Margaret Lauterbach

Prune squash vines to get them under control

Stimulate squash growth, such as pumpkins, with apex pruning.
Stimulate squash growth, such as pumpkins, with apex pruning. Associated Press

Squash setting time is the right time to remind readers they can prune their winter squash vines to keep them under control and to stimulate side-branching on the vine, where allegedly female blossoms appear.

Once they begin appearing, it’s very difficult to determine where they arose. Male blossoms have a straight stalk behind the flower, while female blossoms have a tiny version of the squash/melon/cucumber behind and adjacent to the blossom.

Just like pinching off the top of a herb like basil grown for foliage, or encouraging more branches to grow on a tree or shrub, this tip or apex pruning sends growth hormones lower, toward the root.

Some readers have complained that squash wasn’t setting or being pollinated. Male blossoms appear first, followed by female blossoms. If the flower isn’t open, but is full and past the bud stage, it has been pollinated. There may be a bee inside the now-closed blossom, so beware. When they’re settled down and luxuriating in pollen, they don’t like to be disturbed.

If you get cucumbers or squash that have a shape different from what its supposed to have, remove that distorted “fruit.” Our hot weather may be a factor in poor pollination, or low soil fertility could be responsible. Feed your plant some organic fertilizer, and make sure it’s well watered. Organic fertilizer such as that based on fish products is not sufficiently strong to burn plants if you follow label directions. If you want more “fruits” from that plant, consider the product called “Morbloom.” That concentrated fertilizer is heavy in phosphorus and potassium, and no nitrogen (0-10-10); the phosphorus and potassium stimulates fruit set rather than foliage growth.

You’re not supposed to fertilize plants in extremely hot weather, but I don’t think we’ll have much choice. It may be hot until autumn slams the heat door.

Time to watch your beans

In my vegetable garden, apart from weeds, beans are thriving. My Slenderette beans are different than usual, not only growing long intertwining vines, but also stringy when snapped. They are open-pollinated, so it’s not too surprising the bean seed has crossed with a less desirable variety. I haven’t grown any bean varieties with strings, so I’m not sure whether I planted self-saved seeds or just received a bad lot from a commercial vendor.

I rode past one bed with bean plants hanging over the side, thinking that 10-foot row was really loaded with beans. Then I looked at my garden map and saw that those were Romano beans, that I’d intended to use as fresh snap beans. That first harvest of Romano beans filled a corn cooker (about three gallons, I think). I’ve shared them with friends who raved about how good they are. I had not grown Romanos for several years, but I don’t know the reason for that oversight. Their pods are broader than those of the Slenderettes or other popular snap beans, but the flavor is excellent.

Commercial growers of beans grown for use as dry beans instead of snap beans mow the crop, and then combines come along and scrape them up, separating beans from the plants and pods.

Home gardeners can’t do that, but it’s time to start watching your bean plants for tan dry pods. If you find a few, start harvesting all of the pods lest they shatter and spread the beans all over your garden. I pull the plants, but you could cut them at soil level and leave the roots to decay over winter, adding to the organic matter in the soil. Beans, as legumes, can take nitrogen out of the air and transfer it to root zone, but beans are not very efficient at doing that, and I seldom see root nodules indicating they’re doing that when I pull those plants. I strew those pods that haven’t dried yet over hardware cloth laid on the bench in the greenhouse. I’ll shell them by hand while watching television.

The birds hit, but it’s not a total loss

My Gravenstein apples never had a chance to look ripe. Flocks of birds hit that tree, hollowing out many hanging apples (and fighting over them), as well as those on the ground. A helper raked up those on the ground, and picked what she could reach and I picked what I could reach, so after cutting out blemishes of those windfall apples and those we picked, I have a good supply of Gravenstein apple sauce canned now. I also gave a quantity of them to a friend. When they’re ripe, Gravensteins are supposed to be about 2 inches in diameter, yellow-green with vertical red striping. Mine were all green; only one or two out of more than a bushel of Gravensteins even showed a hint of red stripe. This variety is especially prone to biennial bearing, but it’s been three years since my tree bore a crop. This variety is grown and treasured by friends in New Zealand as well as in Scandinavia.

Gravenstein apples are scarce, so if you’d like some, grow them. One Green World, Raintree Nursery and other tree nurseries have them available. Buy a semi-dwarf instead of a standard size for earlier fruiting and accessibility. They’re also great for pies and other culinary purposes.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40. Boise, ID 83707.

Win a copy of Margaret’s gardening book

The Agriculture Department at the Western Idaho Fair is giving away four of Margaret’s autographed books. Look for the “Enter Here” sign in the front half of the North Expo building. The winners will be chosen and notified at the close of the fair.