ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q I have tried several of your tips for using various harmless materials for repelling animals. I wonder if you ever tried buckwheat flour. My father used this to repel either woodchucks or rabbits. N.C.

Marion, Ohio

At one time someone told us about buckwheat flour for rabbits. We tried it on our lettuce and bush beans and the rabbits stopped eating them.

But their departure from our property may also have been due to our adoption of a dog that loves to chase rabbits and woodchucks.

The explanation of the repellent value is that buckwheat contains rutin, which is distasteful to wildlife. We have used talcum powder on cornsilk and other vegetables to deter such animals as raccoons, rabbits, and woodchucks.

It appeared to work. But we would be very happy to hear of someone who has done a thorough job of testing both buckwheat flour and talcum powder.

We are quite certain that talcum powder repels flea beetles - the tiny black beetles that make an enormous amount of tiny holes in leaves of both tomatoes and potatoes.

We welcome letters about nontoxic repellents and pesticides. We will be happy to pass along tried and verified results.

Q We had a very strange thing happen to a part of our lawn. When we returned home from a trip, we found that an area approximately 10 by 10 ft. had been dug up as if someone had done a rough job of tilling.

It was in the poorest part of the lawn. We asked our neighbor, who has a good view of the area, if he had seen any prankster. He told us the damage had been done during the night several days before we got home. He was surprised, but very puzzled, since he heard no noises.

Are there any animals that would do such a stunt? The area is not easily accessible to human prowlers.

M.S.T.

La Crosse, Wis.

Oddly, we have been getting similar questions from around the country. Credit is due to skunks - nocturnal benefactors that have been ridding your lawn of grubs, which were responsible for the poor appearance of that portion of your lawn.

We can forgive them for the mess when we realize they consume quantities of larvae of chafers, Japanese beetles, and Noctuidae moths (adult stage of cutworms), plus scores of other insect pests.

While they occasionally eat eggs and young of ground-nesting birds that happen to be in their path, they redeem themselves by eating mice and voles (both young and adults), which often destroy garden crops and gnaw on young fruit trees.

Once established in an area, skunks forage around summer crops after dark, getting many of the garden and lawn pests the birds miss.

Q At Christmas time I was given a miniature African violet in a pot about one inch across. The blossoms were lovely.

Now they are gone, and there are no buds. Is it possible that they are only one-time bloomers?

M.J.G.

Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Miniature African violets (Saintpaulia) will continue to bloom if they have the right conditions. As do the larger varieties, they need bright light but not direct sun.

But most miniatures prefer to be in terrariums, where they get a bit more humidity. If air is too dry, miniatures do not perform well.

They are extremely attractive in terrariums and can be combined with other small plants that thrive in the same situation.

If you have a garden question, send it along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.

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