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In Good Thyme

"We planted Hubbard squash and they were large and abundant. After we picked them, we noticed dark spots appear in numerous areas, but mostly at the stem. If we didn't know better, we would think that they got a touch of frost. That is impossible, though, as they are carefully stored at 40 degrees. They got a fair amount of water near the end of their growing period. Could this be the problem? - The Kirkebys, CoupevilleIn an effort to squelch the squash problem, WSU-Island County Master Gardener Iris Linton contacted Liz and Dale Sherman, who have been raising Hubbard squash commercially on their Pioneer Farm in Coupeville for years. Mrs. Sherman suggested that Hubbard squash is particularly vulnerable to a bacterial wilt which may not show up until the squash has been harvested. The disease is often spread by cucumber beetles. Also, Hubbards are subject to rot if they have cuts or bruises that have touched the soil, so use bruised squash first; don't attempt to store them. Harvest Hubbards when the stems begin to turn brown and shrivel. Wipe the squash clean and dry carefully. If possible, season them outdoors in a sunny, dry area for a week or two. This may be problematic due to weather conditions, and you shouldn't try to season squash when the temperature dips below freezing. Wipe the squash again with a soft, dry cloth, then keep indoors in a dry place where temperatures remain between 40 - 60 degrees.However - and this is an important however - it's bad medicine to attempt a diagnosis without seeing the patient. I contacted Dr. Debra Inglis, a plant pathologist and associate professor with the Washington State University-Mount Vernon Research and Extension Unit. She has offered to culture the unhealthy Hubbard in the lab in order to identify the problem once and for all. You may take (or mail) a sample of the sickly squash to Dr. Inglis at the Research and Extension Unit, 16650 State Route 536 (Old Memorial Highway), Mount Vernon, WA 98273-9761.Dr. Inglis suggests that gardeners may be interested in WSU's new Vegetable Pathology Program Web site: http://mtvernon.wsu.edu/plant_pathology/plant_path.htm. The site, still under construction, has the latest scientific information for the serious veggie grower.COFFEE LOVERS who don't like paying two or three bucks for a fancy cup of java might want to consider growing their own, as Rick Carroll of Oak Harbor is doing. The only problem is that Rick has waited about 15 years for that cup. That's how long he's been growing an arabica coffee tree purchased as a small potted plant from a local supermarket in 1987. He says it didn't do much until two years ago, when it spent the summer on his patio and began to bloom. He then moved it to the big, south-facing window in his office, where it has since thrived. It's produced more jasmine-scented white blossoms and is now bedecked with green berries, which are slowly ripening to red. Rick figures that he may have enough berries on his four-foot tree to make one cup of coffee.In its natural environment in the tropics, coffee doesn't take that long to produce. It begins bearing at about two years but doesn't produce a full yield until its sixth year. As a houseplant, blooming and bearing is a matter of luck (and good care). Whether or not it generates beans, coffee makes an attractive potted specimen. It's easy to please, as long as you plant it in a good, fast draining potting mix and keep it slightly moist, but never soggy. It enjoys bright light, but direct, hot sunlight may burn its glossy, evergreen leaves. In the summer you can move it outdoors into filtered sunlight. It prefers daytime temperatures of 70 degrees and up, and doesn't at all appreciate night temperatures below 60.If you want your tree to produce serious fruit, feed it with an all-purpose water soluble fertilizer every two weeks from spring through fall, then once a month during the winter months. Carroll says he's never fertilized his tree, although he does occasionally dump a cup of cold coffee into the pot!I recently heard about a Mount Vernon couple who raises Maui coffee trees. They play taped Hawaiian music in their greenhouse to maintain the plants' aloha spirit. Rick Carroll doesn't know the ethnic origins of his coffee tree, but it probably wouldn't hurt if he sang to it occasionally. Perhaps he could espresso himself with some java jazz, a latte lullaby, or maybe a macchiado macarena.--------------------Mariana Graham, a writer and former editor, is a Master Gardener certified through the WSU-Island County Cooperative Extension Service. If you have questions or comments, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail wnt@whidbey.net. "

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