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Agretti, pumpkin pollination and more from an Alaskan gardener's mailbag

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Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2011 9:55 am | Updated: 1:16 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Have you ever raised agretti? I ate it in a restaurant in New York City and want to grow it here.

Raised agretti? I barely know its name! Popular in Italian cooking, agretti (also known as monk’s beard or roscano) is a slightly bitter/sour succulent that looks like a wide blade grass. The one company I know that sells the seeds describes it as resembling a huge chive. It can be eaten raw, steamed, or sautéed. It matures in about 55 days and is cut and grow, meaning it will re-grow after each trim.

I don’t know anyone who has grown it locally, but I know that it has become a common home garden crop even in the colder parts of Great Britain. You can buy the seeds from GrowItalian. com. The seeds do not remain viable for very long, so don’t order them now with the intention of sowing them next year.

What is chitting?

It is the process of encouraging the sprouts of potatoes to appear before they are planted, with the assumption that this will yield an earlier crop. Some people swear by the process, while others think it is pointless. If you want to give it a try next year, put a whole small potato in each cup of an egg carton and wait for the shoots. Then plant as usual.

I put a pumpkin plant in my greenhouse this year, hoping the heat would help me grow a giant one.

I have grown them outside before, with no problem, but this year all of the tiny pumpkins that showed up eventually rotted off. Is it too hot?

You are describing the tell-tale signs of lack of pollination. Even when planted outdoors, members of the squash family (summer or winter) usually need help getting the pollen from the male flower into the female flower; bees just don’t seem that attracted to squash plants. When no mating occurs, the miniature squash at the base of the female flowers wither away instead of growing into robust zukes or pumpkins or patty pans.

Greenhouses always have fewer pollinating insects, even if you leave the doors open all the time, so squash plants need help. Find a flower that has a long stem instead of a baby squash at the base; that is the male. Gently peel back the petals so that the center is exposed, and rub it around the inside of the female flowers that have the tiny squash at the base. One male can pollinate all the females around, so just move from female to female with the same exposed male.

All of the basil pesto I made turned grayish green. What happened?

Oxidation happened.

Whenever you cut basil, you jump-start the enzymes responsible for oxidation and the loss of green color. All you need to do is blanch the leaves by dunking them in boiling water for about half a minute and then dunking them in cold water to stop the cooking.

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at dorking@acsalaska.net.

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