Air Date: Week of February 26, 1999
Living On Earth’s Traditional Gardener Michael Weishan has come indoors to help answer listener questions about gardening.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Usually when it comes to gardening, we visit our traditional gardener, Michael Weishan, on his 1850s farmstead. This time we brought him to us here in the studio. Michael, welcome indoors to Living on Earth.
WEISHAN: Glad to be here. It's quite a change.
CURWOOD: Now, we dragged you in here to sunny Cambridge, Massachusetts, to answer some questions from our listeners. How many did you get over this last month, do you think?
WEISHAN: Oh, probably several hundred over the last month. One man wrote us from Nevada and wanted to know why his vegetables all tasted sort of bitter. And we did a bunch of research, and we finally came up with, there might have been a potassium deficiency in the soil, which can actually alter the way foods taste. It's complicated. It's kind of hard diagnosing things from a distance. But we give it a whirl.
CURWOOD: All right. Let's get to some folks who have these questions for us today. Matt Bell lives in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Matt, you there on the line?
BELL: Hi, thanks.
CURWOOD: You have a question for us about hydroponic plants, I understand.
BELL: Well, I've been doing some of that indoors in my apartment. I've been growing some sprouts and herbs. But I've been doing it in small flax baskets, which I like quite a bit. But I've been kind of thinking of upscaling the size a little bit, and I'm not really sure what I should put them in. Because I know they need something that they can root into.
WEISHAN: Well, actually, the seeds themselves can provide the rooting medium. And one of the easiest ways to grow sprouts of almost any type is to take a large jar and put your seeds in, whatever the sprouts, whatever you're starting. And add about a cup of water or so, and let them sit for, oh, I don't know, 3 or 4 hours, and they can soak up that water. And then rinse them out, and place the screening over them, and just fill them up with water again, and obviously you can pour the water right out of the bell jar. And then every day or so you want to go in once or twice and just give them a little rinse and make sure you drain the water. But the seeds themselves actually provide enough of a medium that they can sprout right in a jar like that.
BELL: Well thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
CURWOOD: Oh, well, thank you.
BELL: Yeah, you bet. Take care.
CURWOOD: Let's go to Louisville, Kentucky, now, Michael, where Mark Goldstein has a question for you about tree seeds that he's collecting.
WEISHAN: All righty, Mark, let's hear it.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, here is my question. As I travel and hike with the kids, we've often been in some places where we had opportunities to collect a variety of seeds from different trees and plants, maybe oak or maple. What's the best way to start these seeds at home for our yard?
WEISHAN: Tree seeds are hard to start yourself, because each type of tree is very different.
GOLDSTEIN: Mm hm.
WEISHAN: Some sprout very readily. Some need to sit for a number of years. And some trees, like some of the pines, for instance, are only...the seeds are only activated by fire.
WEISHAN: So, what you really need to do is consult a good book. There's one out by Michael Dirr. It's a little hard to find, but a library would have it. And Dirr, D-I-R-R, called The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. And it sounds like a rather daunting title, but he tells you how to start all these different types of tree seeds.
CURWOOD: Michael, just for our information, how long does it take for, let's say, a little oak tree to go from that acorn to something that you could see?
WEISHAN: Well, it depends on how long it takes the actual acorn or chestnut or whatever it is to sprout. Sometimes they'll sit in dormancy, they won't want to do anything, for up to a year or two, even. But once they actually sprout they grow pretty rapidly. And I remember we've had acorns sprout, as kids, and chestnuts as well, and I think, as a matter of fact, there's a chestnut in my back yard that I threw as a child. You know, we were having a little battle out there with the chestnuts, and it landed and it planted itself, and I'd say that tree is probably now 30 feet high. So --
WEISHAN: They really can march up there pretty quickly.
GOLDSTEIN: Okay, thank you, I appreciate the help.
WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure.
GOLDSTEIN: Okay, take care, Michael.
WEISHAN: Bye bye.
CURWOOD: Michael, our next question is about asparagus. I have to tell you I love asparagus.
WEISHAN: Me, too. My favorite vegetable.
CURWOOD: It comes from Herman Young in Riverdale, Maryland. Herman, are you there?
CURWOOD: So what's your question about asparagus?
YOUNG: Well, my question is, I have a very small yard, and we want to start an asparagus bed. But I had a question about the soil requirements and whether or not it's feasible to have an asparagus bed in a garden box. And how much space do I need for, say, there are only two in the family?
WEISHAN: Well, that's a great question. Let me start with the easiest part first. Asparagus requires very rich soil, and as much organic matter and as much compost as you can possibly do.
WEISHAN: The second easiest part of the question is how much to plant, because I'd say plant as much as you could. At my house we have a 50-foot row of it that's 4 feet wide, and I manage almost single-handedly to eat the entire crop every springtime. Now, granted, it does produce quite a bit. But remember, you can only eat approximately 1 out of every 3 spears, because you have to leave some maybe 2 out of every 3, but you have to leave some for the plant to gain energy for the next year. So you're only harvesting selectively. So it requires a bit of space.
WEISHAN: And it requires very deep soil, which sort of answers the question about the box. Yes, it's possible, but it needs to be about 2 feet deep.
YOUNG: If I enrich the soil deep enough, and then I can just use the box to compensate for the difference?
WEISHAN: Exactly. That's actually how we did it for years. We had a box that was approximately a foot or so tall, and then we dug a foot or so down in the ground, because being in rocky New England that's as far as we could possibly get down.
YOUNG: Yeah, because I have a lot of clay.
WEISHAN: Exactly. The other thing about asparagus is that a bed lasts for about 20 years, so you really want to do it once and do it well and not have to do it again.
YOUNG: That sounds good.
WEISHAN: Thanks so much, Herman.
YOUNG: Sure. Sure. Bye bye.
CURWOOD: I think that does it for this week, Michael. I think that's what we've got for questions. I want to thank you for stopping by.
WEISHAN: Oh, it's been my pleasure.
CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is publisher of the journal Traditional Gardening. And if you have a question for him, you can reach him via our Web site. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. And when you get there, click on the picture of the watering can.
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