This information is provided by HEIRLOOM SEEDS.


I had some insect problems in my garden last year and want to try to avoid that problem next year, but I don't want to use any harmful insecticides.  Any suggestions?  From Burt in Albany, New York

One of the best ways to control harmful insects is to attract beneficial insects into your garden, which in turn, will also help with plant pollination.  By selecting flowers and plants they are especially fond of, you will be able to lure more beneficial insects into your garden.  We have found our "Beneficial Insect Mix", which contains flowers and herbs that attract lacewings, lady bugs, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, chalcid wasps, braconid wasps, ichneumonid wasps and trichogramma wasps (these wasps do not sting, so they will not harm humans or pets) to work especially well in attracting helpful insects.  If plant pollination has been a problem for you, we suggest trying our "Hummingbird / Butterfly Mix" and/or the "Honey Bee Mix", which can be planted near your garden.  Dill, if left to go to seed, can be used in the orchards to attract parasites that control codling moths and tent caterpillars. You can also purchase lures that attract lady bugs and lacewings to your garden.  Try this suggestion next year and you will have fewer problems with harmful insects.

Question: When is the best time to add manure to my garden?
From Bob L. in Hillsdale, Michigan.

Manure should be added to the garden once a year to improve the soil structure and to increase the water and food capacity of the soil.  In most areas of the country,  it is best to add the manure in the fall or early winter,  so it can start to decompose in the soil during the winter months when the garden is "at rest".   In areas of the country where you can garden all year round, try resting one section of your garden at a time and adding manure during this rest period.   Manure that has been composted for an entire season can be added to the garden in the spring,  just before  working the soil. (Horse manure,  being high in nitrogen, must be composted for a season before adding to the garden, otherwise you might "burn" the roots of young plants.)  Common manures to add to the garden are: cow, horse, rabbit and chicken.  DO NOT add dog or cat manure to the garden, as  household pets can transfer many disease organisms to humans through their manure.

Question:  Every spring, the first rows of beans that I plant come up sparsely.  The second and third plantings come up fine.  Am I planting too early?
From Gene in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.
Answer:  Yes, it sounds as if you are trying to rush the gardening season.  Many people, after being cooped-up all winter, are anxious to get things started in the garden.  In doing so, they are often disappointed in the results.  For next year, remember that beans need a warm soil temperature in order to germinate properly.  They should not be planted until two weeks after the last spring frost.  If the soil has not warmed sufficiently, the seeds will rot in the ground before they germinate.  Covering the area earlier in the season with black plastic will help warm the soil underneath.  An old rule of thumb is: Do not sow the seeds of beans, cucumbers, squash or melons until the apple trees have dropped their blossoms.

Question:  How important is soil temperature when it comes to planting my seeds in the spring?
From Mandy in Glenville, West Virginia.
Answer:  This is probably the most important factor in planting, and the main reason for germination failure in spring planting.  While cool weather crops such as chard, lettuce, peas etc. can germinate when the soil temperature is only 40 degrees F, warm weather plants such as beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, etc. need a soil temperature near 70 degrees to germinate properly.  Even tomato and pepper plants (which need to be started inside) benefit from an artificial heat source  for the soil  to achieve proper seed germination.  Another factor to consider is the various beneficial microorganisms in the soil.  Most do not become active until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F.,  and do not reach the height of their activity until the soil temperature reaches into the 70's.   Remember, just because you experience a few warm days in the spring does not mean that it's time to plant all the vegetable varieties in your garden.  Check the soil temperature first!

Question:  Every year I plant my seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and broccoli) in the garden about the last week of May.  They all do very well, except the broccoli starts to flower before it forms a nice head.  What am I doing wrong?
From Ed in Vineland, New Jersey.
Answer:  No matter what area of the country you live in, you must remember that broccoli (along with cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi) is a cool weather crop, while tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are warm weather crops.   Broccoli needs to mature when the weather is cool.  The young seedlings can withstand cooler temperatures than tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, so try transplanting your broccoli seedlings 4 to 5 weeks before you transplant the tomato seedlings.  This way, the broccoli will mature in the cooler spring temperatures and not go to seed as quickly.  Broccoli can also be planted as a fall crop, where it often produces larger heads than the ones planted in the spring.  The cool fall temperatures are ideal for growing a bumper crop of broccoli.  Try a fall crop and you'll have plenty of fresh broccoli for immediate use and for freezing.
See our SPRING PLANTING SCHEDULE and FALL PLANTING SCHEDULE for when to plant broccoli in your area.

