Living Columns & Blogs

You have to sacrifice some apples to get larger fruit

Thinning fruit allows apple trees to produce fewer, but larger fruit.
Thinning fruit allows apple trees to produce fewer, but larger fruit. Tribune News Service

Question: Last year my apple trees produced small apples. Is there anything I can do to persuade the trees to give me normal-size fruit?

Answer: Aside from speaking to them in “apple-ese” there is something not very difficult, but time consuming, that will help to keep your apples larger.

Many apple varieties tend to set more apples than the tree can support. Trees will drop some very young fruit, but you can help the process along, and ensure larger and better apples, if you thin out the young apples until they are 6 to 8 inches apart along the branches. This allows about 50 leaves for each apple to mature to good size.

So as you’re faced with discarding what look like perfectly fine little apples, keep thinking you’re helping the ultimate crop along. Be strong!

Q: Help! Moles are making a mess of my lawn. Isn’t there anything I can do?

A: Sure, there are a multitude of things you can try when you have moles. Do any of them work? Maybe. Perhaps. Seldom.

Though moles don’t eat plants, but rather the earthworms and larvae of many insects, in making their runs under your lawn they can disrupt the grass roots. And of course, there are the unsightly small mounds of soil they shove to the surface.

After trying multiple “proven” ways to get rid of the little critters, I have finally come to a good compromise. I let them be, and then eagerly collect the soil from their mounds and fill my planting pots. It’s fluffy and full of the minerals from underground. Sometimes gardeners have to be realists, and understand nature isn’t theirs to control.

Q: I’ve heard conflicting advice about whether to use mushroom soil for my houseplants or in the greenhouse. Can you help?

A: Do not use spent mushroom soil, which is a by-product of commercial mushroom cultivation, as it is very high in soluble salts. High salt in soil injures plant roots, and interferes with water take-up, causing wilting when the soil is moist, yellowed leaves, and stunted or distorted growth.

I’m glad you asked before using it, and avoided all the problems that result from planting in mushroom soil.

Q: I want to grow some vegetables in my greenhouse, but have heard that there are some that will need to be hand pollinated. Can you tell me which plants will need to be hand pollinated and how to do it?

A: Here are the plants you’ll have to hand pollinate: cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Pollinate tomatoes, eggplant and peppers by gently shaking the plants. The pollen from the male part of the flower will be transferred to the female part.

In the cucumber, melon and squash plants the male and female parts are separate. You must therefore transfer the pollen from a male to a female flower with a small paintbrush. Because the pollen may dry out in high temperatures, do this pollination in the early morning when the temperatures are cooler.

Though this pollination help isn’t difficult, you can find good visuals online that might help.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column 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 For more gardening information online, go to


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