Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thea said...

thanks so much for clarifying and explaining.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reply to Thea: Peppers and Other Nightshades

Hi, Thea, thank you for your comment.

Some vegetables and fruits need male and female plants; most berries do. Blueberries and hollies are some famous examples of plants that will need your planting at least two, and in the case of hollies, you will need specific male and female plants. Some vegetables, mostly those in the squash family, have female and male flowers in one plant, and depend on insects or humans to engender pollination.

I understand that the flowers of peppers, tomatoes, and even eggplants - all of them in the nightshade family - are supposed to be self-pollinating, that is, both the male and female organs are in one flower. However, like my eggplants, and perhaps your peppers, sometimes the pollen just does not get from one element to the other, hence the little nudge with a paintbrush or a cotton swab. With tomatoes and peppers, whose flowers are smaller and lighter than those of eggplants, one can just tap the flowers gently or cause some movement to the plant, to shake loose the pollen and thus effect the magic of fruiting the flower.

While peppers like to be warm and well-fed, sometimes over-fertilization may zap flowering and fruiting power in peppers, causing tremendous and profuse leaf growth but no flowers or fruit. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer, preferably organic. (Nitrogen promotes great leaf growth which in turn retards the plant's ability to flower, and thus fruit.) Soil and weather conditions matter, too. Keep soil evenly moist; do not let the soil dry out. Avoid overhead watering, as that may wash away pollen from the flowers.

And then there is the matter of cross-pollination, but we won't get into that now, unless you insist - and then you'll have to let me know.

From Thea: re Pollinating The Eggplant

Thea said...
wow, never thought of doing my own pollination. i wonder if the plants didn't get pollinated because they were male plants. sometimes my peppers don't grow either because they were all the same sex.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bulbs, Baby, Bulbs

I hope everyone knows that now is the time to plant bulbs in the ground if one yearns for the sight of those springtime jewels in the garden. Tulips, daffodils (Narcissus to the cognoscenti,) irises, alliums (ornamental onions in common parlance,) and a host of other major and minor bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers - the entire host too dizzingly many to enumerate here - need the winter chill for the flowers to form and bloom in the spring. The potted tulips and daffodils you see for sale in the spring have been "forced," that is, commercially chilled for them to flower.

Note: I will not go into the definitional differences in terminology here, but will be more than happy to hold forth on this topic or any others, if anyone wishes to write in the comment section and ask questions.

The above photo shows bulbs of Tulipa "White Marvel," (the larger bulbs with flaking skins) and Iris "Bronze Beauty" (the ones looking like shallots,) arranged on a moss bed, with a sprig head of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) blossom and fallen fall foliage from witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.) and Callery pear(Pyrus calleryana) trees. Pictures left and below are T. "White Marvel" and I. "Bronze Beauty," respectively.

One imagines those little parcels of energy, buried underground, taking their long cold nap. One can hardly wait for them to awaken in the thaw of spring.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Thanks. I'll give this a try. I should have done that the first time, but it never entered my thoughts. I just figured "bigger pot, roots will spread OK".


Reply to Weedgrower: Repotting Rosemary

Repotting is good.

But if the roots were compacted and overcrowded in the 6 inch pot to start with, you want to loosen the roots before you repot. I would take the plant out of its new pot, shake out the root ball, loosen the roots, you can cut out dead or old roots and repot in your fresh soil - soil that is not overly rich- soil containing some sand, vermiculite, or perlite is good. Water, though do not overwater. Keep in full sun for a while.

Good luck.


Rosemary Problem, from "Weedgrower"

I bought an upright Rosemary plant 3 weeks ago. It was probably 14 inches tall and crowded in the 6 inch pot. I repotted it in a 12 inch pot with OSH potting soil. Now some of the sprigs are turning gray and brown and drying out. What to do? Thanks for help


Friday, September 26, 2008


The eggplant flowers kept falling off without getting anywhere near fruiting though the plant was flourishing beautifully. What to do? I decided I needed to become a bee. In other words, I needed to pollinate the flowers myself. (Please, people, I will not tolerate smarmy risque jokes on this blog - this is very, very serious stuff.)

I took a soft-haired - say, a #0 or #1 watercolor brush and swirled it around the pistil and the stamen inside the flower. I did this every morning in each flower on the plant. Each time, I made sure that I've got some pollen from the anther (the one with the yellow powder) of the stamen transferred to the stigma or the top of the pistil.

Finally, I could tell that all this was working, because the faded flowers did not just fall off the plant like they did before. Not only did they not drop, but the receptacle and the peduncle started to thicken and before long - ah! the shiny purple bulb of what the English call the aubergine started peeking out from under the green skirt of the sepals.

