September 28, 2013 in Washington Voices

It was year to try growing two Southern favorites

Pat Munts

Peanut plants fill one end of a community garden box at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection last week. There is no sign of flowers that will lead to peanuts, but planting the Southern favorite is a fun way to experiment with what can be grown here, according to Pat Munts.
(Full-size photo)

For bug tips

For more tips on controlling stink bugs, contact the WSU Spokane County Master Gardeners at (509) 477-2181 or www.spokane-county. wsu. edu/spokane/eastside.

Many gardeners, myself included, like to experiment each summer with vegetables we don’t normally grow here just to see if this is that one summer we could grow them. Well, this was the summer we’ve been waiting for.

Over the years, I have had questions about whether sweet potatoes could grow here. This Southern favorite generally needs more than 100 warm, frost-free days and warm soil to produce their sweet tubers. When I found some Beauregard sweet potatoes slips available locally this spring, I figured it was time to try them. I tucked them into the warmest corner in the garden and started the wait.

The slips – or started roots – didn’t like the cold soil we had in June so they just sat and grew a few leaves. When it did warm up in July, it wasn’t long before I had dark green vines running everywhere through the tomatoes and raspberries. If I was scoring them on ornamental value, the vines would get a 10. As to whether I have an edible sweet potato tuber under all those leaves, we will have to wait until the frost clears a path to the ground.

The other vegetable people often ask about growing here is peanuts, another Southern treat. They do grow them on a limited basis down around the Tri-Cities, where there is a longer growing season and more heat.

This year, one member of our church’s community garden decided to give it a go. The peanuts were planted in early June just after we finished building some new boxes and filling them with warm compost. Peanuts need a 120-day growing season and can tolerate light frosts.

By mid-August when the soil and air temperature had warmed nicely, a mat of leaves that resembled ground hugging pea vines – peanuts are legumes – was spreading across the box. The last step we are waiting for will be the emergence of a flower followed by a stalk or peg that will bend back into the ground to grow the peanut. So, the experiments continue, and we will just have to wait out Mother Nature to check on the final results.

On the bug side of gardening, stink bugs seem to have made a grand appearance this fall. We normally encounter this bug in the fall as it tries to find warm places around our houses to hide for the winter. This year they are snacking on corn, tomatoes and peppers on their way to hibernation. These shield-shaped bugs emit a noxious odor when they are disturbed while their piercing sucking mouth parts rasp holes in fruits. Damage to tomatoes appears as rough spots on the skin with some deeper small feeding holes.

Unfortunately, there are few controls for the bug available to home vegetable gardeners because most pesticides must not be applied this close to harvest. Beneficial insects will go after stink bug populations. Otherwise with harvests so close, handpicking is the best way to control them.

Pat Munts, a Master Gardener, has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnw

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