Here are questions I recently encountered.
Q: Can we grow fresh sprouts in our home?
A: Yes, and it’s easy to do. Seeds that sprout easily are barley, corn, oats, rye, sunflower, wheat, alfalfa, lentils, mung beans, soybeans, pumpkins, radish, squash, turnip and chard. Purchase only untreated, food-quality seeds.
First, sterilize a casserole dish. Place two tablespoons of seeds in the dish, cover it with a mesh screen and tie that down with a rubber band. Add enough water to cover the seeds and set the dish on the kitchen counter overnight. In the morning, pour off the water, thoroughly rinse the seeds and drain off. Place the dish in a spot where the seeds receive bright light and thoroughly rinse and drain them two or three times a day. If you do not rinse the seeds, they become inedible.
When seeds sprout, you’ll either discard the hulls or leave them on the sprouts depending on your taste. The sprouts are ready to eat when you see the first two leaves. For most seeds this will take three to five days. Store your homegrown sprouts in a covered container in your refrigerator until ready to eat.
Q: When do I harvest gourds?
A: They are a true gardening curiosity, with their unusual shapes, colors and markings, and defy predictable results because of crossing with one another. Just for fun, keep some seeds from this year’s crop and see what happens in the years to come.
Harvest them when you can’t crease the gourd skin with your thumbnail. Then with a needle, punch holes in the stem end to enable the inside meat to dry out. Hang them in a well-ventilated place, such as your garage, until the seeds rattle in the gourds. This will take some time.
To make decorative containers, clean the rind with a pot scrubber and, using a sharp saw, make decorative cuts to open up the container and scrape out the insides. Finally, cover the gourds inside and out with several coats of shellac.
Q: What is the strange flat and curly growth on one branch of our euonymus?
A: It’s an unusual phenomenon called a “fasciation.” It’s a fancy horticultural term for an unusual growth producing strange flat stems on existing stems. Now the good part: It doesn’t harm plants, so enjoy this strange feature, or prune it out. We don’t know what causes it. “Crested” saguaros also are examples of this trait — and highly prized by plant lovers.
Q: Can we grow amaranth?
A: Yes. It does very well in Las Vegas and uses little water. Native Americans use it as a source of food. It is an ancient grain, enjoying a recent resurgence. You can grind its seeds into flour, sprout them, or cook them whole. They are colorful plants and easy to grow.
Q: Can we control mistletoe in our mesquite tree?
A: It is a parasitic plant, meaning it must have a host to survive. Birds spread its sticky berries to other branches. After germination, mistletoe grows inside the tissues, absorbing water and nutrients from its host: the mesquite. This is something you can’t see. The branch usually dies beyond the growth. Remove the mistletoe by cutting a foot below where it’s attached to the tree. Make the cut at a lateral branch for quicker healing of wounds.
Q: What is Bt, as you mention it often?
A: It stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium used to control insects such as tomato hornworm. Nurseries sell Bt in various formulations. You spray the bacterium on plants for insects to ingest. It produces toxins within the insect’s bodies that paralyze and kill the pests. Bt is slow-acting and safe to use. It also kills caterpillars that turn into butterflies that can do serious damage to plants. So you must assess your problem before spraying.
Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ springspreserve.org or 822-7754.