Q: How can I get my asparagus ready for the upcoming winter?
A: To put your asparagus to bed for the winter, cut back the ferns once they have turned brown and brittle, and burn them, or have them hauled away (you don't want to add these to your compost pile). Then test your soil's pH again to make sure everything is as it should be. Then spread at least an inch of compost over the bed, and top it off with about 6 inches of chopped leaves or straw. My book,Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons. has lots more great tips like this for growing absolutely heavenly asparagus.
Q: The broccoli I'm growing seemed to develop small heads this year. What can I do so that I get big, beautiful broccoli in the future?
A: The smaller heads on your broccoli could be caused by a number of reasons. Broccoli may experience stunted head growth if it didn't get enough water, especially when it's just starting out. Cool weather can also do it. Spacing is another factor. Spacing them farther apart will help give larger central heads, but fewer side shoots. Closer spacing gives smaller central heads, but more side shoots. Be sure to follow the spacing suggestions given on the label of the variety that you plant. You may also want to consider the variety of broccoli that you have. There are several that will normally grow smaller heads than others. This would mean that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with your broccoli; it's just in their nature to grow smaller heads.
Q: My beans have been overrun by Mexican bean beetles. What should I do?
A: Adult Mexican bean beetles overwinter in plant debris, so make certain that you clean up and destroy all plant debris after harvest to reduce their numbers for the following year. To treat for these pests, you can use commercial controls such as Rotenone or Carbaryl (also known as Sevin). Be sure to pick off and destroy any eggs, larvae, and adult beetles that you see.
Q: Do you have any information on how to grow gigantic pumpkins? I'm thinking about entering a pumpkin contest this year.
A: I sure do! In fact, I give my 12 steps program for growing them in my Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons book. A secret I learned years ago, too, was to remove all but the biggest two fruits from each vine and to be sure to give them plenty of water - they can grow as much as 8” a day!
Q: How do you grow rhubarb, and when is the best time to water and harvest it?
A: You should mound-plant rhubarb in the fall in soil that has a liberal amount of human hair and oatmeal mixed in with it. Feed it with fish emulsion every 3 weeks throughout the growing season. Harvest in early summer before the stalks go to flower. During the winter, I want you to emulsify all of your table scraps in a blender, and pour this liquid "compost" on the rhubarb. They'll wake up in the spring rarin' to grow!
Q: My tomatoes have blossom-end rot again this year. How can I help them?
A: Blossom end rot can affect peppers, cucumbers and squash, too. It's caused by a calcium deficiency, which can occur from insufficient calcium in the soil, uneven watering that makes it difficult for the plants to take up the calcium, or leaching of the calcium out of the soil by heavy rain or watering. It often appears after a period of rapid growth, followed by dry conditions, or in periods of heavy rain. To help even out soil moisture be sure to mulch well, and water regularly.
Q: Our problem - early and late blight on our tomato plants. I planted disease-resistant seed and sprayed with liquid copper, but I have had limited success. I still lose about half of my plants by August. What can I do?
A: There are 2 things that I want you to try - first, mix 1 tbsp. of bleach in 1 qt. of warm water, and spray it over every 100 sq. ft. of garden area as soon as the temperature gets to 50ºF. Then wait 3 weeks, and plant. As soon as buds form, overspray the plants with a mixture of 1 part skim milk and 1 part anti-transpirant to 9 parts of warm water, or apply a commercial fungicide listed for use on tomatoes regularly at the recommended rate. Try either one - both should keep the blight away.
Q: I had some watermelons and cantaloupes die this past year. When I pulled the plants up, there were small, white worms about 1/4" long, inside the stems. What can I do to control them next year?
A: It sounds like squash vine borers. They can attack melons and cucumbers in addition to squash plants. With these bugs, the best chance of survival is to prevent, prevent, and prevent some more. One way is to dust around the base of the plants with a vegetable dust containing rotenone. With squash, you can also try either early or late plantings to avoid them, or mound soil over the squash plants to the first leaf joint.
My favorite trick, though, involves my favorite garden helper: panty hose. Wrap it around the stem to keep the borers from attacking. If it's too late and the borers are already in the stems, slit the infested stems open and kill the borers with a crochet hook. If the plant hasn't died, cover the damaged stem with soil to encourage new roots to grow above where the worm was. Then give it a lot of TLC for the rest of the growing season.
Q: Are there any vegetables that are good to grow in a patch of my garden with a lot of shade?
A: Sorry, but most fruits and vegetables need at least 6 hours of full sun during the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours. It's probably best if you find another site if you want to grow vegetables. However, if you want to try, leafy vegetables will do better than fruiting ones in the shade.