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Ask a master gardener: Summer’s over

This is the time of year when gardens are put to bed. The summer crops are dying and we all have too many tomatoes. I planted Sun Gold cherry tomatoes for the first time this season, and the productivity of the vines knocked me out. The plants are slowly succumbing to early blight, but I still have plenty of cherry tomatoes ripening. It was a good tomato season for me. Now for your questions.

Q. My tomato and bean plants have leaf diseases. Is it OK to eat the crops and what do I do with the plants?

A. Early blight and other leaf diseases in tomato do not affect the fruit. However, it is very important to collect all the leaves and plant debris for the garbage. I have a garbage can near my garden just for the purpose. Throw out all parts of the plant, any stray fruit (including green tomatoes you don’t use) and leaves, and all plant debris. The fungi that cause leaf disease can overwinter in any dead plant parts, so get them in the garbage and off your property. These fungi can survive composting, so don’t compost them.

Q. I’ve never planted garlic and I don’t know what to choose


A. You are in luck. Master gardeners are having their annual garlic workshop on Oct. 14 at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to noon. We usually get around 30 people, and it is lots of fun. Everyone gets a garlic clove to take home and plant. If you’re new at this, I recommend you come to the workshop. Nothing beats hands-on experience.

Q. How do I put my garden to bed for the winter?

A. The latest recommendations from Penn State tell us to leave the dead plant material alone until spring. Many beneficial insects spend the winter in the hollow stalks and debris that drops from healthy plants. However, remove any debris from plants that had an infection like powdery mildew or other fungal pathogens. Throw it in the garbage so you cut down on the infection next spring. Also, water and mulch. Although most perennials go dormant, the roots stay active in many plants. Proper hydration helps the plant escape the desiccation of winter.

It’s important to mulch because we no longer can count on snow to protect plant roots from freezing. You can use shredded autumn leaves if you have a mulching mower. Whole leaves tend to mat and cut the soil off from air and water. Other good mulches are shredded newspaper and plain wood chips.

One final thing you can do when you put your garden to bed is collect seeds from plants you might like to propagate. I save seeds from certain perennials that I know I can grow from seed. I use a book by the New England Wildflower Society called “Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada” to find out how to propagate native plants that interest me. They also have a website where you can get information.

This year I am saving two varieties of tomato and three varieties of bell pepper. Plus I’m saving three perennials and a few annuals that did well for me. As long as you didn’t plant hybrids, you can have good luck with saved seeds.

To register for the garlic workshop, call the Penn State Extension at 570-325-2788 and tell Kathy to add you to the list. There is a charge for the workshop.

The hotline at the extension is now closed. If you have questions, call the extension and Kathy will forward the information to the master gardeners.

Thank you all for trusting us with your problems this growing season. It’s been fun meeting so many of you and hearing from you by email and phone.

Gardeners gather at last year’s garlic workshop at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO