General Questons - Non-Crop

1. Q. My family has been enjoying our fireplace during the cold weather, and we have an abundance of wood ash. I have been scattering it around our fruit trees and in my garden, but I am worried that I may have used too much. How much should I use?

A. Wood ashes contain very small amounts of mineral elements and are very alkaline. Soils in many areas are alkaline and do not need to become more alkaline. Application of small amounts of wood ashes are not harmful to alkaline soils, but avoid excesses.

2. Q. Why shouldn't we save seed from hybrid tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc?

A. The definition of a hybrid is "the offspring of plants of different genotypes, varieties, species or genera." Hybrid seeds you purchase are the result of a controlled cross-breeding process. The controlled cross yields seed which produce plants with certain desirable characteristics such as disease resistance, nematode resistance, large fruit, early ripeness, etc. Seed produced by the fruit of a hybrid plant may or may not possess the number and degree of desirable characteristics of the hybrid. Purchasing new seed or plants each year insures that desirable characteristics will be present.

3. Q. I have heard many people talk about washing frost off plant leaves to protect them. Is this a good technique?

A. Frozen plant cells shatter when warm faucet water strikes them. The best way to prevent cell damage after a light freeze is to slow-thaw these cells. Cover plants with a sheet or blanket to shield them from the warming sun rays which would do the same harm as faucet water. Remember, survival is possible only after a light frost or freeze; after a hard, cold spell these techniques are wasted effort.

4. Q. How important is variety selection with regard to canning and freezing of vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and beans?

A. The main consideration for preserving garden vegetables is to use top quality produce. Select high yielding, disease resistant varieties recommended for your area. Preserve only good produce for later consumption.

5. Q. What is a good way to keep seed left over from this year's garden?

A. Leave seed in the original packets or labeled envelopes and place it in an air-tight container such as a wide-mouthed jar. For long-term storage, securely wrap 2 tablespoons of powdered milk in tissue paper and place it in the bottom of the jar. The powdered milk acts as a desiccant and lengthens storage life of garden seed. Keep the jar in the refrigerator until next gardening season.

6. Q. Are dead grass clippings from dethatching the lawn good for mulching my garden?

A. Yes, but be sure they are dead. Otherwise, you'll be sprigging your garden with grass. Clippings make an excellent mulching material. Since this grass is in small, chopped pieces, it will break down easily. Remember, as with all organic mulches which decompose, nitrates in the form of extra fertilizer or manure must be added to feed those fungi responsible for decomposition. Otherwise, they will rob it from your soil and growing vegetables.

7. Q. I have heard that some leaves poison the soil. I have an abundance of pecan leaves and would like to use them for compost. Are pecan leaves harmful?

A. A case of pecan leaves damaging a garden spot has never been reported. In fact, these leaves are recommended as a mulch because pecan leaves are fibrous and decompose slowly. Possibly rumors of pecan leaves damaging growing plants arise because pecan leaves contain tannic acid. When tannic acid reacts with alkaline soil, a neutral organic salt, called calcium tannate, is formed. This compound is not detrimental. Mix other types of organic matter or leaves with pecan leaves rather than making a compost of pure pecan leaves.

8. Q. Can I use sawdust as a mulch? I know extra nitrogen must be added, but should I expect any other problems?

A. Yes, extra nitrogen in small, constant doses is required. If you use pure sawdust, it can cake and form an impenetrable barrier to water. Water slowly and check depth of penetration after watering.

9. Q. Our garden failed last year. We think our soil must be worn out and want to haul in some more. What type should be used?

A. First of all, your soil is not worn out. Some farms have been cropped continuously for many years. The addition of organic matter (crop residue, grass clippings, leaves) and proper fertilization keeps any soil healthy. Also, working your soil when it's too wet will damage the soil's structure.

10. Q. Is it true that organically grown vegetables are better and more nutritious?

A. Contrary to popular belief, research has not shown a nutritional advantage of organically fertilized vegetables over those grown with chemical fertilizers. The same plant nutrients supplied by chemical fertilizers are derived from organic fertilizer, and these nutrients must be in an ionic form before they can be absorbed by the roots. With an equal amount furnished the plant from either type of fertilizer, the nutritional composition of the produce will be exactly the same. The wonderful flavor we enjoy from garden vegetables results from freshness and a timely harvest.

