Q: We have mushrooms growing in our lawn. They look like those sold at they store. Can they be eaten? Where did they come from?
A: In medieval times people believed mushrooms sprang up in rings where fairies danced at night. The ancient Romans thought they appeared from earth after lightning struck. The Aztecs of Mexico credited them with magical powers.
Some may be eaten. But specialists sound a word of caution about the gathering of wild mushrooms, however. Many poisonous species grow side by side with edible specimens, and there is no simple test to distinguish one from the other.
By far the best policy is not to eat them. Individuals react very differently to the toxic chemicals produced by mushrooms.
One person may eat a certain mushroom with no ill effects while another may be severe nausea and intestinal distress.
The mushroom is a fungus and they occur naturally under certain conditions. Many types are important to the environment because they aid in decomposition of organic debris such as leaves, grass and trees. Without them, this debris would accumulate and cause serious problems.
Q: Last fall we had to prune a limb from our white dogwood tree. The limb was approximately two inches in diameter. After pruning we applied a wound dressing to the cut. The sap did not seep through last fall. This spring the sap drips continually from the end of the limb. We reapplied the wound dressing.It did not stop the sap. Can you suggest anything that will help?
A: The dogwood, like grape vines and certain maples, is a heavy bleeder. The bleeding does little or no harm, it is mostly water. It starts after the tree breaks dormancy in the spring and continues until the tree is well covered with foliage and growth slows down somewhat. If there is plenty of water available in the soil, bleeding with be heavier than when the soil is deficient in moisture.
Application of a wound dressing will not stop bleeding. In fact, the wound dressing will not adhere if applied to the wood when it is wet.
If your tree is weakened, the best thing you can do for it is water it thoroughly during prolonged dry weather, and fertilize it in late November or nearly December when it becomes dormant.
Q: I am growing the long, thick, red peppers to make a pepper string. They are growing nicely and some are turning red. How do I dry them? Do I let them dry on the vine, in the oven or by hanging?
A: They should be allowed to ripen on the plant. They turn red when ripe. They may then be cut, with one inch of stem, strung on a thread, and hung in a sunny place until dry and brittle. Use a sharp knife for cutting as stems are tough.
A: My husband is planning to use blacktop to make a parking area under our maple tree. Is there any possibility this could be harmful to the tree?
A: Blacktop changes the microclimate around tree roots. It excludes air vital to the roots, prevents the soil from soaking up rainfall, and it may be difficult for the roots to get the fertilizer you may wish to apply. There is also the possibility heat retained by the blacktop surface may cook the roots.
Yet, trees are known to survive the blacktop at least for a period of time. It is better if only half the root area is blacktopped. Most maples usually have roots over a wide area. About 6 inches of organic matter beneath the blacktop and over the root system will help prevent compaction of soil by cars that use it.
Q:Is there any way to keep birds from ruining my peaches? They are just starting to get ripe.
A: When all else failed, a farmer frightened the birds away by hanging a transistor radio in the branches and turning up rock and roll music, according to the August issue of Organic Gardening and Farming.
"I turned the radio to a station that plays that wild music 24 hours straight," the farmer said. "I kept the radio on for three days and the birds flew away, and they haven't returned."
Q: Please tell me how to clean and sterilize old clay pots so they can be used again?
A: Scrub them with a stiff brush and warm soapy water. If there are spots of encrusted fertilizer salts, scrape them off with a knife or steel wool. To sterilize, soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Before using new clay pots, soak them in water for about six hours.Otherwise they will absorb a lot of water after potting, preventing the plant from getting its share.