Ask Your Garden Questions Thread!

admin January 5th, 2011

Ok, I did this with food storage and preservation, and the response was overwhelming - I didn’t actually respond to the half of them.  I haven’t forgotten about it, though, and some of the questions are going to come back in the next couple of months as posts.  I’m hoping to do better this time, though, so go ahead, ask me anything about your garden.  I’ll do my best to answer!


16 Responses to “Ask Your Garden Questions Thread!”

  1. Bonnie Frame says:

    We garden on a city lot near Chicago. Our veggie beds are in the back but we are gradually digging up the front. The concept was an English garden of the antique type. We grow prairie flowers and herbs. We want to insert veggies without being too conspicuous. We’ve never grown tatsoi; does it get big? Any suggestions for veggies amidst the flowers? Thank you for all your writings, they are so valuable. Bonnie

  2. admin says:

    Hi Bonnie - Tatsoi isn’t very big, actually, and it is very pretty - a lovely rosette, so that would work well. I think eggplants are gorgeous with their big purple flowers. Okra has those lovely hibiscus flowers. Bright lights chard is terribly ornamental, are are many amaranths. Scarlet runner beans are beautiful and edible, as are asian long beans. Edible flowers like johnny jump ups, nasturtiums, daylilies and borage are great. Edible chrysanthemum is very, very pretty and the greens are delicious, especially in soup (aka Shungiku). I also really love the way a number of hot pepper plants look when they are covered with peppers - Filius Blue, Fish and several others are quite ornamental.

    HTH, Sharon

  3. Natalie says:

    I want to grow better onions this year. Last year I tried them from sets, and they ended up pretty small. I here they grow better from seed. Do you know if this is the case? Will I be able to start them right in the ground (I live in the Erie PA region and I don’t really have space for starting seeds in my house). Thanks!


  4. admin says:

    I have better luck with seed grown onions, but they do need an early start - you can often order onion plants if you can’t start them yourself. The other possibility is that they might need more fertility - onions are fussier than they seem. They won’t not produce at all, but sometimes they sulk if they don’t like the soil.


  5. dewey says:

    I’m planning to put in a small bed of strawberries this spring. Assuming there’s a choice locally, should I prefer June-bearing or everbearing types? Is the first-season productivity advantage really great enough that I should bite the bullet and purchase enough to plant densely, or can I get away with buying fewer and encouraging them to spread over time? Thanks in advance for your advice!

  6. Tegan says:

    Hey Sharon -

    I’m moving to a new apartment (in a month yay!) that has a 12×12 garden. The problem is: it’s mostly shade. Aside from leafy greens, are there any veggies that I should look into? There are also trellis-like supports for beans/peas/etc.

  7. Southernrata says:

    I would love to know what sort of soil or soil equivalent you use to plant your seeds in for seedling raising and how you come by it. I’m sure that info is in one of your books, but I can’t get them over here.

  8. admin says:

    Dewey, I like to have a mix, I admit, because it allows us to graze strawberries through the season, and does provide us with some strawberries in the first year, but I weight my production towards June bearning.

    In terms of spacing, it really depends on your goals - strawberry plants are generally comparatively cheap, so dense planting will get you more berries in the first two years, but it also means more maintenence and replanting of runners later. I think you absolutely can wait, if you don’t mind.

    Tegan - greens are the most shade tolerant vegetables. Rhubarb is somewhat shade tolerant (vegetable/fruit borderline), and there are a few minor perennials that are also shade tolerant (check out Eric Toenesmeier’s _Perennial Vegetables_ for suggestions), but you might also want to go with fruit. Currants, blackberries and raspberries are quite shade tolerant.

    Southernrata - Well, it depends on how much screwing up I do in any given year ;-) . Ideally I use a half a homemade potting mix and half compost but about 1 year out of 3 it gets cold fast and I forget to dig out the compost before it freezes, and end up using bagged organics.

    I vary my mixes a lot depending on the particular plants as well - I use a lot of sand for many herbs, melons etc…, while I don’t use any for the wetland plants. So it varies.


  9. Claire says:

    dewey, whether you use June-bearing (actually May-bearing in St. Louis) strawberries or ever-bearing, day-neutral types depends on how you want to use them. June-bearers give you a whole lot of strawberries over a few weeks’ time and then nothing over the rest of the season. In St. Louis, maybe you’d get 4-6 weeks max of berries if you choose a few different varieties among early, mid, and late season types. You might not be able to eat all those berries at once depending on how many plants you have and how fond you are of strawberries. But if you want to have enough berries to preserve a portion of your crop, this is exactly what you want: a whole lot of berries in a short time. In that case you’d go for the June-bearers. Check the MO Extension Service website for the ones they recommend.

    I started with 25 plants of TriStar, one of the common ever-bearing types. It gets a flush of berries in May which lasts for a few weeks, rests a few weeks, then gets another smaller flush of berries in July and even another small flush of berries in September, in my experience. This suits us because I don’t need to have strawberries outside of the time they are ripe in the garden, and I don’t want to be canning in an already-hot kitchen. I’d rather have a handful or two of berries every day for more weeks, and this is what the ever-bearers offer. They have runners and you have to manage for crowding of the plants the same as the June-bearers. There are other, newer varieties besides TriStar, just mentioning it as one I grow that works for us.