Question:  I have tried growing onions in the past, but the bulbs always get soft and eventually rot in storage.    What am I doing wrong?   From Darrell in Warren, Arkansas.
Answer:  In late summer or early fall, the onion tops will begin to turn yellow.  At this time, push  the tops over with the back of a rake.  This will force the bulbs into their final maturing stage.  About three weeks later, the tops will be brown and ready to harvest.  Dig up the bulbs, being careful not to damage them.  Lay the onions on black and white newspaper in a dry, shaded spot for 10 days.  They are now ready for storage.  Onions should be stored in a cool, dry location, with the ideal temperature being 35 to 45 degrees F.   Make sure there is good air circulation around the bulbs.  You can trim the tops and hang your onions in a mesh bag, or try our favorite method - leave the tops on and braid the onions for hanging!

Question: I want to grow pyrethrum in my garden this year.  How does this plant work in repelling insects, and can I make an insecticide for my crops out of it?  From Gayle in Warrenton, Missouri.

Answer: Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum coccineum) can be planted amongst your vegetable crops to help repel harmful insects.   The flowers bloom in late June or July, and it is these flower heads that is used to make an insecticide powder.   This insecticide is regarded as the least toxic to people and animals.  Once the flowers start to dry on the plant, remove and hang upside down in a dry area.  After the flowers have completely dried, they must be ground into a fine powder.   This powder can be used as an insecticide.  It kills soft bodied insects by rapidly paralyzing them (it must be applied directly to the insects), but has little residual effect.  Use only as a last resort, as pyrethrum kills some beneficial insects as well.
The information on this page is for reference and education.   Be aware that any plant substance used externally  may cause an allergic reaction in some people.  We will not be responsible for any problems that arise from using pyrethrum.

Question: It seems like every year I have a terrible aphid problem in my garden.  What kind of spray do you recommend to control them?   From Lucy in Richmond, Virginia.

Answer: There are many sprays you can use to control aphids in the garden.  Listed below are a few to consider.

Another effective method is to attract beneficial insects into the garden.  Lady Bug lures are used to entice ladybugs into the garden, and they love to eat aphids!

Question: The flowers in my flower bed all seem to be stunned.    The plants came up, started to grow, and then stopped.  Some of the leaves on the zinnias have a purplish color that I never noticed before.  I don't see any signs of insect damage.  Can you help me?  From Maria M. in Enfield, Connecticut.

Answer: Your problem could be in the soil.  From what you describe, your plants might be suffering from a phosphorus deficiency.   This nutrient is important for good plant growth.   Two things are necessary for this nutrient to be released from the soil to your plants.   First, phosphorus must already be present in the soil (have your soil tested to determine this).  If it is not present, it can easily be added from one of these natural sources: ground phosphate rock, dried blood, bone meal, poultry manure, cottonseed meal or wood ashes.  Many of these should be available locally at nurseries or garden centers.   Two, organic matter must also be present in your soil.  As the organic matter decomposes, it helps release the phosphorus in the soil for plant use. Compost is an easily obtained source of organic matter and should be added to your soil frequently.

Question: Should I cut the suckers on my tomato plants off or leave them on?   I can't get the same answer from any of the gardeners in my neighborhood.  From Kathy T. in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

Answer:  This is a loaded question that is sure to start arguments between any group of gardeners.  Let us try to give you the pros and cons of  pruning tomatoes, and then you can decide what is best for you.   Generally, if you are going to stake your tomato plants, you should let the first sucker develop and prune off the rest.  This will leave you with two main shoots to tie on the stakes.  With this method, you can plant your tomatoes closer together, getting more plants in a smaller amount of space (great if you want to try many different varieties).  The downside to this method is you will have less foliage on the plants and it may leave your tomatoes susceptible to sun scald.  Also, this method requires a lot of work.   If you are going to grow your tomatoes in cages, you do not have to prune your tomatoes as heavily or even at all.  With this method, you simply keep your tomato plants inside their cage and let the suckers develop.  You will get more tomatoes per plant, there will be better foliage cover and there is a lot less work involved.  The downside to this method is that the tomatoes have to be planted further apart, they will mature a little later than the staked and pruned tomatoes, and they may be slightly smaller in size.  Our suggestion would be to try both methods and then decide which way works better for you.

