The reader mailbag has been filling up, largely as a result of last week's column on sweet potatoes and my diatribe the previous week about the ineffective compost maker I bought through the mail. Before I share that correspondence, however, let me put out a call for more.
I've recently had a couple of readers report good results in the vegetable garden using methods taken from Patricia Lanza's book "Lasagna Gardening." I'm looking for specific anecdotes about what worked best and any adaptations to her method you may have come up with.
Also, I'm happy to report that Kitchen & Garden is now global. I received an e-mail this week from Gary Hele of Adelaide, South Australia, who found an old column about making tomato cages on the Internet and wanted some more information.
He thought I could help because I garden in Kansas. Turns out that his part of the world is a windy place where summer temperatures reach 45 degrees Celsius. (My temperature converter tells me this is 113 degrees Fahrenheit.) At least he didn't say we had something in common because South Australia is monotonously flat and has tornadoes and Dorothy.
Another stereotype shattered.
Originating closer to home was an e-mail from Allen Fowler, who gardens prolifically near Fall Leaf, which is north of Eudora. He took issue with my comment last week that sweet potatoes don't grow here and even sent me a photo of his 2002 sweet potato crop spread out on a long table, in all its glory.
Shockingly, Allen doesn't set out his sweet potato plants until early June, yet still gets a full crop of humongous tubers before the first killing frost in the fall. This I attribute to his know-how and the dirt he grows them in. The soil all along the Kansas River makes the best foundation for a vegetable garden in northeast Kansas. It contains enough sand to keep it loose and is full of nutrients, which are the top requirements for a good root crop.
Compare and contrast this dirt with the hard-pack that many other Kansas gardeners till.
Allen reports that he buys his plants at a local greenhouse, and sets them a foot apart. He runs a soaker hose down the row.
My rant about the ComposTumbler elicited a variety of comment, although I heard not a word from anyone who wanted to defend this piece of equipment. The most common response was a sort of vague curiosity tinged with pity. Apparently, some people hadn't thought me gullible enough to buy such a thing.
Kate Fairchild, who moved to Kansas from Maine, had me laughing out loud. She was in the group of readers who have drooled over the ads that promise "brown gold" in 14 days and now are grateful to know that their restraint paid off.
She wrote: "Every month I would sigh over those ads in Organic Gardening for the ComposTumbler. It seemed so easy. And magical. But I just couldn't justify the price and knew that everyone in the neighborhood would make fun of me."
Good call, Kate. My neighbors are in stitches.
My new soulmate, however, is Sonya Maness-Turner, who also took the ComposTumbler plunge and wrote me a conciliatory misery-loves-company e-mail.
"I, too, have found it impossible to create brown gold in the one I purchased two, or maybe three years ago now," she wrote. "I thought it was my fault that it was not working as directed."
Her ComposTumbler is now a patio ornament.
This brings me full circle to an e-mail I received last winter from Scott Morgan, who had read my original column on buying and assembling the ComposTumbler. At that time I was riding a wave of composting optimism and Scott made a comment that appears in hindsight to have been an omen.
He declined to describe his own experience but said, "I'll be curious to see what you think after you've had it awhile."