Q: My home-grown home-stored Irish potatoes have a sweet taste. What is wrong?
A: Potatoes stored at too low a temperature (below 40 degrees F) become sweet because the starch is converted to sugar. If sweetening occurs, one to three weeks at ordinary room temperature restores the natural flavor.
Stored at 50 to 60 degrees they have better texture, color and flavor when cooked, but sprout if not used within two or three weeks.
The freezing point of potatoes is 29 degrees and they completely break down when thawed.
Q: I've read that if one wants superior flowering plants one should use superphosphate. No one seems to know what I am asking for. Can you tell me where I can find it?
A: Superphosphate is a form of phosphorus which is essential for plant growth. A complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 contains 5 per cent nitrogen, 10 per cent phosphorus and 5 per cent potash. Usually the phosphate is superphosphate or triple-super.
The tag or label on the bag of fertilizer tells the story. If it says "Available Phosphoric Acid" it comes mainly from superphosphate, ammoniated superphosphate, and concentraed superphosphate (double or treble).
The way to find out for sure whether you need phosphorus is to have your soil tested. It can be done (usually free) at the state university. Contact your county extension agent, listed under the county government.
Superphosphate alone can be purchased at most large garden supply stores as 0-20-0.
Phosphorus encourages root growth, especially lateral and fibrous rootlets, increases disease resistance and hastens flowering and fruiting. It is one of the primary plant nutrients.
It becomes mostly unavailable if the soil is too acid (pH 5.0 or below) or too alkaline (pH above 7.5).
Phosphorus moves very slowly downward in the soil and even slower sideways. Movement is so slow, infact, phosphorus applied to the soil surface may not penetrate deep enough to do any good for years.
That is why it is so important to dig phosphorus in and mix it with the soil down in the root zone.
Phosphorus is important for vegetable gardens. It encourages root development and speeds maturity. Tomatoes particularly are seriously affected by a deficiency of phosphorus. This is especially true if the shortage occurs during early growth.
Q: This question is about the viability of seeds stored under proper conditions. As they get older, is it true that fewer will germinate, or, that those which do germinate will produce vegetable plants that will be less productive than those grown from newer seeds?
A: The recommendation by specialists for the average gardener is, "It is best not to use vegetable or flower seeds more than 1 year old - if you do, sow the seeds thicker than usual to insure a good stand of plants."
Stored properly, the seeds remain viable for several years, the length of time varying with the species. For certain reasons, some of the same batch may not stay viable as long as others, and some may germinate but the plants may not be good ones. However, these can be pulled up and only the good ones allowed to remain.
Q: Is there much of a trick to growing gourds? I think I'd like to grow some this year if it is practical.
A: Gourds are fairly easy to grow from seed. Plant the seed outdoors ofter danger of frost is over in a place where the plants will get full sun. The vines do best on a fence, arbor or trellins.
Harvesting the gourds should wait until the stems start to turn brown or the leaves start to die. The colors will hold much better if the gourds are picked soon after ripening and stored in a dry, shady place. Gourds picked before they are mature are likely to rot.
Q: I'd like to plant some of the late-blooming azaleas, those that bloom in late May, but I'd like to see what the flowers look like before buying them. Will that be too late in the season to plant them?
A: Azaleas can be planted successfully almost any time of the year. April and May are the best times while midsummer and late fall and winter are the worst times.
Q: When the cold wind comes howling and temperatures dip way down during winter, it seems to me we should have some kind of windbreak. What is best?
A. Tests of wind currents by use of smoke show that wind flows in nearly the same manner as water.
A fence can be used for wind control but design and construction may result in varying effects. A solid fence acts like a dam and spills the wind over the top. The addition of a baffle on top permits the wind to flow over more gently.
A lath fence with laths spaced a lath width apart diffuses and breaks up the force of the wind.
Hedges and other plantings react in the same manner as the lath fence; they break the force of the wind and diffuse it instead of pushing it over the top.
Usually a headge is more effective against wind than a wall or fence. The more dense the foliage, the better the protection.
Cold air, like water, flows downward and settles at the lowest point. In the average yard, frost pockets can be eliminated by a gate in the hedge or fence on the lower side of a slope. The oldest air will flow out through the gate.
Curved plantings of evergreen trees and shrubs in the form of a high hedge can guide winter winds around and away from the home.