Question: I planted lettuce seeds in my garden the second week of July and have had very poor germination.   Since I planted quite a few different varieties and used the remainder of seeds that germinated so well in the spring, I don't know what went wrong.  Any ideas?
From Mary Lou in Eufaula, Alabama.

Answer:  Lettuce seed does not germinate well in hot weather.  If you are planning a second or third crop of lettuce and the weather is in the 80's or higher, you should start the plants inside.  Start your seeds in a good potting mix and place the container in a cooler area of the house.  Once the seeds have germinated, place the containers in a partially shaded area outside.  After the plants have grown their second or third set of leaves, harden off your seedlings and transplant them into the garden.

Question: My tomatoes have black patches on the leaves, and a few of these patches also have white "fuzz" on them.  Some of the tomatoes have dark colored spots.  The plants were doing just great, with this happening very quickly.  What's the problem?
From Frank V. in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania.

Answer:  From what you describe, your tomato plants have late blight, a fungal disease that attacks the plants after they have blossomed.   This has been a common problem in many parts of the country this year, resulting from plenty of rain with below average temperatures. It usually does not become a problem unless the weather is just right for its development.  Moist soil, along with nighttime temperatures of 40 to 60 degrees F and daytime temperatures in the 70 to 80 degree F temperature range, help promote the development of this disease.   Spray the plants with a copper based fungicide, reading the directions carefully, every 7 to 10 days or until the disease is under control.  After this season, destroy the infected plants (do not place in your compost pile). Late blight can overwinter in garden debris, so be thorough in your fall clean-up to prevent a reoccurrence next season.

Question:  My pumpkins are ready to harvest and I plan on using a few of them to make jack-o-lanterns for Halloween.  My question is: How long will the rest of my pumpkins keep and what is the best way to store them?   From Billy B. in Bedford, Indiana.

Answer:  In the fall before the first frost, check your pumpkins to find out which ones are ready for harvest.  When your thumb nail doesn't easily pierce the skin of the pumpkin, it is ready to be harvested.  Cut them from the vine, leaving about 3 to 6 inches of vine on the pumpkin.  Cure the pumpkin by placing them in a sunny, dry spot for 7 to 10 days, making sure to cover them at night if frost threatens.   This curing process will harden the skin even more.   Store the pumpkins indoors in a cool area (about 50 degrees F. is best).  Check the pumpkins frequently during storage.  If you notice a soft spot on any of the pumpkins, use  immediately.  If mold should appear on the pumpkins, wipe it off with a cloth and a little vegetable oil.   If carefully stored, pumpkins can last until the following spring.
Now back to the garden!  The pumpkins that were not quite ready to harvest can still be used to make pies or other taste treats!  The pumpkins that have matured past the green stage, but didn't have a hard enough skin for winter storage, can be used for this purpose.

Question: I have a real problem with ladybugs this fall.  Many are in the house, with hundreds more trying to get in.  Help!   From Lucy T. in Flemington, New Jersey.

Answer:  The ladybug is one of the most recognized beneficial insect in the garden.  Both the adult beetles and larvae are very important in having a pest free garden.  By no means should these helpful insects be destroyed.
When the weather starts to get cooler,  ladybugs start looking for a place to hibernate through the winter.  Your house, being warmer than the outside, makes an excellent place.  Ladybugs can crawl through the smallest cracks and holes, so this is where you should concentrate your efforts in eliminating them from your home.   Small cracks in the foundation of the house can easily be filled with caulk, as can small openings around window frames and doors.  Next check the weather stripping on your windows and doors.  Replace any that are missing or damaged.  Other openings you should check are around the outside dryer vent, the cable, phone, and electric lines entering the house, crawl space vents, etc.   By sealing  these tiny entrances, you'll not only stop the ladybugs from entering your house, you'll also cut down on heat loss during the winter months (saving money on your heating bill).  This alone will pay for the cost of the project!

