ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q While traveling recently, I saw, at a glance, a reference to ``day neutral'' strawberries in the title of an article being read by another passenger. I am curious as to what this term means. Our whole family likes strawberries and we would like to try growing some in our backyard. S. C. Medford, Ore. Plant breeders around the country have made great strides in producing superb strawberry varieties suitable for every region (except the very hottest areas) of the United States. Years back, strawberries were June-bearing only, because this type is triggered into bloom by day length. ``Day neutral'' varieties are actually known as everbearers -- those which produce several crops during a season because they are not affected by day length. Parents of today's everbearers were produced by crossing June-bearing with Rocky Mountain strawberries. Folks should consult their state colleges for the names of varieties suitable for their areas. For your area,two recommended varieties are Selva and Fern. Q Awhile ago I read that gelatin makes a good source of nitrogen for plants because it won't burn roots. However, small packages from grocery stores are extremely expensive. Is it available in larger quantities? R. B. B. Rockport, Mass.

It may be available in less expensive amounts from photo-supply establishments. However, since it is, according to our Webster dictionary, ``a glutinous protein obtained from various animal tissues,'' it is available in other forms from your garden store. Also, there are other plant foods (both organic and chemical) that, if used according to directions, have no adverse effects on plant roots. We are sure most are just as effective. Q Last summer we bought a food dehydrator and were rewarded with a good supply of delicious dried apple, pear, and peach slices. We would like to try raising these fruits ourselves. We would also like a prune tree, but our current nursery catalog does not list prune trees -- only plums. Two members of our family insist that prunes are only dried plums; two other members argue that prunes are a separate fruit altogether. We'll appreciate your comments and also a suggestion of what varieties are best for drying. T. R. Okolona, Ky.

Prunes are plums that have a high enough sugar content to make them good for drying. They are often referred to as prune-plums. There are two very good varieties for your area. They are also suited to the Northeast (down to minus-20 degrees F.), the Midwest, and all the upper South. Both Stanley and Earliblue have deep purplish blue skin and yellow flesh; they are delicious canned, fresh, and dried. Another good feature -- they are self-pollinating, or self-fruitful (not requiring another variety for pollination). Most apples and pears need another variety for pollination, but most peaches are self-pollinating.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.

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