Gardening Q & A

Summer is winding down, which means it is once again time for my semi-annual roundup of some of the more unusual, or at least less-common, gardening questions I answered this season. Hopefully there’s something here that you’ll find interesting or helpful.

How do I save tomato seeds?

It’s easier than you might think. Scrape the pulp from a few of the same tomatoes into a jar with some water in it and stir. Put a lid on the jar and let it sit for a three or four days at room temperature, stirring a couple of times a day. You want seeds to drop to the bottom so add more water if you need to and continue to stir. Once there are many seeds on the bottom of the jar, skim off floating seeds and any mold, if you see some. Carefully pour out some of the water and add fresh water before skimming the top again. Once the container looks clean and there is little to nothing floating, pour off all of the water through a fine strainer and spread your seeds out to dry. I use a dinner plate, but you can also use screen or a cutting board, whatever works.

Can I use Milorganite to condition straw bale gardens before planting?

I’d say gardeners have to decide this for themselves. Here are the facts: Milorganite is a fertilizer made from treated sewer sludge from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The sludge, which comes in pellet form and smells kind of gross, but not in the way you would think, is marketed as being great for trees, shrubs, lawns and home gardens. It is also a good deer and rabbit repellent. The problem is, while Milorganite is deemed safe for consumer use by the Environmental Protection Agency, testing has shown that it contains contaminants that the treatment process cannot remove, such as heavy metals, pathogens, pharmaceuticals and other toxic chemicals. Because of this, I steer clear of using it on or near edible plants. If you’re going to plant a straw bale, there are many other safe, organic fertilizers to choose from.


I want a red-blooming delphinium. Is there such a thing? 

Happily, there are some varieties of red delphinium, and I would suggest ‘Red Caroline,’ which has coral-colored blooms that darken to red as they mature. Like most delphinium, they will do best if you stake them so they won’t topple over. Pollinators and hummingbirds love these flowers, and the plants are hardy to Zone 4, so they will survive our horrifying winters. While you might find these in garden centers, it’s probably easier to go online and order either seeds or plants.

Is garlic a good insect repellent? 

Yes, it definitely can be. You can buy various types of garlic-based sprays and oils, or you can make your own by tossing two large cloves of garlic and four cups of water into a blender. Strain the mush through some cheesecloth once or twice and dilute what’s left with another cup of water. Test the garlic repellent on a plant or two that you don’t care about so much before spraying it widely, just to be sure you’re not causing any damage. Tests have shown that whiteflies, some types of beetles and aphids are all repelled by garlic, though be aware that your garden’s going to be a bit smelly for a few days.

Check out Meleah’s blog,, for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.