Q: I haven’t tried growing cucumbers recently because when I last grew them, they were bitter, and I didn’t really enjoy eating them. What did I do wrong?
A: Your cucumbers were fighting a chemical warfare battle with you. Many plants use bitter-tasting alkaloid chemicals to prevent it from being eaten by herbivores. Cucumbers naturally produce cucurbitacin in their leaves and roots. Cucumber breeders do their best to create cucumber varieties with the least amount possible. It can accumulate in the fruit if the plant is under stress from bad weather. Cucurbitacin is generally produced more in first-ripening fruits rather than in later-ripening fruits.
If the plant regularly suffers from lack of water or when cucumber plants are too cold in early spring or late fall, cucurbitacin may start moving into the fruit. Cucumber plants need warm weather, so don’t plant them too early and then harvest the cucumbers before the weather turns cool in the fall. In other words, don’t wait until the first frost of the fall is predicted to harvest your last cucumbers of the season. Install mulch around the cucumber plants to help keep the soil damp, rather than letting it dry out.
The cucurbitacin accumulates at the stem end of the cucumber first and just under the skin. Cut off an inch of the stem end and peel the cucumber to remove the most cucurbitacin. You can soak the peeled cucumber in a vinegar salad dressing so the acidic vinegar can neutralize some of the cucurbitacin.
Q: I have found moss growing in my lawn. How do I get rid of it?
A: As with any other lawn problem, we need to diagnose the root cause. Why is moss growing there when the grass should be? Moss is a very weak plant. If the environmental conditions are good for grass, it will outgrow the moss. That area of your lawn probably has one or more of the following conditions, which don’t allow the grass to grow: too much shade, compacted soil, too much moisture in the soil, too shallow of a soil, low soil acidity, or a soil with few nutrients.
Moss does not need a good soil. In fact, it can grow on boulders if it has enough moisture and shade. Moss will dry out and die if it gets the amount of sun that lawn grasses prefer. Grass and flowering plants need a deep soil that has plenty of air in it for gas exchange. This means the soil can’t be smashed down and compacted so that the air pores are gone. Moss has tiny shallow roots and doesn’t care if the soil is compacted.
Removing or killing the moss will not help the grass. Moss does not stop grass from growing, but a healthy grass will stop moss from growing. Fixing the soil and environmental problems will help the grass much more than killing the moss.
If there is too much shade for the grass — caused by trees you can’t prune or nearby buildings — it may be impossible to fix. In this case, moss is a great alternative to grass. It is green, and it is pretty when it covers an area all by itself. An area of moss will not even need to be mowed.
If the soil is too compacted for the grass, core aeration may help fix that problem. Adding limestone can raise the pH to fix an acidity problem. Replacing or adding topsoil may help fix the remaining problems that prevent the grass from growing.
Lawn care companies make products that contain iron sulfate, which will kill moss. Never use dish soap, vinegar, bleach or other homemade solutions to kill moss. These will just pollute the soil and landscape and may not allow grass roots to grow.