Cockroaches offer benefit to compost

Cockroaches in a compost pile, bees in the trees and planting gourds were some of the topics I dealt with this week.

Q: How can I get rid of cockroaches in my compost pile? I am adverse to chemicals.

A: Here’s when garden cockroaches are beneficial! They are helping you compost. They have no desire to enter your home and if they do, soon die.

Q: What do I do with this mass of bees in my tree?

A: They are simply passing through searching for a new home. The queen alighted in your tree for the night. Worker bees amass around her to protect her and will soon move on in search of a permanent residence. Many people are allergic to bee stings. If you swat, injure or kill one, it will release an airborne chemical resulting in an aggressive attack from every bee in the vicinity. Avoid this at all costs.

Richard Hicks, a beekeeper, says just about all hives he’s examined had African bees mixed in with the local bees.

Q: Can we still plant gourds?

A: Plant them before July. They’re fun to grow. For best results, amend the soil and give them plenty of sunlight. If you have a small lot, grow them on trellises.

Q: Why do the green fruits on my container-grown tomatoes have brown bottoms?

A: You have what we call blossom-end rot — a calcium deficiency. Because you are using manufactured soil, which lacks calcium, add calcium such as gypsum to stop further problems. Our soils have plenty of calcium in them.

Q: How do I get rid of powdery mildew on my squash without using fungicide?

A: Try one of these three ideas: Make a solution of 1 part milk to 9 parts water and spray plants weekly; or use neem, extracted from neem tree seeds from India. To demonstrate its safeness, Indian people make toothpicks from the tree to clean their teeth and it’s used in medical products. Or use 3 teaspoons of baking soda in a gallon of water, but apply with caution as it can injure plants.

Q: Last year, a company sprayed my olive tree and said I won’t have any more olives but it’s now loaded. What happened?

A: There was a miscommunication as the product is only effective for one season and even then can guarantee only an 80 percent control. The olive is a bushy plant, which makes it impossible to get the olive preventer on every leaf where pollen originates. The companies must use high-powered sprayers to accomplish this task and it must be done at the right time. Thin out trees next year to increase the spray’s effectiveness.

Q: If I mow my Bermuda grass 2 inches high, will I conserve water?

A: No, you’ll use more water. With more leaf surface you’ll have more transpiration. Stay with the 1-inch height and the lawn will look better anyway.

Q: What are some houseplants I can use in a dark corner of my living room?

A: The casinos use cast iron plant, dracaena, Chinese evergreen or snake plant.

Q: Are coffee grounds safe to amend my garden soil?

A: Yes! Work them in so the microorganisms can compost them down. If you need more grounds, check coffee store outlets as they are looking for environmental ways to dispose of them.

Q: How do I harvest artichokes?

A: When the buds reach baseball size or larger and are still enclosed and soft to the touch, harvest them. They’ll produce longer if you do this. As the weather warms, they become inedible. Once the buds open, the plant quits producing.

If you allow the later buds to open, use the beautiful flowers in arrangements. This summer, chop the plant back leaving some stubs and reduce watering it. Resume watering and apply fertilizer in August to stimulate fall growth.

Q: Can we grow impatiens in Southern Nevada?

A: Yes but plant them in a rich organic soil and on the morning side of the house. I saw some beauties growing under these conditions.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 702-526-1495.