IN THE GARDEN RIDDING THE SOIL OF NASTY NEMATODES.
Q: Within the last few years, my yard has become infested with root-knot nematodes. This is very frustrating because I have a hard time growing many plants and vegetables. Do you have any recommendations? I try to do everything organic when I can.
Ray Mathieu, Glendale
A: Nematodes are microscopic, unsegmented worms that produce obstructing knots or nodules in plant roots, impairing roots' ability to take up water and minerals. Nematodes tend to inhabit sandy soil and are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate once they have a foothold. One cultural control is to till the ground every 10 days during hot weather. This brings nematodes to the surface, where they die from desiccation.
Soil solarization, where tilled and moistened soil is covered with clear plastic during the hottest months, may also curb nematode soil populations. Nematodes would seriously restrict orchard production were it not for the nematode-resistant rootstock known as Nemaguard. About 85 percent of almond, peach, plum and nectarine trees in California are grafted with this rootstock. If you purchase one of these trees for your yard, make sure the rootstock is Nemaguard. When purchasing tomato seeds, the packet must bear the initials VFN. The ``N'' in this acronym means that the variety within is resistant to nematodes. (The ``V'' and the ``F'' represent resistance to Verticilium and Fusarium fungus.)
Asparagus, corn, onions, garlic, and strawberries are resistant to nematodes, as are 'Charleston Belle' and `Carolina Wonder' bell peppers, 'Nemagreen' lima beans and 'Carolina Cayenne' chili peppers. Marigolds, zinnias and salvias are also unaffected by nematodes.
Q: are wondering about broccoli for our garden. We saw some starter plants at the nursery - is that the best way to go? When is the right time to plant? How and when is harvesting done? What about feeding and watering? What other vegetables would you suggest for planting at this time?
Lyman and Lorraine Young, Simi Valley
A: In the Valley, winter is the preferred season for planting cole crops or crucifers, so-called on account of their cross-shaped flowers. These vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard greens and cabbage. Starter crucifer seedlings, as opposed to seeds that might not sprout, are a good way to go. Plant them deep, up to the lowest set of leaves, so they don't flop over when planted. Water as needed. I would fertilize with a liquid organic fertilizer because it will not burn your plants and helps with soil conditioning. Harvest when crops are large enough to eat. Don't expect gigantic specimens like you see at the supermarket unless your soil is outstanding, meaning it drains well and is full of compost. Preparing soil for vegetable planting is a science of its own. The best books on the subject are by Eliot Coleman, author of ``The New Organic Grower'' and ``Four Season Harvest''; and by John Jeavons, whose classic work, ``How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine,'' has become the preferred how-to manual for vegetable and fruit growers all over the world.
Q: A few weeks ago, we purchased a round glass container at Costco with a number of tulip bulbs in it that sat on a rack with water in the compartment at the bottom. The instructions were to keep the water level so only the bulbs were submerged. The bulbs did exactly what the instructions said they would and grew tall and then each and every one of them bloomed beautifully. When the blooms die away can we reuse those bulbs, and how should they be handled?
Marshall Maydeck, Arleta
A: Because of their winter chill requirement, Dutch tulips are not meant for our climate and will probably not flower next year if planted in the soil after blooming. The only way they might flower is if you keep them in sand in the garage until next September, then put them in the refrigerator for six weeks, and plant them again in the same glass container or in the garden. You may want to search out Tulipa clusiana, a bulb native to the Middle East that is not as spectacular as the Dutch hybrids, but will bloom in mild winter climates such as ours. Planted in the garden, Tulipa clusiana will bloom for several years at least.
TIP OF THE WEEK: This tip comes from John King of Granada Hills: ``I'm not sure where I heard this, but it works for me and my female Lab. Adding an ounce of tomato juice to her evening meal keeps the burn spots in the grass to a minimum.''