- From the sweet, sweet summertime studios of Univest at Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, PA., it is time for another inflation-fighting episode of chemical-free horticultural hijinks, You Bet Your Garden.
Prices for fresh produce are predicted to continue to rise rapidly.
Are you ready to fight back?
I'm Mike McGrath, and on today's show, we'll help you grow more of your own fresh food, this time featuring the unsurpassed crops of summer.
Plus your unsurpassed phone call questions, comments, tips, tricks, suggestions, and curiously concise condemnations.
So keep your eyes and/or ears right here, cats and kittens, because it's all coming up faster than you picking your perfect tomato as we proceed to take your fabulous phone calls at... - Ken, welcome to You Bet Your Garden.
- Hi, Ken.
How are you?
- Pretty good.
- And where is Ken pretty good?
- At an area...outside of Bath, Pennsylvania.
- Very good.
What can we do for you, sir?
- Well, the fruit on my fruit trees are not maturing.
The apples and the pears are about as big as a golf ball.
And the cherries are as big as a pea.
- With the apples, to get full-size apples, you have to do what's called "thinning the fruit".
You have to take off at least half of those little marbles when they're about marble-size.
And that will allow the tree to push the others to full size.
Now, what you're telling me about the cherries and, what, the pears, that's unusual.
There's something going wrong here.
So, how much sun do these trees get?
- They are pretty well in the sun.
Are they mulched or fed throughout the season?
- What are they mulched with?
- Oh, horse manure.
Ding, ding, ding!
That didn't take long.
Horse manure is high in nitrogen.
It will inhibit flowering and fruiting.
That's the worst thing you could put around the fruit tree.
So get rid of the horse manure as soon as possible.
Leave the base of the tree, the area underneath the tree naked, and you will get much better results.
But remember, you have to pick off half the baby apples to get big apples.
- All right, good luck to you, Ken.
- Thank you very much.
- My pleasure.
Number to call... Peggy, welcome to You Bet Your Garden.
- Thank you.
Nice to be here.
- It's nice to have you here, Peg, how are you doing?
- Not bad.
- Okay, and where is Peggy not bad?
- In Rocky River, Ohio, right outside of Cleveland.
- What can we do you for?
- Well, I bought a house.
It'll be four summers ago, I bought it.
And it's got a lovely bed of ferns in a flower bed in the backyard.
- Oh, yeah!
Ferns are always beautiful.
- They are, but they have this habit of, like, growing out into the lawn.
- And that's... - That's what ferns do, Peg.
Well, so what I've been doing to combat that, well, I don't combat it, I just, you know, I watch it happen, and then, I go outside and I dig them up, which is a little bit difficult.
And I'm not getting any younger, you know, none of us are.
So I go down and I dig them out, and I get way down into the grass and find what I think I've learned from your show is called a runner, I think that's what it is.
- It's really hard-budded.
But I cut them out, and then, I try to give them to people.
- Oh, God!
- My neighbors don't want them anymore.
- You're the Typhoid Mary of horticulture, you know?
- Well, the neighbors know not to take them.
They know that.
But, you know...
It just seems like a sin to throw them away.
But that's not the problem.
I want to know, because I've been listening to you about that flamethrower thing, and I've been looking at them on the Internet.
Because I intend to buy one for just my regular weeds.
Will that thing work on ferns?
No, the problem with ferns is the underground parts are highly interlocked.
Those rhizomes down there are thick, and they get, like, almost metal-like, and they are slow but aggressive growers.
Their goal in this world is to keep moving forward and backwards, and sideways on both sides.
And they are difficult to control.
Now, I'll tell you right now, I don't know how old you are, but trying to dig up the rhizomes of ferns gets old fast.
What I would suggest you do is you hire a landscaper, or you discuss this at your local independent garden center.
Maybe they have a crew that can come out and do this, but they would dig a small trench and install what's called rhizome barrier.
It's what's used to control running bamboo, and it has to go down deeply.
It has to be installed correctly.
But after that, the ferns will stay on the other side.
Now what I do when my ferns get out of control is I just weed-whack them a couple of times a summer.
- Oh, okay!
And then, like, you know, I found two rose plants I had forgotten about that they had engulfed and, you know, finally saw the roses on them.