Question: On seed packages and in seed catalogs, I always see the number of days mentioned.  What exactly does this number represent?   From Ellen D. in Gallup, Arizona.

Answer:  The number of days that appears on the seed envelope is the average number of days to harvest for that particular variety.  Due to seasonal weather patterns and other factors, this is not an exact date, but can be used as a reference when selecting varieties for your area.  For example: if variety #1 has a "days to harvest" of 45 days and variety #2 has a "days to harvest" of 65 days, then it can be assumed that the first variety will mature about 3 weeks before the second variety.  While neither may mature at the exact days to harvest time listed, they should mature 3 weeks apart if planted in the same location.   This "days to harvest" can then help you plan your garden so you can harvest fresh produce all season long.
Note:  On vegetables that need to be started indoors and transplanted into the garden, (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) the "days to harvest" is calculated from the transplanting date into the garden to the days the variety should mature.

Question: Last year, many of my flowers started off doing very well.  About half way through the season, though, they started wilting and the leaves turned yellow, finally turning a sickly brown color.    We had plenty of rain this year, so I don't think they needed water.  What could have caused this to happen?  From Pat J. in Carbondale, Pennsylvania.

Answer:  From what you describe, it could be one of three different problems:

  1. 1. You may have a fungus or bacterial problem in your soil that caused the roots or stems of the plant to rot.  Many of these organisms thrive in wet soil, so if you had an unusual amount of rain last year, this could have caused the problems with your flowers.
  2. 2. You may have over-fertilized with a chemical fertilizer.   Chemical fertilizers contain salts that can build up in the soil if used too often.  A high concentration of these salts in the soil can make it difficult for the plants to absorb water.  The leaves will begin to turn brown and dry up.  Sometimes when gardeners see these brown leaves, they believe the plants need more fertilizer and this only makes the problem worse.
  3. 3. Your soil could have a problem with nematodes.  These are tiny microscopic worms that feed on the plant roots.   While feeding, they inject a toxin into the roots that makes it difficult for the plants to absorb water or nutrients.  If you pull one of the plants out for closer examination, you'll see the roots will often be stunted and dark in color.
If you believe that your soil has a problem with fungi, bacteria or nematodes, you may want to solorize your soil.  This will destroy most soil borne diseases and nematodes.

The following should be done during the hottest days of summer.

Solarization of the soil will destroy most soil diseases.   You should consider doing this to your garden every 4 to 5 years (different sections can be done in different years).

Question: Every year I have a problem with my spinach.  I love fresh spinach in my salads, but I'm about to give up growing my own.   It seems that every time the leaves are almost the right size to pick, they get brown streaks and blotches on them.  I've tried growing the spinach in different areas of the garden, but that doesn't seem to help.  Is something wrong with my soil?  From Ann B. in Middlebury, Vermont.

Answer:  The problem you describe has nothing to do with any soil deficiency or disease.  The damage has been caused by an insect called a leafminer.   These insects emerge from the soil in the spring, fly off and lay their eggs on the leaves of the spinach.  The eggs hatch and the larvae tunnel into the leaves, causing the brown marks you described.  The best way to prevent leafminer damage is to use a floating row cover on your crop.   Plant the spinach in the spring and place the row cover loosely over the area, making sure to secure the ends of the row cover with fabric pegs or soil.   Water as you normally would, and when the plants are about an inch tall, remove the row cover to thin them out.    Immediately replace the row cover, making sure it is loose enough for the plants to reach full size underneath it.   To harvest the spinach, simply lift up part of the cover, pick as much spinach as you need, and replace the cover.  By using this method, you prevent the adult leafminers from laying their eggs on the spinach leaves.  You will now have a beautiful crop of spinach, with no damage from these pesky little insects!

