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All Past Questions and Answers Library   |   June 2010

This month's questions concern:

Broccoli Has Hollow Stems
Flowers That Can Take High Heat
Dividing Wild Iris in the Spring
Get Rid Of Ants In Compost Pile
Black Hamburg Grapes Sour Not Sweet

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Broccoli Has Hollow Stems

Question:  I cut the main stems on my broccoli plants and found that many of centers of the stems are hollow. Once they have been cut, most of them will then rot before I get any side shoots. What is going on and how can I prevent the hollow stems?

 Robert Ellison, Columbus, OH, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Robert! Well, it sounds like you have two different problems going on.

Usually when you see hollow stems on broccoli they are caused by rapid growth, and it's a fairly common problem.

The rotting however is usually caused by a nutrient deficiency.

To fix the hollow centers, try spacing your broccoli plants six inches (15 cm) apart to try and slow the growth which will help prevent the hollow centers of the stems from forming.

The stem rot is often caused by a boron or calcium deficiency and isn't necessarily related to the hollow centers.

If you have not done so, get a soil test to see if you have any soil nutrient problems. If you do, spray or sprinkle a solution of one ounce (28 g) of Borax per gallon (3.7 liters) of water for every 8 to 10 plants just before the broccoli heads form.

Calcium deficiency is usually caused by irregular watering. Try to even out your watering practices so your plants get regular even water and that will help tremendously.

Good luck with your next crop!

Question #2:  Flowers That Can Take High Heat

Question:  Hello. Please give me some recommendations and suggestions for flowers I can plant that can survive in a hot climate in an open area. Thank you.

 Andrew, Riyadh,Kingdom of Sudi Arabia


ANSWER:  Hi Andrew! Actually I wrote an entire article about this very topic. It's called High Heat Flowers, and it lists more than 25 flowering plants that do well in extremely hot, dry, conditions as well as moderate temperatures.

You can read it here: High Heat Flowers For Hot Summer Areas

I know you'll find a few things that will do well in your area. Thanks for the question!

Question #3:  Dividing Wild Iris in the Spring

Question:  Hi! I have wild iris's that arrived one day in my front yard! I was so excited when they bloomed and now it's been several years and they have started to show signs of overcrowding. Alaskan winters are so hard on plants I'm afraid to try and split them up after they bloom, can I do this spring?

 Randy Berg, Soldotna, AK, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Randy! Yes, waiting for your area might be prudent.

Usually you divide iris right after flowering is complete, and no later than mid-summer. We normally do it then because at that time the plant has a brief dormancy period. In your area however, that could be a problem as it would delay the plant settling in properly before your cold weather hits.

You can divide iris in early spring, but just keep in mind that dividing the plant then can delay flowering until the following year. The good news is your plants will probably survive better doing it this way, the bad news is that you might go without their beautiful flowers for a year.

There is often a trade off isn't there! Good luck!

Question #4:  Get Rid Of Ants In Compost Pile

Question:  In our compost bin, there are ants' larvae and cocoons. We would like to know if we can spread safely the ground into the border. Would the larvae then die? We do not want new ant colonies all over the border. Thank you so much.

 Archie, Edinburgh, Scotland


ANSWER:  Hi Archie! This is a great question. I don't know what kind of ants you have (fire, wood, etc.) but the following steps will help you get rid of the ants naturally and organically.

First of all, keep in mind that ants tend to find their way to the compost pile because it is warm and protected. Some people like ants in their compost because they say that they are a beneficial influence bringing bacteria and fungi that will help in the decomposition process.

I am not one of those people and I really don't like ants of any kind in my compost bin!

1. Keep your compost pile moist. If it gets too dry, ants will set up house because they like warm, dry areas. That said, in arid areas, ants get in the compost because it is wet and they like the water.

2. Therefore, make sure to turn the compost regularly to expose the ants to the open air and break up their nests. Disturbing them while wetting the area will encourage them to move on.

Note: when doing this, wrap some sticky tape or Vaseline around the lower part of the handle of your pitchfork to keep the ants from climbing up the handle and getting on you.

3. Sprinkle corn meal or dry cream of wheat around the compost pile. The ants will take it back to their nest and eat it. They can't digest cornmeal or cream of wheat and the cereal will swell up inside them and kill them.

4. Place commercial organic ant traps such as sticky traps around the edges your compost bin to prevent ants from returning to the compost pile once you get it cleaned up.

Ants aren't hard to get rid of, but once you get them out, you'll want to keep them out!

June 4, 2010, Archie's Reply: Thank you so much for so much useful info about ants. However my question is different as we are asking if it the larvae / cocoons will survive once spread in the flower bed. We would be very grateful if you could answer this question.
Archie, Edinburgh, Scotland

June 4, 2010, Weekend Gardener's Reply: Hi again Archie! OK - sorry about that. I thought you were more concerned about the ants themselves. If you spread the compost out the larvae and pupae should die because they need to be fed and tended to by the adults. I think you are safe by spreading out your compost. If for some reason you see ants coming into areas where you have spread your compost, then follow up with the cornmeal or dry cream of wheat at suggested above. I hope this answers your question!

Question #5:  Black Hamburg Grapes Sour Not Sweet

Question:  I have a Vitis Frankenthaler ('Black Hamburg' Grape) which has been growing very well for four years now. But the fruits it produces are sour not sweet. What could I do to the plant to improve the fruit? Many Thanks.

 Aslaug Skuladottir, Seltjarnarnesi, Iceland


ANSWER:  Hi Aslaug! Vitis Frankenthaler also known as Vitis vinifera Black Hamburg (Frankenthaler) Grape is a great vine to grow for edible fruit and is often used as a dessert grape.

For the most part it is one of the easiest grapes to grow, but it also needs a long growing season with ample heat to successfully produce sweet fruit.

It has a general requirement of a well-drained, fertile alkaline soil in full sun to partial shade, and it needs a cold dormancy period in winter which in your area, I'm sure it gets.

But these grapes also have a high heat requirement and will only set fruit outdoors after a long, hot summer.

They also need to be pruned every year for good health, vigor and flowering.

To me, it sounds as though you're doing everything right, but perhaps the plants are just not getting enough heat to get the sugar content up. They are staying too acidic.

To fix this you could move the plants into a greenhouse, or move them against a south or south-west facing wall.

The only way to really ensure good grapes would be in a greenhouse where the vines would get enough heat and light to set freely, and produce the large bunches of dark red or purple grapes they are known for.

Once you get these grapes happy and they are producing just as you want them to, they will produce for you for decades. At the moment, it's just a matter of finding a location that will make them happy so they can grow and produce properly. I know you can do that!

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