Q. I still have a row of turnips and carrots in the vegetable garden. The tops are all frozen but are the roots still OK to eat?
A. You'll need to dig some of your remaining root crops to determine their eating quality. Root crops planted in late summer or early fall can often be overwintered in Maryland if covered with a deep blanket of straw or chopped leaves after the tops die back. A thick mulch helps to insulate the edible roots. Unprotected carrots and turnips tend to lose their eating quality and shrivel and rot due to repeated cycles of freezing and thawing temperatures.
Q. We burn wood in a stove through the winter and were told that wood ashes are good to toss on the garden and compost pile. Is this true?
A. Wood ashes are a fine, recycled amendment for garden soils. Hardwood ashes are a good source of potassium (4.0 to 10.0 percent potash) and a moderate source of phosphorus (1.0 to 2.0 percent phosphate). Wood ashes are 40 to 50 percent calcium carbonate, so their principal benefit is in liming the soil and raising the soil pH. A pH of 7.0 is neutral; anything below 7.0 would be acidic (sour) and any number above 7.0 would be basic (sweet). A soil pH of 6.3 to 7.0 is fine for most plants. If you add more than two to three bushels of wood ashes per 1,000 square feet each winter, have your soil pH checked yearly to make sure the soil pH is not being pushed above 7.0.
Q. My African violets are becoming distorted and gnarly. What's going on?
A. Cyclamen mites are the likely culprit. They attack a variety of houseplants, including cyclamen, begonias, kalanchoes and African violets. Infested plants are often stunted with distorted leaves that become brittle and change in color from green to bronze, gray or tan. Buds will fail to open and flowers will be small and distorted. Isolate any infested plants immediately and throw out any that are badly damaged. Spray infested plants with a miticide or insecticide that is labeled for use on cyclamen mites and houseplants.
THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST
1. Clear leaves out of gutters and downspouts to prevent ice from falling on and damaging foundation plants.
2. Never throw pet waste on a compost pile or garden bed. Dogs and cats carry some human pathogens in their stomachs that pose a health risk.
Backyard Q&A is by Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist for the Home and Garden Information Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension Services of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.