Question: Last year I had a wonderful corn crop growing and everything seemed to be going well.  When I harvested the ears and pulled back the husks, the kernels were eaten at the top and there were ugly worms inside.  What can I do to stop this from happening again?
From Lester in West Liberty, Kentucky.

Answer:  Sounds as if you had a problem with the Corn Earworm.  Luckily, this insect can be easily controlled.  Once the corn is about knee high, start spraying it with a combination of light horticultural oil spray and BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis).   Both of these items should be available at your local garden center.  Spray once every two weeks.  Once the silks have wilted and begun to turn brown, apply mineral oil to the area where the silk enters the ear of corn.  Use about  half a medicine dropper for each ear of corn.   DO NOT apply this too early in the season, as it can interfere with the pollination process.

Question:  My tomato seedlings always get too tall and look weak.   Why don't they look nice and compact like the ones I see at the local nursery?   From Fred D. in Meeker, Colorado.

Answer:  The two biggest reasons for this problem are over fertilization and insufficient light.

Question:  I've never had very much luck growing peppers.  I get very few blossoms on the plants and even fewer peppers.  The peppers that do form are always a lot smaller than those of my gardening friends.  I'm about to give up!  Any suggestions?   From Bobbie R. in Mason City, Iowa.

Answer:  From what you describe, you may have a Phosphorus deficiency in your soil.   Phosphorus deficiencies usually occur in acidic soil, so make sure to have your soil tested to see if this is the problem.  The soil pH for peppers should be between 6.0 and 6.5.  After you've made sure that your soil pH is correct, feed your peppers with an organic fertilizer that is high in Phosphorus, such as Budswell or The Real Poop.  In the fall, add rock phosphate or wood ashes to the soil to help correct this problem for next year's crop.

I've always wanted to try growing a hummingbird  garden.  What types of flowers and herbs are they attracted to?   From Ginger C. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Most people believe that hummingbirds are only attracted to red flowers.  While they do have a preference to the color red, the Ruby-throated and other varieties of hummingbirds will feed from flowers that are pink, orange, purple, yellow and even white.  Tubular shaped flowers are the type most preferred in a hummingbird garden.  Make sure to choose varieties that have overlapping periods of bloom, so there will always be flowers in the garden for the hummingbirds to feed from.  Also try to choose those that are native to your region.   Good choices might include: Bee Balm, Bellflower, Butterfly Weed, Carnation, Catnip, Columbine, Delphinium, Evening Primrose, Four O'Clock, Foxglove, Globe Thistle, Hollyhock, Lupine, Lychnis,  Morning Glory, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Pinks, Poppy, Sage, Snapdragon, Wild Bergamot,and Zinnia.  Watering your flowers with a fine spray (especially in the morning and evening hours) will also help attract hummingbirds.  They drink and bathe from the small water droplets left on the flower's leaves.

Being a novice gardener, I would like to know "What exactly is an heirloom variety"?  From Dan T. in Willmar, Minnesota.

Sorry to say, but there is no "exact" definition for this term.  In fact, there have been entire books dedicated to this subject and still there is no agreement between gardeners as to what constitutes an heirloom and what does not.
First, lets try to cover what everyone agrees on.  Heirlooms are always open-pollinated varieties.  This means that if the seeds produced from the plant are properly saved, they will produce the same variety year after year.   This cannot be done with hybrids, which are a cross between two separate varieties, as the seed produced from those plants will either be sterile, or start to revert back to the parent plants.
The next part of the definition starts to get a little fuzzy.  Most gardeners agree that heirloom varieties should be at least 50 years old.   But can a variety that is 48 or 49 years old be eliminated from this group, but then be eligible 1 or 2 years later?  And what about an improved variety of an old favorite?   We'll let the so called "experts" argue about this one!
Lastly, many gardeners think there should be some history behind the variety, perhaps a story on a variety's introduction, some ethnic background or a tie to a certain time in history.  Part of the joy of growing heirlooms is discovering these stories behind the seeds.  But in some cases, the early history of some seeds is not known.  Should these varieties be eliminated from the group?  Many heirloom gardeners will only grow varieties introduced outside the seed trade.  What about the older varieties that were originally introduced by professional plant breeders over 100 years ago?  Would it be fair to eliminate all of these varieties from the group?
In conclusion, we believe gardening should be fun.  So, how strict you want your definition to be is purely a personal matter.   Choose the varieties that seem the most interesting to you!   Keep growing your old favorites, but make sure to include a few different ones each year.  You may find varieties you like even more!

Some of my beans have developed black spots on the pods and stems.  What is this and should I be worried about it spreading to my other crops in the garden?
From Ed W. in Franklin, New Jersey.

It seems like you may have a problem with Anthracnose,  a fungal disease that is mostly prevalent in the eastern United States.  The cool, wet weather of spring helps promote the development of this disease, so next year, try planting your bean crop a little later in the season.  As this disease progresses, the veins on the underside of the leaves will also turn black.  This disease is easily spread by handling infested plants and then working among uninfected ones, especially when the plants are wet.  To control this disease, the infected plants can be sprayed with a sulfur based fungicide early in its development.  Make sure to follow all directions on the container label.  If this does not work, remove and discard (DO NOT place in the compost bin) the diseased plants so it does not spread throughout the garden.  Other plants that are susceptible to this disease are: cucumbers, mint, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes.

I have a beautiful and delicious patch of chives growing in my garden. My question is:  Can I  bring it inside to continue harvesting from during the winter?  How should I do this?
Amy from Erie, PA

In late summer, dig the clump of chives out of the garden and place in a small pot filled with a good potting mix (do not use one with added fertilizer).  Leave the pot outside, in order for the chives to establish themselves in the container.  As late fall approaches, continue to leave outside until the tops die back and the roots freeze.  The plant needs to go through a cold, dormant period in order to send up shoots again.  After a few weeks, bring the pot inside and place in a sunny windowsill.  The plant should start growing again in a few weeks, supplying you with fresh chives during the winter months!

I have read various places, that to control caterpillars in the garden, an insecticide with "BT" should be used.  What is BT and is it harmful to other insects?   Bert from Eagle River, Wisconsin.

BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a type of bacterium that kills leaf eating caterpillars.  It effects the caterpillar's digestive system and eventually kills them.  It is not harmful to other insects, humans or pets.  The BT must be consumed by the caterpillar in order to be effective, so be sure to apply it when the caterpillars are present, as it has little residual effect.  All parts of the plant leaves, especially the undersides, should be thoroughly covered.  And as always, follow the instructions as directed on the product container.

I have heard you can leave carrots in the ground over the winter to harvest during the colder months.  Is this true, and how do I do this?  Kevin, from Champaign, Illinois.

Many root crops can be stored in this manner.  When the weather starts to get colder during late fall, mulch your carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, etc. with 8 to 12 inches of straw or shredded leaves.  Depending on what part of the country you live in, you can pick these crops through much of the winter season by lifting the mulch and harvesting as many as needed.  Once the ground starts to freeze, though, remove all the roots and store inside.  Warning:  The thick mulch may attract mice and other small rodents into the garden area.

I love the taste of chamomile tea, and would like to try growing my own chamomile.  How do I dry it for this purpose?  From Grace M. in Roseau, Minnesota.

When the flower petals begin to turn upward, carefully remove them.  Dry the petals in the shade on a sheet of paper.  Make sure to protect from the wind!  Do not use screening to dry the petals, as they tend to cling to the screen.  Once the petals are dried, store in an air tight container.

My gardening friends use newspaper as a mulch in their garden.  I try to grow as organically as possible.  Is the ink in the newspaper safe for my garden soil?
From Patty T. in Kirksville, Missouri.

Almost all the black ink used in today's newspapers is soy based and will not harm the soil.  However, avoid using any newspaper that is printed in color or has a slick feel to it (many newspaper inserts use this type of paper).  Color inks often contain heavy metals and should not be used in the garden.  To stop the newspaper from blowing away or to hide its somewhat unsightly appearance, try covering it with a light layer of hay or straw.  At the end of the season, the newspaper can be tilled into the soil.

Why doesn't my romaine lettuce grow nice heads like the ones I see at the supermarket?  Mine are always small and look more like leaf lettuce.    Robin K. from Morehead, Kentucky.

