Ask the Master Gardener: Garden projects while sheltering in place
There are an assortment of vegetables that can be grown indoors using food scraps.
Dear Master Gardener: Are there any food or garden-related projects or experiments I can do with my children while we are sheltered in place?
Answer: Yes, there are some food experiments you can do with children using vegetable scraps from your kitchen. A fun experiment with fast results is growing celery from the base of the clump. Slice 2 inches above the root end of a celery bunch, wash it off well, and place it in an inch of warm water in a glass bowl. You can insert four equally spaced toothpicks horizontally to keep the celery in place and prevent it from touching the bottom of the bowl. Place the bowl in a sunny window. Change the water every other day and make sure to keep replenishing it. In about five to seven days your celery should have sprouted new shoots and the outside of the celery stalk base will have begun to turn brown and break down -- it is now ready to plant in a pot with potting soil. While watching it grow, your children can sharpen their math skills by measuring and recording the growth of the celery each day.
Another easy vegetable to grow on your windowsill is an onion. Cut an onion 2 inches above the root end. Place it in a clear glass bowl or jar with the root end down. Add enough water to cover the roots. Change the water every other day. After a week or two, plant the onion in a pot or in your garden with the roots buried and the remaining bulb exposed. It should be ready to eat in three to four months.
Romaine lettuce can also be started from a kitchen scrap. Set the base of the romaine in a shallow dish of water with the leaf-end up. Place it on a sunny windowsill and change the water every other day. In about one week you should see small leaves growing out of the top. Go ahead and eat the new growth. In about three weeks plant the lettuce in a pot or in your garden. Keep picking the leaves to encourage more growth and enjoy your salad!
With a little more patience, you can grow a sweet potato vine indoors. First, chop a sweet potato in half. Fill a clear container that is at least 4 inches deep with lukewarm water. Insert four toothpicks horizontally so that one to 2 inches of the cut portion of the sweet potato is submerged in the water. Place your sweet potato in a bright, sunny window. Change the water every day or two and add more water when necessary. In a few weeks you will see roots growing from the bottom and stems growing from the top. Your sweet potato vine can be planted outside in late May or early June.
Dear Master Gardener: I would like to plant rhubarb this year. Is there a recommended variety I should purchase? How should I plant it for best results?
Answer: Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that grows well in Minnesota gardens. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4, but many gardeners successfully grow it here in Zone 3b. Varieties differ in color and levels of tartness and fibrousness. Color doesn’t affect flavor. Most people prefer the red varieties, but the green ones are usually more productive. The red varieties tend to be more appealing for making pies because the color of the filling looks better than the grayish color of the cooked green varieties. Canada Red is a red cultivar that typically produces shorter, more slender stalks than other varieties and is tender and very sweet. It usually produces few seed stalks. Cherry Red, a vigorous producer, has long, thick stalks that are a rich red inside and out. It is tender, juicy, and sweet. Victoria produces medium-sized stalks of excellent quality and good flavor. There can be some variation in stalk color, but in general they are light green with pink speckling, especially at the bottom of the stalk.
Rhubarb gets quite large, so plant your purchased crown piece in a 3-foot by 3-foot growing area. Plant it so the buds are about two inches below the soil surface. Rhubarb performs best in well-drained, organic-rich soil, in full sun. Don’t harvest any stalks the first year -- wait until the second season so the plant has a chance to get established.
Dear Master Gardener: This has been the worst year we have ever seen for snow mold in our lawn. What should we do?
Answer: As the snow melts, many homeowners are discovering patches of snow mold in their lawn. Gray and pink snow mold fungi are the most common -- you will usually see gray or pink patches that have matted grass within the patch. Gray snow mold produces white to gray colored mycelium and pink snow mold produces off-white to pink colored mycelium. Both types are active at temperatures around freezing and under wet conditions. Snow molds are most common when an early, deep snow cover prevents the ground from freezing, which is exactly what happened this year. Don’t worry -- damage caused by snow mold is rarely a serious problem. It will probably take these areas a little longer to green up this spring. To avoid further fungal growth, you can gently rake the affected areas of lawn to help it dry out, but wait until the soil is dry enough to handle foot traffic. To lessen the severity of snow mold next year, avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization after the middle of September because it can lead to succulent grass tissue that is conducive to the growth of snow mold. In addition, mow until the grass is no longer actively growing. Tall grass is more likely to mat down and encourage the development of snow mold. Raking up all the leaves will also help. Snow molds are not common every year – this was an unusual year with early, heavy snowfalls. A preventative fungicide application in the fall is generally not recommended.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. All information given in this column is based on university research. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 218-454-GROW (4769) and leave a recorded message. A Master Gardener will return your call.