11. Q. How long can I expect garden seeds left from this fall and stored in a sealed jar to keep.?

A. The life span of seeds varies from a few weeks to several hundred years depending upon the kind of vegetable and how they are stored. Most vegetable seeds will last from three to fifteen years if properly stored. Seeds stored in a cool, dry place will live the longest. Seeds of some vegetables live longer than seeds of other vegetables. The following groupings can be made:

Group A;Short-lived; Onions, Corn, Okra, Parsnips
Group B; Medium-lived; Beans, Carrots, Peas, Tomatoes
Group C; Long-lived; Cucumbers, Turnips, Watermelon, Eggplant

12. Q. What is this vegetable advertised as a "Topato?"

A. The word "Topato" is a patented name which has been applied to a tomato plant and potato plant growing in a very close proximity. Many home gardeners who read the ads conclude that one plant would produce potatoes on the root and tomatoes on the branches. When the home gardener orders a topato, he will get a potato seed piece which has been holed out. This potato shell is filled with planting medium or a type of soil substitute. A packet of tomato seed is also included with the purchase of the potato shells. The idea is to plant a tomato seed into the center of the potato shell. Then, plant the shell into the garden soil. The idea would be that the potato plant would produce tubers and that the tomato plant would yield tomato fruits. Provided both the potato seed piece and the tomato seeds germinate, the tomato plant will produce tomatoes and the potato plant will produce potatoes.

13. Q. Are the varieties of mushrooms which come up periodically in my yard edible?

A. Several species of wild mushrooms which grow in lawns are edible. Some are of excellent quality, but, many others are highly poisonous. Never eat mushrooms harvested from your yard or from wooded areas. Mushrooms purchased at the store are the only ones safe to eat.

14. Q. When is compost ready to be used?

A. Several months are required for proper composting of most types of plant litter. If kept moist, a good compost mixture started in early spring should be ready to use as a mulch or turned into the soil by early fall. However, this depends on how the compost pile is handled, whether it is located in the sun or shade and how often it is turned. A properly prepared compost pile should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. within a matter of weeks. Under these conditions, the organic material will be usable within 2 or 3 months.

15. Q. What is meant by biennial and which vegetables are classed as biennial vegetables?

A. Biennial vegetables normally require two years from seed to flowering. Biennial vegetables include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collard, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leek, onion, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, salsify and turnip. Remember that if young biennial plants are subjected to cold weather early during their growth, they may produce seed the first season.

16. Q. What are the best temperature and humidity conditions for storing surplus vegetables from my home garden?

A. Vegetables differ in their temperature and humidity needs for storage. The root crops and cabbage need a cold temperature, 32 degrees to 35 degrees F., high humidity and moderate ventilation. Root crops can be stored in a cold place in polyethylene bags or boxes with a few holes for ventilation. Potatoes need a moderately cool temperature, 40 degrees to 45 degrees F. and moist atmosphere while onions need a cold temperature, 32 degrees to 35 degrees F., dry humidity and plenty of air movement. Pumpkins and squash need a moderately cool temperature, 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. and a moderately dry atmosphere. Consult other garden publications for ideal storage conditions for individual vegetables.

17. Q. Should the rows in my vegetable garden run east and west or north and south or does it make a difference?

A. The slope of the land determines which way the rows run in your garden. Wherever the garden soil is not level, rows should run across the slope to reduce soil washing and erosion. Otherwise, direction of garden rows is not important.

18. Q. What are the advantages of adding organic matter to my garden soil?

A. Organic matter worked into the garden soil will improve soil texture, making the soil easier to work, increasing the water holding capacity of sandy soils, supplying plant nutrients, improving the condition for the development of beneficial organisms such as earthworms, slowing nutrient leaching by providing a holding system and speeding excess water movement and drainage through the soil.

19. Q. What is organic gardening?

A. To the organic food enthusiast, organic gardening implies production of vegetables in soils with high levels of organic matter supplied from animal manure, crop residue and compost and without supplementary mineral elements except those from natural mineral fertilizers obtained from natural deposits. Any attempt to control disease, insects or nematodes is by planting resistant varieties, other biological means or cultural practices, or with naturally occurring pesticides obtained from plants. Weeds are controlled by cultural practices and no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are used.

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