Garden partners -- 1-13-14

This week’s picture is of some of the 2013 tomatoes grown by Michael Maginnis, who planted more than a dozen varieties in his raised-bed garden last year. To enlarge the picture, click on it.)

It was late July of 1980 and Washington County was in the middle of a heat wave, so my wife and I weeded our large vegetable garden in the steamy twilight. She was two weeks past her due date for our first child, so instead of bending over to weed, she scooted down the rows on her behind, pulling weeds and sweating in the sun’s last light. (I did some work, too,)

Later that night her water broke and we drove to the hospital, over bumpy back roads because I was afraid we might be delayed at a train crossing. The next day, after writing a newspaper headline that said, “no end to drought in sight,” the rains came and I had to walk across King Street in ankle-deep water.

But my wet feet didn’t affect mother and child and 33 years later, he’s become a gardener, too. But he and his wife have a beautiful 8-month-old baby girl, so he’s a busy guy. This week, as we were taking a load of trash to the dump, he asked me if I could help him with his garden this year.

What he doesn’t need help with is a lot of heavy labor -- which at 64 I’m not as well-equipped to provide as I once was -- but knowledge and research ability. Babies demand a lot of looking after and while he’s doing that, my role will be to look at the best practices for growing different kinds of vegetables.

For example, last year his winter squash were hurt by squash vine borers. Crop rotation and choosing resistant varieties -- butternuts, mostly -- are two methods, but Mother Earth News says one organic method is to surround the plants with small yellow pails of water that will draw and drown the orange and black hawk moths, which are attracted by the yellow color.

Some of this research I’ll have to do myself, looking at the web sites of extension services of many states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some I know because for five years I worked with Maryland Extension Agents Larry Dell and Rick Heflebower to produce a weekly lawn and garden column for The Hagerstown, Md., Herald-Mail. If you hear an expert talk often enough, you’re bound to remember some of what he says.

The first thing we’ll do is a soil test. Because my son lives in Franklin County, Pa., I contacted Penn State Extension, which has an office on Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg, Pa. I’ll try to pick up a soil test kit within the next week. We might have to wait a bit to do the test because an agent told me in an e-mail that the cold could affect the nitrogen reading.

Another avenue we’ll explore is container gardening. Because my son’s lot is small, a few containers on the porch could provide additional space to grow herbs and even some vegetables, such as corn, which aren’t usually thought of as suitable for small-pot growing.

That’s it for our plans, although a few things remain up in the air. Will we (my son’s parents) have our own garden or just work on his, which is about a half an hour away? It depends on how energetic we are when it’s time to plow.

For now, let me share some tips that we got my mother-in-law:

-- Use small bits of aluminum foil wrapped around tomato seedlings’ stems to protect against cutworms, which will chew through the tender plants.

-- Place empty soda bottles, with their bottoms cut off, on top of stakes to keep birds from landing there. They don’t like the shine and the movement, apparently.

-- When “hardening off” plants outside, place the flat of plants on the sunny side of the house, next to a brick wall. The reflected heat will encourage growth.

-- Potatoes are a lot of work, for a yield that sometimes weighs no more than the seed potatoes you planted. Look for someone local who grows them and has figured out how to it well and buy from them.

-- And here’s one of my own -- If you have children, plant Sugar Snap edible-pod peas. My children loved them, so much so that when we walked past the garden, they asked me to pick them off the trellis, hollering, “Beans, Daddy, beans.”

(Did you enjoy this column? If you have suggestions or constructive criticism, please e-mail Feel free to use a “pen name” or nickname when you are sharing.)


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