Margaret Lauterbach

If you garden, you know surprises are in store. Mine are doozies this year.

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

Gardening usually yields surprises – some happy, some frustrating.

This year is pretty weird. In my vegetable garden, sweet potato vines have gone crazy, lopping over the sides of raised beds. Five varieties of beans for use as dry beans have matured early and have been pulled. The rows were all nicely filled out. Obviously some beans germinated well.

Not all of the pods ripened at once, so the ripe dry pods have been shelled, and the others are continuing to dry on hardware cloth in the shaded greenhouse. I’ve planted snap beans five times, and each time, so few plants germinated that I can’t even harvest enough for a meal. One of my attempts at growing Slenderette beans was planting pre-sprouted beans. Four plants in a 10-foot row is not acceptable. The seeds were dated by the seed seller as last year. Bean seed is supposed to be viable for at least three years, so they were supposed to be viable. What happened?

I have a lot of organic matter in my soil, and that means I also have a lot of critters starting the decay process in my soil. Sowbugs, millipedes and smaller creatures are there to consume organic matter and eliminate their wastes. I just wish it weren’t this year’s snap beans they chose to cancel.

I do have several bags of last year’s snap beans in the freezer, fortunately. It’s not just my garden, for friends in Boise and Ireland say they haven’t been able to get snap beans to germinate this year either.

The beans for dry use were supposed to be ready for harvest in 88 days, and that would put them close to Sept. 1. Why did they mature more than a month early? Spaghetti squash also matured in about 60 days instead of the usual 100 days, but other winter squash appears to be on time, still not ready for harvest.

▪  Learned something new this week, but should have guessed it. Sweet-potato slips are leafless sprouts that, when partly inserted in soil and watered, spring into life to form a vine (and delicious tubers in the soil), as if it were a juicy succulent, taking root and growing from a cut piece of the plant. What I learned was that sweet-potato vines also may be started by plunking the leaf stem (petiole) of a sweet potato in soil, too. Some gardeners in Asia, especially, grow sweet potato leaves to use in stir fry dishes, and they use this method to multiply leaves. This is a reliable summer green that is nutritious and tasty.

I’m also going to stir fry leaves of vines that I prune back in two beds to see whether that contributes to a larger size of tuber, as one source claims. That source claims cutting vines back to 30 inches results in larger sweet potatoes, but my vines now are closer to 60 inches long.

▪  How many of you grow garlic chives? They have straplike leaves, nearly one-quarter of an inch wide, and have pretty white blossoms. Blossoms are soon followed by seed heads that will replant garlic chives all over your yard.

Some of us grow them on purpose and use them to flavor food. We tend to just clip the leaves and use those, but Asian Americans, who call these Chinese leeks, dig them out and use the white leek part as well.

▪  If you’re experienced in growing tomatoes and know what Blossom End Rot (BER) is, you know you’ll probably have to change your watering schedule for tomatoes. BER, a brown papery flat bottom on tomatoes, is due to the plant’s inability to take up calcium from the soil. The plant can only take in calcium from moist soil – neither sopping wet nor dry.

Often, though. you have several tomato plants, watered alike, and only one exhibits BER. The reason for that is that some varieties are more prone to BER than others. Plum tomatoes are especially vulnerable to BER.

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