Question: Last year I had trouble with my squash plants. They all looked great, but I was not getting any squash, even though there were blossoms. What might be the problem and what can I do about it?
Answer: Sounds like you've got a problem with pollination, or lack thereof.
Check to see if there are bees flying around or landing on the flowers, moving in and out of the blossoms. If you don't see any, that is your problem. There are a few reasons bees don't visit some yards.
Most important, there may be few early-blooming plants that bees love. Among those are lavender, salvia and nepeta, or catmint. Plant these around the yard as a tempting invitation to the pollinators.
The other important reason you might not be getting the benefit of the pollinators is pesticides. Though you might have sworn off pesticides in your yard, your neighbors might not have. If so, beneficial insects might never make it to your yard. If possible, have a friendly talk with your neighbors and explain how beneficial pollinators are and how badly they are affected by pesticides.
Meanwhile, you can hand-pollinate a squash blossom by stroking the anthers of a male flower with a tiny paint brush, and then stroking the top of a female pistil to transfer the pollen. To identify, the male flower has a column of fused anthers, and the female has a pollen-coated pistil. It would be great fun to wear a bee costume while you do this!
Q: I have seen nurseries selling plants such as tomatoes and eggplant that are grafted. What can you tell me about them?
A: Grafted plants are just beginning to hit the U.S. markets, though they are securely an important part of vegetable growing in China, Japan and Europe. A grafted plant is composed of the root stock of one plant and the upper part of another. Doing so can yield better flavor, quality of fruit, vigor and disease resistance.
If you're a Northwest vegetable gardener, you know how dicey growing tomatoes is. Some years are great, while others never deliver a summer that allows tomatoes to grow and ripen. Here's where grafted plants come in. Because of their superior root system and plant vigor, grafted tomatoes can be harvested over a longer period of time, and they are tougher, giving them ability to withstand inclement weather and disease.
Taking care of grafted tomato plants isn't much different than taking care of regular tomato plants. They will be huge, so prune, stake or cage them with that in mind. Plant them in the ground, rather than in a pot, so their extensive root system has room to spread out. Feed them generously and keep them watered. They grow fast, and if the stars are all aligned this season, you should see great results.
Q: I've seen lots of ants around my house and yard. Any idea what kind they are, and what I might do about them, if anything?
A: I normally ignore ants as long as they stay outside my house and are not cultivating aphids on my roses. But being a nuisance and doing real damage are two very different things.
Some ants live in wood and are an indicator of wood moisture. Others, the carpenter ants, love to chow down on whatever wood they like best, and that is often wooden houses. Clearly, these types of ants need to be eliminated.
First you need to capture a few of the ants and take them to the Extension office, where Master Gardeners can help you make the identification. The address is 1000 N. Forest St. in Bellingham. Call first to make sure someone is there to help you: 360-676-6736.
Alternatively, you can put your computer to work and access the ant ID online from Washington State University: pep.wsu.edu/pestsense/. Use the menu on the left side to learn more about wood-destroying pests, nuisance ones and even those that are beneficial.
ABOUT THIS COLUMN
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.html.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.