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ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q First, I would like to verify the effectiveness of the rubbing alcohol mixture for aphids. It worked quickly and thoroughly with no damage. Second, I wish to ask why my lima beans do not produce even though there is an abundance of blooms. My garden soil is good loam, and I use a 5-10-10 fertilizer throughout the garden. All other bean varieties produce well. J.C.S.

Sandwich, Mass.

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Lima beans are not as foolproof as regular snap beans. Bud and blossom drop can occur for several reasons: sudden change in temperature; hot dry winds; cloudy, wet weather; low temperature; overfertilization (probably not your problem). Another cause might be deep cultivation. Lima beans benefit from a good mulch to keep roots warm, moist, and weed-free.

Glad to hear the rubbing-alcohol, detergent, hot-pepper formula worked. For the benefit of those who may not have it: In one gallon of tepid water, add one tablespoon each of liquid dishwashing detergent and hot pepper sauce, plus one quart of rubbing alcohol (70 percent). Or you can use equal parts of alcohol and water, omitting the detergent and hot pepper. Try on a few leaves first to make sure the particular plant is not overly sensitive. We've had only one complaint in several years. It concerned an African violet turning brown on the edges.

Q Several years ago I tried to grow some sponge gourds. They never got big enough, before frost hit them, to form the tough sponges inside. I would like to try again but I cannot find a source for seeds. Also, could you tell me why the gourds never grew big enough to become fibrous?


Bucyrus, Ohio

We have found that sponge gourds (also called luffa, bottle gourds, or dishrag gourds) require a fairly long growing season. Our good size gourds with tough fibrous centers take about 120 days to produce. Also, seeds will not germinate well in cool soil; therefore, we start ours indoors in peat pots one month before we set them outdoors as started plants. In our area that gives them time to mature before frost.

Two sources of seeds are Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway, Albany, OR 97321 (which sends complete directions for growing and processing), and Park Seed Company, Greenwood, SC 29647. Q I have several rhubarb plants that are at least 15 years old. The last few years the stalks have become shorter, last year no more than 12 inches tall and the size of a lead pencil. The taste is still good, but there are hardly enough stalks to harvest. A green variety I recently planted goes to seed before I have time to pull any stalks. I read that manure is good for rhubarb but do not have a source.

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Mrs. G.W.

Anderson, Ind.

Thin stalks and early seed formation usually mean the plants are starved. It could also mean the plants need dividing, allowing more space between roots. For many years, manure was recommended for rhubarb, both as a soil conditioner and a plant food. Plant pathologists have found, however, that manure causes foot rot (also called root rot). Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and needs feedings of good, balanced plant food (10-10-10 is suitable) at least once a year. Feed also at the end of harvest season, using a 10-10-10 or similar formulation, plus a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content. Another important factor is to remove seed heads as soon as they form.

Clumps may be too close together. If so, lift some sections so that at least a foot is left between clumps. Examine the sections to see that they are solid, with no rot. If solid, they can be replanted elsewhere or shared with friends. Shallow planting will eventually cause spindly stalks. Be sure to set crowns at least five or six inches below the surface of soil. Provide a well-drained, humusy soil by adding rotted compost to the area.

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