  10. admin says:

    Dried strawberries are a good alternative to canning, btw. Yum.


  11. kate@livingthefrugallife says:

    Late to the game, but I hope not too late. I’m interested in experimenting with growing some corn for grain this year, because it’s one of the few carboliscious things that I think are remotely feasible for us to grow for ourselves. Thing is, I’ve just never been wild about cornbread. I’m willing to believe that in all likelihood I’ve never had cornbread made from any decent sort of corn - just stuff made from repurposed, high-production animal feed varieties. Possibly I’ll love cornbread made from a homegrown corn because it’ll actually have flavor. The other possibility is to use the corn for tortillas, and I see this as much likelier to happen in my kitchen. I understand there’s a lot of specificity in varieties of corn. My questions for you then are, have you grown corn and used it for either of these purposes? And if so, which varieties can you recommend, and based on what criteria? I’m in PA, so a bit warmer, but otherwise not dramatically different season from where you are. I have some experience growing popcorn, but never bother with sweet corn. Thanks!

  12. Laurie in MN says:

    Hi, Sharon:

    I have a couple of tomato specific questions to ask. I currently have a VERY small portion of my yard that gets enough sun/gets warm enough for things like peppers and tomatoes, and the tomatoes (after a fairly good first year) don’t seem to like me very much.

    1) Will giving indeterminate varieties a LOT of room to grow up delay flowering and fruit setting? We’ve made 3 piece “towers” out of 1 x 3s with lighter cross pieces, and I noticed a lot of ‘up’ before things started flowering this year. FWIW, I was growing 4 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 1 plant each.

    2) Would that sort of support possibly shade the plants enough to delay fruit production? (I can send a picture if that would help; don’t want to unnecessarily clog up your dial-up!)

    3) How often and what sort of ‘food’ should tomato plants be given? Trying to stay as organic/natural as possible. We usually rake the maple leaves from our back yard onto the garden area in the fall, and turn it in before planting. I’m not sure how often/what to do for food/fertilizer though.

    4) Do I need to rotate tomatoes out of the same area, or can I amend the soil enough to keep them in the same spot? Again, *very* small area that gets enough sun/warmth for tomatoes, so rotating them would mean skipping years.

    5) A non-tomato question! :D Any idea on how to discourage squash vine borers from finding the plants? I’ve heard about burying parts of the vines so that there are various root systems for each plant, but the durn bugs seem to find them before I even have the chance!

    Thanks so much, Sharon! I really appreciate your willingness to share your expertise with folks you hardly know. :)

    Laurie in MN

  13. admin says:

    Kate, I grow dry corn every year, along with popcorn, and we do use it for both tortillas and cornbread, and yes, the flavor is way better!

    I’ve grown Northstine Dent many years (Johnny’s), Stowell’s Evergreen, Black Aztec and Ashworth’s Select, as well as Painted Mountain. Black Aztec and Northstine Dent had the best flavor - Painted Mountain wasn’t good at all, Ashworth’s and Stowell’s were good, but not quite as good. I’m trying Bloody Butcher this year as well, which is huge and high yielding, after a friend did really well with it in CT.

    Laurie - Pruning them a bit will bring on faster fruiting, but they do grow up a while first anyway. I don’t know how much the spacing has to do with it, honestly. Was it much later than you would have expected?

    I think you’d want to have the supports on the north or at least west side of the plants, if that makes any sense - they would cast some shade, although very light.

    Tomatoes should get a balanced fertilizer with potassium - most manures are good, a little lime is nice for calcium (to prevent blossom end rot) or wood ashes will do the same. I like greensand if you are concerned about trace minerals. Compost teas around blossoming give a nice extra boost.

    You will eventually need to rotate them out - you can probably do one more year, but you can’t grow tomatoes in the same spot every year. What about adding some large pots to give you more sunny space for rotation, or would that not work? All determinate and many indeterminate tomatoes do very well in containers.

    You can surround them with aromatic herbs (mint, dill), use diatomaceous earth around them, and I use cardboard tp tubes very early to keep cutworms off - that might work as well. They are a pain, though! They respond best for me to picking - icky, but works. Dump them in soapy water to kill.


  14. kate@livingthefrugallife says:

    Thanks for the response, Sharon. I’ve just discovered that Carol Deppe has a LOT to say about corn varieties in her new book, The Resilient Gardener. I’m reading through it now, and mention it here on the chance that anyone else in this comment section had similar questions. But I’ll probably pick your brains a bit further on this topic at your upcoming apprentice weekend.

  15. KC says:

    What is a good edible sunflower that does not grow too tall? 3-5 feet would be good.

    Thanks, Sharon!

  16. Nicole C says:

    KC, the shortest sunflower grown for seeds that I know of is the Miriam Edible, available from Seeds of Change. I have not grown it yet, but it is supposed to be 5-6′ tall.

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