Ask the gardeners

I have heard that ''dishrag gourds,'' sold in drug stores and at cosmetic counters, can be grown in the garden. Is this true? Yes, indeed. Luffa, sponge gourd, or dishrag gourd are all names you may find in the seed catalogs.

We grow ours on a trellis in a sunny spot.

First, we sow the seeds in peat pots indoors on May 1 and then plant outside on Memorial Day. Otherwise, we would get few mature gourds before frost in the fall.

Young gourds (up to 6 inches) can be used like summer squash or okra.

When the skins get tough (fruit will be about 18 inches long), that's the time to pick. We then cover them with warm water and set over very low heat until the skin can be peeled off. Rinsing and squeezing removes the seeds.

Then the gourds are ready to bleach and use as scrubbers or wash cloths.

I wish to grow a few black raspberries in my small backyard. The five Cumberland variety plants which I bought from a well-known firm grew lushly after I set them out, but the next year they produced only crumbly, dried-up fruit. Our extension service says they had a virus. Although the company returned my money, I'm afraid to get more plants. Don't blame the nursery. Black raspberies, as well as the reds, are susceptible to mosaic which makes growing them over three or four years a problem. The virus is spread by insects, such as aphids and leafhoppers, so you should keep the area around the bushes free of grass and weeds.

Why not grow a purple raspberry, such as Sodus, which is more resistant to mosaic and the fruit does not crumble.

A planting will last many years. Once you get tuned to the taste you will prefer them to the others.

What can I do with a begonia which insists on growing out over the edge of the pot with thick stems that twine around. It is very decorative but doesn't seem natural. You must have one of the rhizomatous-type begonias which have rhizomes that resemble stems. They curl and twine naturally as they get older; and often the leaves attached to them begin to fall off.

While they are still attractive, enjoy them. When the rhizomes get bare, cut them back and they will usually throw out new shoots. Also, the plant may need repotting.

Use care not to break off the leaves; and move only to the next-size-larger pot.

Matted roots should be pulled apart around the sides and bottom of the root ball before repotting in a new, loose, humusy soil mix.

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