For a refresher course on primary school botany, here is a drawing showing The Parts of a Flower, or in higher fallutin' terms:
Plant Morphology
The Parts of a Flower

Peduncle: The stalk of a flower.
Receptacle: The part of a flower stalk where the parts of the flower are attached.
Sepal: The outer parts of the flower (often green and leaf-like) that enclose a developing bud.
Petal: The parts of a flower that are often conspicuously colored.
Stamen: The pollen producing part of a flower, usually with a slender filament supporting the anther.
Anther: The part of the stamen where pollen is produced.
Pistil: The ovule producing part of a flower. The ovary often supports a long style, topped by a stigma. The mature ovary is a fruit, and the mature ovule is a seed.
Stigma: The part of the pistil where pollen germinates.
Ovary: The enlarged basal portion of the pistil where ovules are produced.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Purple Pods of the Hyacinth Bean

Dolichos lablab

The hyacinth bean, or lablab vine, is beautiful and easy to grow. The odorless sweetpea-like flowers range from light pink through fuschia and magenta to dark lavender. Young leaves may start out purple-veined, turning a dark greenish blue; in some varieties, the entire leaf will remain a bronzy purple. In Brooklyn, zones 7 and colder, it is not hardy. It will die back with the first frost. But save the seeds, and you will never be without it in the garden.

The beans are said to be edible, though I've been told they exude every particular aspect of the bean when consumed and digested. They also lose that gorgeous purple color when cooked, and bean up the house. So I've never ventured.

Send me a note if you wish seeds, and we'll see what we can do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Where to order seeds


I've posted a photo of some greens that were sowed in a pot late this summer for your visual delectation, and to encourage your venture.

At this time of the year, a lot of the stores pull their seed packets off the racks, or have sold out. But the mail ( and online, as well, of course) order houses are in business all year, and welcome the trade. Indeed, the sales for this year's stock are probably heating up just about now.

Park Seeds,, has a good selection and is reasonably priced. The British seed company, Thompson and Morgan has an American operation, has an even larger selection, though pricier. If you are looking for specifically organic seeds, Johnny's Select Seeds, is a good source.

There are many many sites where you can get seeds, a google search will yield you a trove. However, I understand you are looking for timesaving guidance. So, there you go.


More from Sis Hurster...

Thanks for answering me right away, Sally. Now you've got me all fired up, and I'm just about to go online and order up some seeds for spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, and other greens (though I'm afraid arugula isn't to my taste). Can you recommend the best website for this purpose?

Thanks in advance,


Sep 17, 2008 5:28:00 PM

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sally answers...

My dear Sis Hurster

Yes, indeed, mid-September is way way too late to plant the vegetables you mention. But all may not be lost. There are some cool-weather greens that you may consider planting even now. Spinach, arugula (no political jokes now,) kale, swiss chard, even lettuce, and a host of Asian (what used to be called Oriental) greens can withstand low temperatures, with protection, down to 20 degrees!

As for the general hints you ask about, here are some ground rules: You want your soil to be well worked, rich in organic matter such as compost (the more worms the better.) Find a sunny spot in your garden, you can even interplant your veggie greens with your flowers, but you will need sun. You can sow seeds right into the ground, in rows or in whatever pattern you wish. Follow the instructions on the seed packet for thinning and care.

There you are, voila! In a few weeks, you will have veggies for salads and soups.

Next spring, you can plant your carrots, melons, zucchinis, tomatoes, etc. These may prove a wee bit more complicated, but nothing you cannot tackle, Sis. So write me again in the late winter or early spring, and we can chew the cud over planting the fruiting vegetables.

Have fun!


Sis Hurster asks...

Dear Sally,

I've always enjoyed growing flowering plants, but lately I've started feeling a strong urge to add vegetables to my garden. Since it's now mid-September, I know that it's too late for this season, but I've been dreaming of harvesting zucchinis and melons and tomatoes and carrots and suchlike next year. Can you give me any general hints on starting a vegetable garden? Your help would really be appreciated!

Sep 16, 2008 9:28:00 PM



This blog is being launched to take your gardening and horticultural questions. This, and my companion blog, A-Gitate, or A Garden Is The Answer To Everything, aim to engage the community at large in the idea that the garden - the earth cultivated with thought and beauty - will and can, in these fraught times, sustain and provide us with much.

So I invite one and all to send in your gardening questions in the comments section below. But remember: Gardening is not just about gardens, because the garden yields more earth (compost,) more plants, food, flowers, bugs and critters, and so much more. In the activity of gardening, we can hope to live a sustainable lifestyle. We cannot all be farmers, but we can garden, even if it's in a tin can sitting on a basement window sill. So questions about practically everything - cooking, eating, reading, writing, living - will be entertained, I don't promise that I can answer all questions, but every attempt will be made to answer and give advice to sincere and valid inquiries. (They will be moderated, of course.)