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Chat Leftovers: A vegetable gardening twofer

The heat is on, so it’s a good time to think about ice cream. This week in Food, follow Becky Krystal as she visits three local ice cream entrepreneurs who have just turned mobile businesses into bricks-and-mortar storefronts. For those of you who prefer the DIY approach (and have an ice cream maker), we have a batch of terrific recipes.

Also this week, we continue our Ethnic Market Scout series. This time, Vered Guttman explores Eastern European markets, with information about where to find them and what’s on the shelves. Whitney Pipkin talks to famed New York chef-restaurateur Dan Barber about why he has doubts about the farm-to-table movement. And in the latest Canning Class, Cathy Barrow turns fresh apricots into sweet, plump treats that will cheer you in the depths of winter.

That’s quite a lineup, and we also have quite a lineup of guests for today’s Free Range chat. Vered and Cathy will join us, as will Victoria Lai, owner of the soon-to-open Ice Cream Jubilee. Among those three and the usual band of regulars, you’ll be able to get an answer for just about any question on just about any topic you toss our way.

If time allows, that is. As usual, we have just an hour, so get your questions in early. The action starts at noon sharp.

Can’t wait? Then here’s an amuse-bouche: a couple of unanswered questions from last week’s chat. Usually I tackle just one, but since I had two vaguely similar queries and a well-qualified expert on the phone, I decided to double up. Here goes:

I pulled my first eggplant off the plant yesterday. Unfortunately, it had brown scarring on the body. From research online, it looks like this is caused by tiny bugs called thrips, but I can’t find out whether the damage is only cosmetic. Is the eggplant still edible?

I planted zucchini in my garden, and the plants have taken over the yard. I have several blossoms but no fruit. The plant and blossoms are healthy and won’t stop growing, so what’s wrong?

I’ve planted a lot of eggplant and zucchini in my life, and I have experienced every gardening failure known to man and woman, but that doesn’t qualify me as an expert. However, an expert clearly was needed for these questions, so I went in search of one at the best place I could think of: a local extension service office.

And there in the Fairfax County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension was extension agent Adria Bordas, who had some advice.

First, the battle-scarred eggplant. “With thrips, the damage is mostly cosmetic. Personally, I would peel it and eat it,” Bordas said. “Unless there’s so much injury on it that it’s tough.”

There’s one qualifier. “Sometimes thrips carry certain strains of plant viruses,” she said. Those wouldn’t be problematic for a normally healthy person. But in rare cases — say, for someone with a compromised immune system — it might be wiser not to press your luck.

With that, Bordas proceeded gamely into the zucchini realm.

Here’s the deal: If you grow zucchini, you probably know that the plant generates two types of flowers, male and female. The male flowers pollinate the female flowers, and the female flowers develop into the squash you’re yearning for.

What happens, Bordas says, is that the male flowers appear first. “That way the pollen is around for the bees to pollinate the female flowers,” she says. As usual, nature has it all planned out. There’s no point in having the female flowers bloom early, when there’s less chance they’ll be pollinated. So the males get a pretty good head start.

To confirm that that’s what’s happening in your garden, check to see what the blooms look like. The males are on longer, slender stems. The females have a swollen spot at the base of the bloom that will develop into a squash if the blossom is fertilized. I wouldn’t be surprised if those early blooms that have been disappointing you by failing to turn into zucchini are all males. Your problem will correct itself.

Once again, good things come to those who wait.

For those of you who are about to be blessed with an eggplant or zucchini bounty, see below for a list of recipes from our Recipe Finder that will help you put the crop to good use. And there are plenty more where those came from.



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