Ask the gardeners

Q In some of the seed catalogs I've been getting, I notice tomatoes are described as being either determinate or indeterminate. Since there may be other puzzled people, as well as myself, I'm writing to you instead of the seed companies, so you can comment in your column if you think the distinction is important enough. Our mail indicates there are other puzzled people. Simply stated, ``determinate'' means a plant will stop growing when it reaches a certain size; ``indeterminate'' means vines will grow much taller (or longer) and size cannot be predicted. The terms became common as gardeners began demanding plants which could be grown in containers and other small spaces. Plant breeders have done an excellent job of breeding compactness into melons, squash, and cucumbers, too. Q Is there anyone on earth who can tell me where to find two good old-fashioned tomato varieties? One is Pritchard and the other is Stone. I would be most grateful for this information.

Pritchard, also known as Pritchard's Scarlet Topper, is an old variety developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1931. It is available from Charles Hart Seed Company, PO Box 9169, Wethersfield, Conn. 06109. Stone is an even older variety dating to 1889. It is still available from Burgess Seed Company, 905 Four Seasons Road, Bloomington, Ill. 61701. Q We began gardening two years ago. Our first crop of onions was very mild, but this past fall's crop has been really hot to the taste, even though they keep well. Neighbors said the temperature was in the 90s while we were on vacation this past summer, and perhaps that might have been the problem. What do you think?

If you used the same variety as the year before, the flavor was likely made more pungent due to lack of water. To help onions maintain mildness during dry spells, work plenty of organic matter (compost, leaves, etc.) into the soil. This helps soil hold moisture. A friend of ours works a foot or more of rotted leaves into his garden each spring and has the mildest onions and sweetest carrots and beets we've ever tasted. If you go away, ask someone to water regularly (especially onions and radishes). Heat itself doesn't cause hot flavor but may cause soil to dry out faster. Q Last summer I purchased lupine seeds from a gift shop in an area where the flowers were growing wild. Should I start them indoors now, then set plants out as soon as they are large enough? Should seeds be soaked before planting?

It is not necessary to soak lupine seeds before planting, but using warm water to keep the medium constantly moist speeds germination. Use one of the peatlite mixes and cover seeds with about 1/4 inch of medium. For good germination, temperature should be about 70 degrees F. at night and 80 degrees during the day. (A horticultural heating pad or cable is a boon to all seed-starters.)

Nature sows the seeds of wild lupine in late July or early August and they germinate in 20 to 30 days; then plants winter over, to become blooming plants the following summer. Commercial growers of tame varieties follow nature's timetable, but winter the plants in a cold frame. You can sow your seeds now, then transplant outdoors when size of plant and weather permits. Some may bloom in fall, but most should bloom next year. Q About 100 feet from the west side of our house is a wooded area. We would like to plant some flowering perennials, in front of the woods, that would grow between two and three feet tall. They would get about four hours of sun per day. What would you suggest?

Astilbe is one of the best perennials, which comes in white, red, and pinks. Most varieties are hardy in Zones 4-8, fine for your area in Missouri (and others stretching from Wisconsin to Georgia). Most bloom in July and August. For May and June bloom, plant columbine (Aquilegia) and bleeding heart (Dicentra). There are new varieties of both that are quite spectacular. For June through September bloom, get a collection of day lilies (Hemerocallis). Hosta (also called Funkia or plantain lily) has striking foliage, but its flowers are not showy. They are as fragrant as trailing arbutus. Q We would like to grow some edible podded peas in our garden this year and would like to know if they freeze well. What varieties do you recommend?

Unquestionably, the best we have found are Sugar Snap and Sugar Ann. They are both delicious when stir-fried or lightly steamed, and superb eaten raw. They freeze well. Sugar Snap vines will grow 4 to 6 feet so they should be supported. Sugar Ann grows 18 to 30 inches tall, and in some seasons may need support. If both varieties are planted at the same time, Sugar Ann will mature two weeks earlier. Both retain their flavor and tenderness even when peas fill the pods.

If you have a question about your garden, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

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