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Alaska gardeners debate nuisance cats, thinning and pollination

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: July 16
  • Published July 16

In these strange times, I guess I don’t have to make excuses for jumping from one subject to the next. So, first, let me get it over with and note that it is heartening to know that I’m not the only one who is concerned and upset about cats wandering around outdoors, off leash, subsisting on birds. Anchorage, at least, has a real big problem that is out of hand. I can’t imagine every other community in the country is not in exactly the same boat.

A few suggestions were made by readers that might help those gardens under attack. Who knew there are electric cat fences sold locally? Electric bear fences for beehives I can understand, sure, but electric cat fences? What’s next? Electric moose fencing?

Apparently there are also special mats that give off a static charge when a cat steps on them. And, more than one gadget that makes noises and flashes lights to startle unwanted felines, though I like the ones that spray them with water. Finally, a suggestion to spray lavender and oregano oil.

There must be a huge market for cat-be-gone products. This indicates to me that there is a serious problem.

All right, even though I don’t have the pleasure of seeing many folks’ gardens this year, I know most of you are failing to heed advice to thin crops. In the past this has always been the No. 1 observation.

Carrots and beets are really a problem when you don’t thin them. Gardeners get so enthralled by all the lovely green tops, they simply can’t do it. And the greed factor causes many of us to not thin because we think we are removing something that can be harvested later. It can be, but you won’t be writing home about a stellar crop. Your harvest will certainly not look like the carrots on the seed package. Come on. I know I am not there, but thin.

I also know you are not getting at those butter and eggs. They are weeds coming into flower that you will regret not knocking down. It is so easy to pull them. These are not wild snapdragons. They are noxious weeds. Get them.

OK, apples and cherries bloomed like crazy this year. Still, readers want to know why their crops are not looking robust. The answer has to be the pollinators. They don’t fly when it rains and when it is really cloudy and windy. If your trees miss the window because of bad weather, which we occasionally have, you will not get the best crop.

Next, are things bolting in your garden? Bolting is “gardenese” for what happens when crops suddenly start to flower way too early in the season. Sometimes it actually is just time for the plant to flower. If this is what is causing yours, then you waited too long to harvest. Lettuces, radishes, mustards all flower this time of year because you didn’t harvest.

The second reason crops bolt is because of heat. Spinach and Swiss chard are cool crops. They grow quickly and, where there is heat, flower quickly. These crops should be planted early and harvested while it is still cool. In Alaska, giving them a bit of shade might help, too.

In any case, lettuce, radish and mustard pods are terrific in stir fry dishes. I suppose you could harvest the mustard seed and make your own mustard, as well. I think you need way more seeds than you have.

On the science side, I had the very same experience as a reader who wants to know why her tomato plants were occasionally “bleeding water” from the edges of leaves on rainy days. This phenomenon is called guttation. It happens when there is lots of humidity and cool air and warm soil. These conditions result in water pressure starting in the roots and moving water up into leaves. During the day stomata, pores, are open and the water evaporates out. At night and on really cloudy days, the stomata are closed, however. Pressure builds up. Fortunately, there are special leaf structures, hydathodes, located along the edges of leaves. Each is at the end of a leaf vein and acts as a relief valve. While guttation is an interesting plant reaction, it rarely causes problems.

Next, the first wave of dandelion flowers, and thus seed, is over. Mowed, your lawn should look green and healthy. This is a great time to lay down patterns when you mow. The loyal reader knows I love huge circles in our lawn, individual and overlapping. I once tried to do the Olympic rings. Occasionally, I still respect the diagonal to the front door pattern, but mere standard mowing patterns are for Lower 48ers.

Visitors here, when we used to have them, always commented that they were going to try circles and such on their lawns. It occurs to me that I get lots of emails asking questions — more than you can possibly imagine. What I would really love are emails with pictures of your lawn patterns. Who knows? Perhaps there is a ADN calendar in the works here!

Finally, be well friends. Please garden hard while you team with microbes. Don’t love your lawn more than your family, and plant a row for the hungry!

Jeff’s garden calendar for the week:

Alaska Botanical Garden: There are socially distanced, outdoor activities for all, including Thursday picnics, nursery sales, Alaska’s best gardens and a nature trail. It is open, plants a-blooming! (4601 Campbell Airstrip Road, 907-770-3692,

Potatoes: Keep hilling. They should be growing fast.

Nasturtiums: Eat the flowers!

Fuchsia: Deadhead the spent flowers so they don’t go to seed, causing the plant to slow and stop flowering.

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