But yeah, they're aggressive.
You'd have to hire somebody with a backhoe, really, to get all of that root system out.
- All right!
Hey, Mike, thank you!
I appreciate it.
- Oh, it's my pure pleasure, Peg.
You take care and have a good season.
- You too.
Phone number to call... And now, we have an unusual occasion.
We have a return caller to further discuss the Japanese maple of his that I insulted about 1,600 ways.
Joe, welcome back to You Bet Your Garden.
- Hi, Mike.
Thank you very much, it's great to be here.
- And remind us where you live.
- I live in Aston, Pennsylvania.
- Now, when last we spoke, you had sent us a picture of what looked like Cousin It on his deathbed.
I mean, it was...you asked me what I thought, and I said, "if I was your neighbor, I'd set the thing on fire," you know, just...
But now, as our TV viewers are seeing, you've sent us a picture of that shrub in bloom.
And it looks very nice.
- Thanks, Mike.
Now, I have a couple of questions for you, because you said you planted two of these things at once.
And in quick succession, let's say.
- And in one of the photos you sent, where we see the top of the A-frame of your house, we see Cousin It down on the right.
But what looks like a full-size tree, Japanese maple, on the left of at least the photo.
- No, that came with the house.
Yes, it was on the left side, and it's a regular Japanese maple, and these ones on the right are what they call dwarf maples, or miniature Japanese maples.
- Right, right.
- ...old Japanese maples out here.
- Yeah, it's a very unusual cultivar.
I was not really familiar with it, but I had suggested it was a "weeping" variety, because it almost looks like the habit of those plants that are, you know, almost, like, have a head of hair heading down towards the ground.
So we only see one here, or do we see both?
- You're seeing one, looking at the A-frame of the house.
There was another, there were two other pictures taken from the house, from the front of the house behind them, where you could see two.
And you could actually see the hanging planters, as well, emanating from the upper part of the one that's nearest the street.
- I see one with a bell, with a bell on a little pole.
Now, are these two things vastly different sizes?
- Not anymore.
Although what's strange about it, Mike, is the one that's nearest the bell is taller, and the one closer to the street is flatter, by at least a foot, in comparison with the other.
- Now I see there are bird feeders of some sort over top of the little guy.
Are they hummingbird feeders, or are they seed feeders?
- That's the one, that's the one... That's the one that we're talking about.
The rod iron hanger.
They're so distant.
I don't blame you, Mike, for not being able to make them out.
But there are two heart-shaped... - Oh, okay!
And they had gotten engulfed.
So, did you do anything after we spoke, other than consult your lawyer, you know?
- No, no, no, no.
I haven't done anything except go out there and study it a little bit more and see what I'm going to do.
And I've made a decision, but I want to hear what you have to say.
What I decided, Mike, maybe you like this, but I instead of cutting those branches, I want to cut the little branches that emanate from those branches so I can slide them off.
And I want to see if there's any bend to them, so I don't have to cut them all.
And maybe you'll agree with that.
- I would, if anything, suggest pruning back the bigger one, the one closer to that bell in about two weeks after all chance of frost is gone, and they start growing out again.
And I would try to make it closer in size to the little guy and encourage the little guy to grow until maybe they can become kind of matching.
As to the metals that are trapped inside the little guy, you try to get that out at your own risk, you could severely damage the plant.
- Thank you so much.
I have my marching orders.
- I know what I've got to do, and I'll be very careful about it.
- Well, thank you, Joe, and thank you for being such a great sport.
I really enjoyed that call.
- Oh, Mike, we love you here, so no harm, no foul.
Trust me, and I'll be listening to you always.
And thanks once again.
So you'll be helping other people, I imagine.
Well, thank you, Joe.
And you have a good season, man.
Matt, welcome to You Bet Your Garden.
- Well, thanks for having me.
- Well, thanks for being had, Matt.
How are you doing?
- I'm doing very good, getting ready for a second winter here at Spokane, Washington.
How many winters a year do you have?
- Oh, usually two, but this January, we had our false spring and it's just getting cold again now.
- All right.
What can we do for you?
- Well, I have about 140 feet of privet on the east side of my house.
And it's been poorly cared-for for about 20 years because I planted it 20 years ago and haven't been caring for it very well.
- Recently, due to some construction, I ended up chopping back one end of the privet pretty harshly, just so I could get some equipment in and out.
And that privet of seems to be healthier and looking better than the rest of the entire row.
So I'm wondering, as the spring's coming on here, what's the best thing I can do?
How far back can I cut 20-year-old privet?
- Well, tell me what you did with this section.
If you say you were moving construction equipment across, you had to chop it down to the ground?
Well, actually, it was just so I could swing some stuff around above it, so it cut down from about a six-foot height to maybe about three feet.
- And then, while I was at it, I cut it back from, it was about three-foot wide, and I probably cut it back to easily a foot wide.
And I did that over a course of a couple of cuttings, so the first time I cut it, probably there was still a lot of greenery on it.
And then, the second time I cut it, some of the new greenery had already started popping up on the other side.
- Okay, that's a good sign.
What time of year did you do this?
- This would have been probably a late summer.
- Late summer.
Well, you're lucky that this is a very aggressive plant, man, because you did everything wrong.
What you're talking about is called rejuvenation-pruning, which is when a plant has gotten out of hand, you have to make sure it's going to grow back.
But you've ascertained that already, and you say the new growth looks as good or better than the old growth.
- Looks much better than the old growth.
- The old growth was probably getting really woody.
- Yeah, some of the stocks on the old growth are over an inch-and-a-half wide in diameter.
- Yeah, and now you've got nice new growth, it'll probably fill in better, even.
Wait till this last winter's over.
Wait till spring is there in full force.
You know, all the daffodils are up and everything like that, and then, go out and do it.
This is a massive job, though.
You're probably going to have to do sections at a time.
- Oh, definitely.
- And I mean at a time, meaning over courses of years.
- Yes, and I'd be ready to do that, too, because I don't want to risk harming it or killing it.
But I do love the idea of it being green and vibrant, instead of, kind of, pale green and sparse.
- And then, when you're finally done with this project, every spring, get out there and just give it a haircut.
Just get rid of branches that are poking up or out.
Let it rejuvenate enough so it gets a little larger than what you've done.
But to begin with, continue exactly what you've done in terms of height.
- All right, man?
- That sounds great.
- All right.
Well, good luck to you, sir.
- Thanks for putting my mind at ease.
- My mind's been at ease since 1965.
- All right.
Good luck, Matt.
- Thank you.
- As promised, perhaps the only promise we always keep, it is time for the Question of the Week, which is another episode of Fighting Produce-flation, this time with an emphasis on tomatoes and peppers.
Truth be told, you'll save more money and better protect yourself against store shortages by growing crops that produce the biggest bounty per square foot, like peas and leafy greens in spring, and beans in the summer.
You'll also get better-quality peas and green beans than you would in any produce section, as these crops have to be hand-harvested and are often left on the vine much too long in commercial growing.
But when you grow your own, you can pick them young and enjoy them the same day.
Just bite into one out in the field.
So, instead of getting the equivalent of the $0.99 a pound string beans that are tough and stringy, you'll be picking them young and slender, the kind that sells for four times as much at the market.
You've really never tasted a super sweet snow pea, snap pea, or sublimely tasty green bean until you grow your own.
Tomatoes, depends on how much room you have.
The super tasty and often heirloom indeterminate types need to be restrained inside a two-foot diameter cage made of welded wire, with a foot of open space all around for airflow, or the equivalent.
No chicken wire!
Better-behaved determinant or bush varieties will produce more fruits in much less space.
Some of the newer dwarf bush types, like my new favorite, Tasmanian Chocolate, have a flavor that often rivals the massively vined-in determinants, and yet they can be grown in a medium to large-size container.
I will personally continue to grow a couple of the indeterminants, if only for bragging rights.
The sunset-colored beauty of a Striped Marvel, the naturally smoky flavor of a Black Krim, or the sheer massiveness of a Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter, tomatoes the size of a child's head!
You should grow a few of these as well, especially if you have a lot of garden space, because these tomatoes are art, not commerce.
Biting into one fresh in the field is like taking a bite of summer itself.
But let's go back to saving money.
I always grow a lot of paste tomatoes, sometimes called plum, sauce, or Roma, with the goal of putting up enough tomato sauce to last me through the following year's harvest.
Paste Tomatoes have few seeds and little juice, making them ideal for this kind of preservation.
Be sure to also grow lots of basil and/or oregano to go into that sauce.
A finished pint of which makes a great gift.
Roma is the original paste tomato.
San Marzano, or the improved Super San Marzano, also makes excellent sauce.
And new in my garden this year is Ukrainian Purple, described as plum-shaped purple red fruits with excellent flavor.
Now I just discovered that they're indeterminate, as is San Marzano, so they will need to be caged.
Romas, however, are well behaved determinant varieties.
Check the days to maturity listing before you fall in love with a specific tomato.
Some of the best heirloom varieties take a long season to produce their first fruits, while determinants ripen up in much less time.
If you're located on a line from where I live, in eastern PA, west to the Rockies, or anywhere further north in the mid-Atlantic, be realistic and don't try and grow 110-day tomato!
It's the same with peppers.
The classic big, blocky sweet bell pepper you see in markets is California Wonder, or a very similar variety.
This heirloom pepper plant tops out at around two feet, but the fruits are heavy and require strong support.
Although yellow and orange varieties are available, the classic California Wonder ripens to red 80 days after transplant, not 80 days after seeding, 80 days from the time you transplant two-month-old seedlings into warm soil.
And that's just for the first one to ripen up.
So be seasonally conscious when you buy your seeds.
Other sweet peppers worth growing are the non-bell-shaped Gypsy, Marconi, and the elongated Italian Frying Peppers.
For short seasons or container gardens, I highly recommend varieties in the mini-bell family, like Baby Bell and Yum Yum, which ripens up a mere 55 days after transplant.
Sometimes called snacking peppers, the plants produce their tasty treats early and often.
Big note number one, most of us who start our plants from seed tend to do it all at once.
Well, I used to, anyway.
Despite the fact that most plants tend to grow at different rates.
An extreme example is peppers versus tomatoes.
Tomatoes being started from seed grow tall faster than any other plant I know, requiring the seed starter to constantly adjust their grow lights.
Peppers prefer much warmer bottom heat to germinate, and then, they grow slowly, making them frustratingly small at planting time.
I will personally attempt to rectify this issue by starting my peppers earlier than ever.
I typically start all my plants when the Philadelphia Flower Show ends, which will be March 12th this year.
And that's when I will start my tomatoes.
But to try and get an earlier harvest, I'm going to start pepper seeds around February 1st, which means I've already done it, and I have.
At least they'll be a decent size when they go outside.
I'd say that leaves only hot peppers to discuss in depth, but it also leaves out eggplant, potatoes, onions, which have really skyrocketed in price lately.
Herbs and lots of other stuff.
So right now, I'm torn.
Should I do one more article on how to choose the best varieties for you and your family?
Or direct you to our vast archive of articles at the Gardens Alive website to find that information and move on to a different topic?
Stay tuned for the bat answer, cats and kittens, same bat channel, same time.
Well, that sure was some timely advice about the many types of tomatoes and peppers, now, wasn't it?
Luckily for yous, the Question of the Week appears in print at the Gardens Alive website.
To read it over at your leisure or your leisure, just click the link for the Question of the Week at our website, which is still and will forever be... Gardens Alive supports the You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week, and you will always find the latest Question of the Week at the Gardens Alive website.
You Bet Your Garden is a half hour public television show, an hour-long public radio show and podcast, all produced and delivered to you strongly every week from the Univest Studios at Lehigh Valley Public Media, in Bethlehem, P.A.
Our radio show is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.
You Bet Your Garden was created by Mike McGrath.
Mike McGrath was created by the Substitute Legion of Super-Heroes, who promptly named him Chlorophyll Kid.
My producer is threatening to poach my peppers if I don't get out of this studio.
We must be out of time.
But you can call us anytime at... Or send us your email, as long as you include your location, your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse, as long as you include your location, teeming towards our garden shore at... Oh, and by the way, please include your location?
I'm your host, Mike McGrath, and I'll be living and dying with my Eagles tomorrow, and then, I'll need a week of recovery until I can see you again.
Hey, come on.
Those grease poles are hard to climb at my age.
And don't forget, it's a Philly thing.