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March 2020: Reader Reply

Share a gardening or lawn care tip that has never failed you.

My tip or trick is a little more than one single item. For those who like to start their own plants, I have found that taking some soil from your own garden gives them a great start. Sterilize the soil by baking at 200 degrees for 30 minutes to kill any weed seeds or bad bugs that might be in the soil. You can now use this soil to start your plants, so they don’t have to acclimate to new soil when transplanted.

Once your plant has grown to a good size, putting on a couple of sets of true leaves, and the temperatures have warmed enough for gardening, take your plant outside and get it used to the wind and sun. You are hardening your plant, so it will be ready to go into your garden and flourish.

When it is time to plant in the garden, give the plants some simple, quick nutrients by adding a handful of organic oatmeal to each hole. Fill the hole with water, then add your plant and gently pack the soil around the plant. Instead of a plant that takes longer to flourish and grow, you will have a plant that is ready to put down good roots, because it is already used to the soil.

Lydia R. Gessele, member of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative

The gardening tip that comes to mind is one word: patience. Even though I have grown up in North Dakota and should know about the vulnerability of temperatures and seasons, I have been guilty of freezing pansies before Mother’s Day or setting out spindly plants before their time.

Wait for beyond the freeze date for your region. Be patient with seeding and wait for the plants to come up with the right water and sun. Label where you plant them while you wait. Patience.

Priscilla Backstrom, member of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative

A neighbor of mine always had a great carrot crop, and I always had trouble getting mine to germinate and grow. One time, I noticed he had 2-inch boards laying in his garden. He told me he always laid them on the carrot rows.

He would make shallow rows for the seeds, run water into the rows to moisten the ground, plant the seeds, then cover them lightly with soil and put the boards on top of the rows.

In about a week, he would start checking them. As soon as the carrots started coming up, he removed the boards. It works every time.

Eileen Vetter, member of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative

 When it comes to gardening, it seems that there are few things that “never fail.” However, a couple of simple ideas come to mind that have made my gardening more successful.

With onion sets, I used to choose the largest ones. The smallest ones, though, usually grow the biggest onions. If they grow too much the first time around, it seems to cut their growth in the long run. Also, when you plant them, always remember to only cover them halfway to harvest nice, large onions. If they are buried deeper, they produce only small onions.

During our short growing season in North Dakota, it was always frustrating to see the first squash or zucchini flower fall off without producing a fruit, because we typically don’t have bees around early enough. An easy fix that has worked well is to hand-pollinate them. Simply rub a Q-tip on the pollen from the male flower, and transfer it to the female flower. This is the simplest change I’ve made to my gardening and it has worked every time.

Anita Haakenson, McLean Electric Cooperative

I had hip surgery a few years ago, but still wanted to have a vegetable garden. I found a way to take the pain away from gardening.

We had several old oblong metal stock tanks that leaked water. I decided to recycle them. By filling them with dirt, they made a great raised garden. Planting was a joy, with everything at hip level.

To save space, I planted pole beans or peas on the ends of the tanks, using a metal border fence so they could climb and it would be easier to pick when ready.

I planted wide onion rows, with either beets or carrots between them. When the onions were ready to harvest, another vegetable still grew in the same post.

When I planted the tomatoes, I placed a large coffee can, with the bottom removed, around the tiny plants. They were protected from the wind, and watering was simple, with no more wasted water.

As they grew larger, I put the tomato cages around the cans. They fit perfectly, ready to contain the plant as it grew healthy and strong. Finding the first red tomato was something I always looked forward to.

Gardening was my way to relax in a way that I could manage, with a reward for all my hard work.

Bernice Wanner, member of Roughrider Electric Cooperative

At my home near Amidon, I was privileged to grow gorgeous carpets of copious, multi-colored moss roses (portulaca) by simply pulling the weeds until the flowers were thick enough to shade out the weeds, eliminating the intruders naturally. A bonus: I would leave the frost-bitten plants in place over the winter so they could drop their seeds. Come spring, the plants would reseed themselves, and I didn’t find myself buying moss rose seeds or plants.

This worked for innumerable years. I now live in Bowman, and when I can reach the ground from my wheelchair, I’ll be utilizing this foolproof method again.

Yvonne Stegner, member of Slope Electric Cooperative

APRIL: As we celebrate Earth Day, what big step have you taken to leave a smaller environmental footprint on our planet?
Deadline for submission: March 13

MAY: What is North Dakota’s best-kept secret place to visit?
Deadline for submission: April 13

We want to hear FROM you: Submissions should be no more than 250 words, typewritten or in legible handwriting. Include your name, complete address, daytime phone number and the name of the rural electric cooperative to which you belong. Note: Magazine staff reserves the right to make editing changes and cuts. We pay $25 for each letter we print. Email to or mail to READER REPLY, North Dakota Living, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727.