You Bet Your Garden

Bring the tropics into your garden


Listen to the full show:

Mike shares instructions on reviving a seriously neglected property, tips for caring for young fruit trees, and what to do when your lawn has a fungal disease called brown patch, and how to get the most out of your basil. Plus, Mike speaks with author Lauren Mandel about rooftop gardening.


Question of the Week:

“Last spring I noticed some strange ‘weeds’ in our garden. By fall they were over six feet tall, and an internet search revealed that they were papaya plantsā€”almost certainly from our compost, as we had enjoyed papayas that spring. I potted one up and put it in our small sun room for the winterā€”where it grew all the way to the top of the curved glass ceiling. I am writing this in May, as I get ready to put it back out in the garden. Do you think Iā€™ll be able to invite you over for some fresh papaya this summer?ā€¯

— Vincent, near Hammonton, NJ

How to grow papaya at home »

Slideshow below: Papaya Plants


Highlights from show for September 7, 2013:

How to revive a seriously neglected property

Mike from Spokane, Washington recently purchased a 100+ year-old home that had been sitting vacant after being seriously neglected by its previous owners. There is a garden area in the yard filled with debris and a few old, overgrown fruit trees on the property. Not knowing where to start, he calls in to ask Mike McGrath what the first steps are in reclaiming this property safely so it can house a healthy lawn, garden, and fruit tree population. Mike McGrath first recommends that his caller’s soil be tested for lead, as it’s a common contaminant found in the soil surrounding older homes. He continues on and recommends: “I would love to see you hire somebody to clear that land for you who has the equipment, who takes the correct protections; then you do the work of sealing off the soil and obtaining the new soil and building the raised beds. If you can do that, I think that’s more than enough for the first couple years while you make sure all the house is livable and safe. And then when you’re not burned out, as you’ve paced yourself, then move on into the fruit trees and the small fruits. But it sounds like those old trees should just go.”

Caring for peach trees

Vicki from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has what she thinks are short, ornamental peach trees and asks Mike if it’s safe to eat the fruit from this tree. After getting a full description of the tree, Mike says, “I think I’ve got nothin’ but good news for you! I think you simply have a lovely peach tree, a true peach tree. And the only reason your peaches are small is there’s a couple of things you’re not doing. But I think if you follow some basic instructions, you’re going to be eating peaches this time next year.” Mike goes on to explain the basics of caring for fruit trees.

  • Young peach tree. Photo by Flickr user blair_25

Special guest: Lauren Mandel

Mike Mcgrath talks with Lauren Mandel, author of Eat Up: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture. Lauren is a rooftop agriculture specialist by trade and speaks with Mike about the pitfalls of creating your own rooftop garden, most importantly, finding a way to bring water to your garden and hoisting the materials for the garden itself. From farming, to animal husbandry to the average homeowners garden, roof top agriculture is taking the country by storm. .

Fighting brown patches in your lawn

Barry from Lansdale, Pennsylvania is having lawn troubles. He moved into a new house, and for the first two months the lawn looked great, but during the hot summer months, large chunks of the lawn started to die off. Mike suspects that Barry’s lawn has become victim to a fungal disease called brown patch. Mike explains that the best way to revive the lawn is proper care: “The secret to having a great-looking lawn is very simple; it should never be cut lower than three inches, when it’s watered it should be watered deeply and infrequently, and you feed it once in the fall and once in the spring.”

Getting the most out of your basil

Matt from Brooklyn, New York is looking for tips to improving the output of his basil. Mike recommends starting from seed and a high-quality seed-starting soil mix. Then he shares this trick to get the most out of the plants: “As the plants get bigger, what you want to do is you want to learn how to pinch them. You know where they form that leaf cluster with the little non-leaf thing in the center? You want to keep pinching that back, literally just with your thumb and finger. And that’ll force more leaves to grow, and it’ll also delay any flowering. But as you harvest your basil, you can cut it back once and it’ll probably regrow for you. But the smarter thing to do would be devote your container into sections and sow a new run every month.”

  • 3 basil varieties (purple Greek basil, Genovese basil, purple basil) plus oregano. Photo by Flickr user Pablo Englebienne




  • Jamie Cottom

    Hi Mike,

    I live in Dillon, MT (southwest corner). My husband and I planted a few apple trees in our yard 3 years ago. The trees look healthy but have never bloomed. We fertilize using Dr. Earth Organic Fruit Tree Fertilizer in spring and fall. Any ideas on why we are not seeing blooms/fruit? The trees are about 10 ft tall with a 2″ diameter trunk.

    Cheers,

    Jamie Cottom

    • Sarah Kaizar

      Hi Jamie — I passed your question along to Mike and he responded: “Nothing other than lawns should ever be fertilized in the fall. Fruit trees require much care. Read the fruit tree articles in our ‘A to Z Answers‘”

  • Nina Stratton

    Our tomatoes developed brown bumpy areas which quickly ruined the fruit – we think it’s stink bug damage though we haven’t seen any stink bugs – All the fruit on several plants looked like this so we pulled the plants up, but want to know if it safe to compost the fruit or should it be thrown away also ?

    Thank you –

    Nina Stratton

    • Sarah Kaizar

      Hi Nina — I ran your question by Mike and he warns: “Never compost plants that could be diseased. (Stink bug cause WHITE areas UNDER the skins).”



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