Lowenfels: Cooperative Extension can answer your plant and pest mysteries

Jeff Lowenfels

More questions answered this week. Rain causes people to spend more time thinking about what is happening in their garden, I suppose. In any case, seeking answers is exactly what this column is about.

First, I received several emails with photos of what look like fly larvae to me, but frankly this is not my area of expertise. The place to go is our wonderful Cooperative Extension Service. You probably didn't know that you can send pictures of insects to the Integrated Pest Management Program and get a much better answer than I could ever provide. Here is the site to submit an electronic photo: www.uaf.edu/ces/ipm/cmp/sample-submission/insect-submission.

While on this site, note that you can also submit pictures of diseased plants should you have a question. There is also a site where you can pass along a picture of a plant you cannot identify and receive some help.

Next, someone asked me the other day, is this a good time to plant garlic?

Actually, no it is not. Garlic is usually planted mid-September to mid-October in Alaska depending on how long your area's freeze will let you work the soil. Some folks like the Oct. 1 date and actually use mulch over their soil to keep if from freezing so they can plant. You could plant now, but you won't get the best results, i.e. plentiful cloves. In addition, with all the rain we get in August and early September you run the risk of rotting seed cloves resulting in no crop at all.

This said, now is a good time to order garlic from Outside sources if you intend to do so or to start looking for bulbs of cloves to plant later. Of course, first ask your local nurseries if they carry garlic bulbs. You are looking for a wild onion known scientifically Allium stadium. You can use grocery store garlic. There are two major types, Allium sativum ophioscorodon or stiff neck garlic and Allium sativum sativum, which include the soft neck varieties. The latter usually have smaller, uneven size cloves while the former can grow larger and consist of more uniform cloves. The soft neck are also easier to braid if display is your thing.

When ordering, remember that individual cloves are planted and these grow to form the familiar bulbs. No matter where you get your garlic, make sure to leave it in bulbs until you are ready to plant. Separating or buying individual cloves risk early growth and rot. Also, leave the protective coverings on. Usually, the bigger the cloves, the bigger the garlic cloves produced. Both www.nicholsgardennursery. com/store and Territorial Seeds www.territorialseed.com have what you want and then some.

Some folks have asked how to save seed from heirloom or open pollinated tomatoes. This is why we grow them. The trick is to pick the best fruit from the healthiest plants each year, improving the strength of the crop you grow.

Some seeds you just dry. Tomatoes, however, have a gel-like substance coating them. To get usable seeds that will store, cut the tomato in half so the stem is on one half and the bottom of the tomato is on the other. Then scoop out the seeds and put them in a Ball or other jar. You should have a liquified pulp and the seeds should float in the tomato's juices. If not, add half a cup to a cup of water so that the jar is half full.

Now let the contents sit for four days in a warm spot. You might want to place a paper towel over the top to prevent odors. It can be secured with a rubber band. When it starts to bubble, it is fermenting and ready. You may also see mold in the jar, even a lot on the top, but don't worry.

When the bubbling starts, you need to separate out the seeds. Remove the moldy layer if there is one or just add some more water and shake. The good seeds will settle to the bottom and you can drain off everything else and collect the seeds. Dry them out on a paper towel and store in a dark, dry location until next spring. Don't forget to label the packets you put them into.

Finally, for those who want to seed a lawn, it is possible to put the seed down anytime between now and a frost. However, it takes 20 days or so for the seed to germinate. If they don't get those 20 days, some of them will germinate next spring. Why wait? Seed now.


10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Alaska Botanical Garden. All plastic gardening containers will be accepted but you must follow these directions.

1. Sort into two groups, #2 HDPE plastic pots in one and the rest in the other. (There are many pots and trays without numbers. Please bring them too.)

2. Shake out loose soil or rinse.

3. Remove metal hangers.

4. Stack like-size pots to save space.

5. Only bring pots during the event. No pre- or post-dropoffs.

6. Greenhouses, sellers and landscapers should drop off at the recycling center Aug.19-23. Call 562-2267 for instructions.

Jeff Lowenfels' bestselling books are available at tinyurl.com/teamingwithmicrobes and tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients.