Ask the Gardener: Garlic harvest, cucumber beetles, spindly tomatoes and more

Posted on: July 5, 2018 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Gardening editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

There are three ways to send in your questions:

• Email

• Submit your question on our “Your Garden” section of our site

• Send us a message on Facebook.

(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

• • •

This garlic isn’t quite ready to harvest.

Pamela: It’s my first year growing garlic. Is it ready to harvest yet? I’m not sure how to judge. Thanks!

Doug: Wait until 50 percent of the green turns brown. I can see that you have the seed heads on there called scares. Remove them for bigger bulbs. They are a delicacy in the kitchen too. My favorite way to use them is by turning them into pesto, but they can be cooked in many different ways. Here’s my recipe for the pesto:


• 20 fresh garlic scapes

• 2 cups Campo de Montalban or Idiazabal or aged Manchego, grated

• 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts

• 2 cups safflower oil

• 1/2 cup water or good white wine (optional)

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 pound pasta (we prefer linguini)

• Drizzle of olive oil to finish


Add scapes, cheese and nuts to a food processor and begin to process while adding the safflower oil and wine a little at a time until you have reached desired thickness. Pesto can be served in a variety of consistencies, from very thick to rather thin, depending on preference.

Blend until paste-like, thinning if needed with water or wine then season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.
Bring water to boil in a large pot, add pasta and cook until al dente.
Add pesto to the pasta and finish with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

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Ashley: I’m having issues with a proliferation of cucumber beetles on my squash plants. Have any advice? ? Most of what I’ve found just gives preventative measures.

Doug: The worst thing that the beetles do is infect plants with bacterial wilt — a fatal disease for the plant. The organic control is Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew (you can get it here). It’s not a poison and will not hurt the good bugs but will dispatch the beetle. I’m beating the beetle by planting three different crops of cucumbers on 5/15, 5/30 and 6/15 and growing them up a trellis away from the ground. There are also three varieties that are resistant to the beetle, ‘Diva,’ ‘Marketmore 76’ and ‘County Fair.’ Ironically the cucumber beetle is actually a great pollinator for cucumbers. Hope that helps.

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Reno: Hello, I watch your gardening tips on PTL. I have a question with my garden this year. When I planted my tomatoes and zucchini around Menorial Day, they looked great and were growing well in the pots I bought them in. However since planting, the tomatoes (and cherry tomatoes which are usually very plentiful) are so spindly with hardly any leaves. If they do grow a tomato, the poor plant is going to fall over it looks so weak. My zucchini (which are usually very green and full by now) are barely up to my ankle and turning yellow. I just replanted three of them. We have always had a very full garden, but not this year. Do you have any suggestions to help save my plants. Thank you in advance.

Doug: My first question back would be what is the soil like? And are they in full sun? Garden soil needs to be revitalized yearly. For me that means adding compost. At this point I would recommend feeding your plants a good liquid organic fertilizer like Grow from Espoma (you can get it here). Also get a soil test from your county’s extension agent. They are usually around $10 and will tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the garden.

• • •

Dee: I took a cutting of my hibiscus in the fall of 2017. I put it in water. It rooted and bloomed in the water in December. Planted it in May. Today it has the gorgeous red bloom. ❤️ As a person who appreciates plants, I thought you might enjoy my success.

Doug: Nice job Dee. Taking cuttings is a great way to make more plants. Many plants can be propagated this way. It’s fun to experiment and it looks like your plants are thriving.

• • •

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