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Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

Q: Is there any way to keep spinach making leaves? Mine was just getting well started when it stopped growing and made flowers instead.

A: You can influence the growth of spinach, but you cannot control it. If the plants have decent soil and enough water, they will make leaves for a longer time. However, when summer days grow long, nothing will stop spinach from flowering. It is programmed to bloom when nights are short.

There are several ways to keep spinach making leaves for the longest possible time. Start with a package of seed which says that it is slow to bolt. Several varieties are. Plant the spinach in spring as soon as the weather permits. (Yes, in some years it is possible to plant spinach in September and let it spend the winter in the garden, to start growing again in spring. Unfortunately, the weather in other winters simply is not survivable.)

Once the first spinach leaves appear, it is vital to thin the plants, giving them room to grow as quickly as possible while the weather still is cool. Thin spinach to just one plant every four inches for baby leaves, one every eight inches for big leaves. Always the idea is to grow plenty of leaves while nights are still long enough.

The last trick is to keep the spinach half asleep, so that it does not wake up and realize that it is time to bloom. Grow spinach in a shady spot or provide it with shade. I use a piece of shadecloth on short poles, like a roof over the spinach plants. If spinach never sees bright sun after the first of May, it makes leaves for two or three weeks longer than if it were uncovered.

None of this will help this year's spinach, which has gone to seed long since, but it will guarantee a good crop next year.

Q: What are the very small bugs eating my hops leaves, and what can I do?

A: Probably they are leafhoppers, which attack both hops and Virginia creeper. Watch for the first of them hopping from leaf to leaf, and spray the vines with the organic insecticide neem. Spraying must come early in a leafhopper's life cycle because neem will kill them only at the stage when they are hopping around. Later in summer, when leafhoppers are able to fly, neem is ineffective.

SHREDDERS

Like all owners of electric shredders, I find that green or wet leaves plug them up. It is necessary to stop, disassemble the shredder, clean it out, and put it back together in order to continue. That is a frustrating nuisance, usually accompanied by impolite language.

I am embarrassed to say that it took me all these years to solve the problem. If there are other gardeners who are having to unplug their shredders, here finally is an answer to having them run trouble free. To other gardeners who figured it out long ago, congratulations!

It turns out that the problem begins not with wet leaves but with a wet stem which catches crosswise above the blades, instead of feeding in lengthwise. The solution is remarkably simple: As you add plants, stand where you can watch from above while the pieces are shredded. When a stem catches sideways, flip it loose with any other stem which you are still holding. The process is easiest to see if you feed small amounts at once. It does require paying attention, but it is infallible.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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