You Bet Your Garden

The magnificent monarch may be fighting extinction


Listen to the full show:

Mike McGrath guides listeners in the patience required for growing asparagus, reviving a withering cherry laurel, starting a Seed Library program in your community, seed bombing vacant lots, turning a pasture into a small farm, the soil acidity required for blackberries, and how to help monarch populations.


Question of the Week:

“I recently heard a Kansas State University professor from Monarchwatch.org explain that no Monarchs showed for their festival in Canada this year. One major reason he cited was the eradication of milkweed plants on farms that grow genetically engineered crops, and so he is proposing that homeowners establish milkweed ‘waystations’ in their gardens. I certainly plan to grow a lot of milkweed this year.”

— Sue in Detroit

How you can help the monarchs »


Highlights from show for March 15, 2014:

Patiently tending an asparagus bed

Mike from Brownsburg, Indiana planted an asparagus bed in his garden last year. He calls Mike to see if he’ll have a harvest this season. Unfortunately, he will have to wait patiently for another year before he can expect a proper harvest, but in the meantime Mike has a tip: “You’re absolutely correct in that you’re supposed to leave them alone for three years, but the truth is that no one does that. No one has that kind of self control! So this spring let a couple of shoots emerge and you have my permission to taste a few if, IF, they are wider than a pencil … you can harvest a few … no more than five percent … you’re just going to get a taste … and it’s going to be glorious!” In preparation for his first real crop, Mike recommends feeding the bed with horse manure or corn gluten meal and covering it with a few inches of shredded leaves to protect it from winter cold.


The case of the two cherry laurels

Karen from Bucks County, Pennsylvania is perplexed by the two cherry laurels in the landscaped area in front of her house. One shrub is thriving, but second has already been replaced twice. She calls Mike to see if he can help her solve this puzzle. When Mike learns about Karen’s stunted hostas in the same area, he suggests that Karen switch out the wood mulch in the landscaping for yard-waste compost. Hopefully this will help all of Karen’s plantings perk up!


A seed library at a public library

Jeff from Pitman, New Jersey calls Mike to talk about a new Seed Library program at the McCowan Memorial Library. Patrons can borrow packs of organic, rare, and heirloom seeds to plant in their gardens and return seeds they save from their harvest at the end of the season. Unlike other library items, there are no fines for unreturned seeds. Mike hopes this idea catches on and public seed sharing and saving programs continue to expand!


Wildflowers for a vacant lot

Terrie from Dayton, Ohio lives near some vacant lots where houses were recently torn down. She wants to plant wildflowers to spruce up the lots and calls Mike to ask for advice. Mike thinks that this is a great opportunity to create a temporary green-space, but he reminds Terrie that any gardeners on these lots will need to take precautions and wear protective masks and gloves because of the building waste. He suggests that Terrie contact her local horticultural society and parks services for advice and present the owners of the property with a plan for lovely, if temporary, landscaping. Mike explains: “If the company doesn’t go for it, then I guess in the back of your head you’re thinking about seed bombing the place. Right? Impregnating wads of dirt with seeds and ‘just happening’ to walk by several times a day for a couple of weeks tossing these mud balls in right before rain. Even that would be better than nothing. My advice for you would be to pack those things with seeds that can get through drought, that can get through wet periods, and that are going to attract pollinators and butterflies. Throw some milkweed in there! But see if you might not be able to turn this into a model that other cities can imitate.”


“If the company doesn’t go for it, then I guess in the back of your head you’re thinking about seed bombing the place. Right? Impregnating wads of dirt with seeds and ‘just happening’ to walk by several times a day for a couple of weeks tossing these mud balls in right before rain.”

Mike McGrath


Turning a pasture into a small farm

Dan from Milford, New Jersey has about ten acres of land. He previously kept horses on the property, but wants to plant something that could be both a hobby and a small business. Dan and Mike discuss possibilities from growing Christmas trees to starting a pick-your-own raspberry farm. Mike reminds Dan of the general principle that one farmer can maintain one acre and encourages him to play to his strengths. Dan promises to call back and let Mike know how his new venture is going.


Soil acidity for a blackberry patch

Scott from Rochelle, Wisconsin plans to add a blackberry patch to his garden where he already grows grapes. He wants to make sure that the blackberries will thrive in his soil and calls Mike to see if any of the pH-testing kits on the market are reliably accurate. Mike reminds Scott that surveying the plants that are already growing in the area can often provide the best information about the soil. “This is what farmers would do they would look at what plants are doing well in their landscapes. If their azaleas and rhododendrons are kicking butt, but the lawn doesn’t look very good that would be a sign that your soil is fairly highly acidic and not closer to neutral. But if your grapes are doing well, the pH range for growing grapes is fairly identical to blackberries.” All these blackberries will need nice layer of compost to get off to a good start.


— This week’s post was written by Marissa Nicosia, You Bet Your Garden intern




Comments are closed.



You may also be interested in: