Ask a Master Gardener: Do fast-growing vegetables use fewer nutrients?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 27, 2013 

Wednesday Market CLO

Colorful tomatoes from Sumas River Farm await customers at the Wednesday Farmer's Market at the Village Green in Fairhaven on Sept. 21, 2011.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Question: Do fast-growing vegetables use fewer nutrients than those that take longer?

Answer: Sounds logical, but generally the heavier plants with the largest vegetables use the most nutrients. For example, a tomato plant that produces cherry tomatoes uses up fewer nutrients than a larger plant that produces beefsteak tomatoes.

Early and fast-maturing plants need more fertilizer at planting time because they need to take up minerals faster than slow-maturing plants. See how logical plants are?

Q: "Light" pollution makes star gazing difficult, but does it affect plants? I'm especially concerned about security lights, which my neighbor keeps on all night long, and I fear they might be harming my plants.

A: Not to worry. Constant light has a negligible effect on plants. Most security lights are either high-pressure or low-pressure sodium lamps. Their intensity is too low to endanger the fruiting or growth of nearby plants. Another factor plays in as well. Many common fruits and vegetables are day-neutral - their growth and fruiting are neither hurt nor helped by longer exposure to light.

Sadly, you can't use your plants' health to persuade your neighbor to turn his lights out. I wish more people realized how bad "light pollution" has gotten.

Q: I'd love to speed up my compost decomposition by grinding or shredding but can't afford to buy a pricey machine. Is there an alternative?

A: Use your lawnmower! It will shred all your green clippings weeds, leaves, and even small twigs. Spread out a tarp, pile the green materials in the middle, and run the lawn mower repeatedly over it. To avoid as much of a mess as possible, and as the lawnmower's action spreads the cutting forward, it helps to lay your tarp against a wall or garage door.

You've got the right idea about shredding your compostable materials. It will substantially cut down on the length of time needed to produce "black gold," compost's apt moniker.

One other thing that too many people fail to do with their compost this time of year is to keep it watered. Particularly in rainless periods, your pile needs to be kept moist but not soaking wet or flooded.

With a little attention you can have some of the best soil amendment around, and you can have it for free! And there's another thing. We gardeners are all thrilled when a tool can be used for multiple purposes. So pull out your mower and go at it!

Q: So what's the real skinny on raised beds? Everyone talks about them and I see them popping up all over, but is it more the current garden fashion or is there really a benefit to them?

A: Yes, yes, yes. There are myriad benefits to raised beds. First, you can totally control what goes into the designated space. So amendments go directly to what will be planted in the raised bed. If the size of the raised bed is right (4 feet by 25 feet is a great size), you can reach any place in the bed without stepping in it, thus ensuring that the soil will never be compacted and will be a joy to work. Once established, you will never have to do the backbreaking work of deep digging. Adding compost will keep the surface so soft that weeding will become almost effortless.

Raised beds allow earlier spring planting. There are two reasons: The raised bed's soil heats up sooner in spring, and because of the raised nature of the bed, drainage will be good.

Raised beds are easier to work, making it easier to organize and keep up with a garden, and can be attractive as well. For those inclined to extend the growing season, the sides of the raised bed make installing a cloche or plastic cover a cinch.

One important element when planning your raised bed or beds (they're addictive!) is to allow enough room around them to easily walk, as well as to get a wheelbarrow through.

My suggestion if you're feeling iffy about using raised beds is to find someone who has them and ask what they think. And if you need another persuader, just think about how easy it'll be to control slugs. Just put your favorite bait on the outside bottom edge of the bed, and they won't stand a chance!

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg

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