Romaine lettuce, as well as all heading varieties of lettuce, needs plenty of space and cool weather to form nice heads.  The biggest mistake most people make is to plant the lettuce seeds too thickly.  When the plants begin to sprout, they cannot bring themselves to thin the crop.  "What harm will it do if I leave a few extra plants in the ground?  I hate to waste so many of them!" is what some people think.  Romaine lettuce should be thinned to at least 6 inches between plants.  A  pair of household scissors work great for this job, by simply cutting the extra plants off at ground level.  These "baby" lettuce leaves can be added to a salad so they are not wasted.  Also keep in mind that romaine lettuce needs cool temperatures in order to form heads.  In many areas of the country, the "cool" spring growing season is too short for this to happen.  If this is a problem for you, try growing the head lettuce varieties during the fall when the weather will be cooler as they are forming.

I tried growing some of the older varieties of snap beans last year, and they all had strings along the pod.  Does this usually happen in the older variety of beans?
From Milton in Spruce Pine, North Carolina

Many people like the superior flavor of the older varieties, and that's why they're so popular even today.  But the pods will develop strings if left on the plant too long.  Simply pick the beans sooner, before the strings develop.  This way, you'll get tender, delicious tasting beans and the plants will produce over a longer period of time.   Here's a bonus tip:  Make sure to sow a second crop of beans about a month after your first crop.  This will help extend your harvest time!

It seems every year I get less and less crops from my cucumbers, squash and other vining crops.  I think the plants are receiving enough water and the pH of my soil is 6.5.   What could be the problem?   Joe H. in Seymour, Indiana.

The vegetables that you mentioned all need to have their flowers pollinated to produce fruit.  The bee population in the United States has been on the decline for the last decade or more, and this may be why they are not producing as well as before.  To increase production of these and any other vegetables that need pollinated, try planting flowers and herbs in your garden that will attract pollinating insects.  Some good flowers to try would be Baby Blue-Eyes, Wallflower, Cornflower, Cosmos, Purple Coneflower, Sweet William, Butterfly Weed, Candytuft, Rocky Mountain Beeplant, Corn Poppy,  Black-Eye Susan, Aster and Forget-Me-Not. Herbs would include: Wild Bergamot, Coriander, Dill, Mint, Bee Balm, Hyssop, Joe Pye Weed and Ox-Eye Daisy.   Wildflower mixes such as our Beneficial Insect Mix, Honey Bee Mix and Hummingbird/Butterfly Mix will also help attract pollinating insects, if planted nearby.

I'm getting ready to start another crop of lettuce, but have had little success in the heat of summer.  Any suggestions?  From  Mark T. in Plainville, Kansas

First off, lettuce seeds do not germinate well in warn weather, so start your seeds inside for summer plantings.  Once the plants have a few sets of true leaves, harden them off and transplant into the garden.  Choose a location that is shaded from the afternoon sun and water the plants on a regular basis.   Summer grown lettuce should be picked when young and tender, as it becomes bitter after the seed stalks begin to form. - Varieties best suited for summer growing include: Oak Leaf, Key Lime, Prize Head, Salad Bowl, Wakefield Crunch, Broad Leaf Escarole, Cimmaron Romaine and Salad King Green Curled Endive.

My vegetable plants have thousands of small white insects on the undersides of the leaves.  I have never had a problem like this before. What are they and how do I get rid of them?
From Betsy P. in Hudson, Michigan.

Looks like you have a problem with whiteflies.  Whiteflies gather on the undersides of leaves in huge numbers and fly off in swarms when disturbed. The adults are minute sucking insects with powdery white wings. The larvae are 1/30", flattened, legless, and translucent.
The adults and larvae suck sap from the leaves, causing them to become pale and curled. They also secrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew. The fruits and foliage become sticky, and black mold grows on the honeydew coated areas.
Whiteflies are one of the hardest insects to keep under control once they reach significant numbers in the garden.  Try these three suggestions: Spray infested plants with insecticidal soap, attract beneficial insects (lady bugs, green lacewings or parasitic wasps) into the garden, or use whitefly traps to lure them away from infested plants.


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