Answers to Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Gardening Questions Answers to Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Gardening Questions

Q. What is a good fertilizer and watering scheme for a very small plot of Rutgers Tomatoes that is soon to have some Habanero peppers? Right now, cheaper is better.

A. From the commercial side, Miracle-Gro makes a fertilizer mix of an acidic nature specifically for tomatoes. Tomatoes do poorly with erratic watering. Mulch around the plants to keep evaporation in the soil to a minimum. Peppers will do fine with most any feeding source. Most vegetable plants produce better with reliable watering.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "Tomatoes do best when they are watered at the soil level using soaker hoses, rather than from above."

Q. Is there anyone out there that can tell me when a cantaloupe is ready to pick?

A. Take a walk around your "lope" patch everyday. When you can smell the cantaloupes, they are ready to be picked. The ripest melon will turn golden, but especially the bed of the melon, or the spot lying on the ground, will turn yellow. Also, a ripe melon of any kind will easily slip from the vine if raised slightly.

Q. We have eight watermelons of various sizes on two plants. Are there any signs to indicate it is time to bring in a watermelon?

A. Most watermelons don't slip off the vine, as does a Cantaloupe. However, there are things to look for. The stem of the melon will begin to look thinner and less important. The white part where the melon sees no sun will turn yellow. You will hear a hollow sound when you pick up the melon and rap it with your knuckles. Once you hear that hollow sound and taste the ripe watermelon, you'll never forget that hollow sound. One suggestion is to leave it on the vine until it starts to crack down the side.

Q. I'm having problems growing garlic indoors. I'm not sure if I'm watering too much or not enough or if I'm feeding them too much or not enough. Well they are almost dead now. Any suggestions on what I can do to have more control of the situation?

A. Garlic plants need plenty of light, but too much water is bad for most plants. Wait until the soil is turning dry to water. The soil should drain well, too. In a closed soil environment such as a planter, flat, or pot, too much plant food can accumulate and poison the plants. You might try mixing a plant food that is soluble in water for use as a combination feeding and watering solution. That way the food is regular in application without a separate step in watering the plant periodically.

Q. Is it possible to grow white asparagus in a basement? How does the asparagus get moisture if it is always covered?

A. Most plants can grow indoors, given the correct conditions of light, moisture, and temperature. When plans are grown under glass or plastic, the moisture is recycled through condensation on the glass or other covernr, then running down to the soil. In any event, a closed environment will develop a static humidity level over time. This level may be sufficient to maintain a suitable environment for your plants. If the cover is open, monitoring the moisture levels will enable you to add water as needed. Asparagus is a second-year plant, that is, the production for harvest is strong after the first year of growth.

TIP: Kathy advises, "White asparagus is grown by mounding soil up against the stalks as they emerge from the ground, eliminating light."

Q. I would like to grow some tomatoes and peppers in pots. Can somebody tell me what kind of pots I need? I've seen some clay and plastic ones. Some plastic pots have a container or plate on the base. Is clay better than plastic?

A. Plastic pots are a lot better. They are generally less expensive, and don't break from falls. If the plants are going to be in the pots the whole season, get large ones.

Q. Why is it suggested that melons and squash be planted in hills? Would it make any difference if they are planted on level soil?

A. Hills enable the accumulation of friable soil and raise the plants above the surrounding ground to help avoid wet feet for the new plants. Plants that grow large in the manner of melons are hilled rather than planted in rows along furrows. These plants spread out quite a bit. It is less overall work to make the hills than to waste the rows.

A word of caution related to keeping the roots dry also relates to the fruit. Once the fruit (melons/squash) gets large, I suggest you prop them on a board so they don't lay directly in the soil. Slugs or other pests will eat your fruit, or they will rot when in contact with moist soil for too long.

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