usually bred for disease resistance. Also, for the letters VFN after the tomato name. That means it is resistant to Verticillium, Fusarium, and nematode damage. Burpee supersteak hybrid is an example. Actually, moving your garden to a new location will go a long way to limiting disease problems with Glads, tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers.
Q: I have scab on both my beets and spuds. Is there anything that can be done other than planting in a new spot? (E-mail reference, LaMoure, N.D.)
A: Nope . That is the best alternative, and to plant resistant cultivars.
Q: I was just wondering, when it starts to get cold at night (around 25 - 30 degrees) what is the best way to cover a few things in my garden? Are tarps and plastic good to use or do you know of something else that works good? I have green peppers, watermelon, and cantaloupe. And also, is it even worth to cover them when the growing season is almost over? (E-mail reference, Battle View, N.D.)
A: Aha! You asked me both a technical question and a personal opinion. Here are the answers: Tarps, newspapers, plastic or anything that can keep a layer of air between the plants and the outside air will provide temporary protection from brief freezes, down to 27-28 degrees. Personal opinion: it isn't worth it. I don’t cover my garden or plots.
Q: Is it possible to grow blackberries in the Red River Valley? And if so, which varieties work the best? (E-mail reference, Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: As much as I would like to, it’s not possible, at least not yet. If our globe continues to warm with milder winters for us, they just might in future. But for now, I have to say no, they won't make it. Raspberries can produce in our area, so you might consider those instead.
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