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Ask the gardeners

Q We are new gardeners so perhaps our question is silly. But here it is. Why did our beet seeds come up so thickly? We planted the seeds about an inch apart. We tried to transplant some of them, but they only wilted. Each so-called beet seed is actually a cluster of up to 4 seeds, and you were correct in planting them about an inch apart. You could let them grow together until the little plantlets are big enough to harvest for greens, then thin them out, leaving about 4 plants per foot. If you wish to transplant some of the seedlings, you must use something to pry them up without breaking the taproot. We find a large screwdriver is a good tool. Gently nudge the cluster apart, plant gently in a new location and water immediately. Do the job after the sun goes down. Q Our children love popcorn so we're going to plant some this year. I read somewhere that popcorn should not be planted near sweet corn. What is the reason for this?

Most popcorn varieties take 90 to 100 days or more to mature, hence they should not be planted near late-maturing varieties of sweet corn. The reason is the two varieties would be likely to cross pollinate because tassels would be full of pollen, and silks would be ready to receive pollen of both kinds of corn at the same time. The resulting sweet corn would not be as sweet and the popcorn might not pop.

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If you need to put the corn in one spot, plant popcorn in front (at least 4 rows, even if they are short), then plant an early variety of sweet corn (at least 4 rows) in between the popcorn and a late or mid-season variety of sweet corn. Four rows is to insure pollination of the silks -- each one of which is attached to a kernel. No pollination -- no fat, lucious kernel! Seed catalogs and packets tell the number of days to maturity. Q Every year I have trouble getting my carrot seeds to come up out of the ground. When they finally do come up, they are very sparse. Would truly appreciate your helpful suggestions.

Carrot seeds have little pushing-up power. Don't cover too deeply. About 1/4 inch of soil is enough. If soil is heavy, mix some vermiculite with regular soil (about 3 parts soil to 1 part vermiculite), and use that for covering. Keep the row watered daily. A trick some folks use is to sow radish seeds sparingly in the row. Their superior pushing-up power makes way for the carrots.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

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