Ask the Experts – February 2017
By Kelly Young
Our agave started producing a giant stalk and looks like it is going to bloom. I heard that agaves die after they blossom. We don’t want to lose the plant; how can we stop it from flowering?
You’re right. Almost all agaves die after flowering. It takes several years for an agave to accumulate enough energy in the underground stem to allow it to produce that enormous flowering stalk. It’s impossible to tell when it will happen, but once the process starts, there is no stopping it. Enjoy the beautiful transformation over the next few months and the diverse pollinators that will visit the flowers this summer. In the meantime, think about what you will replace the agave with this fall. If you cannot bear the heartache of another agave blooming and dying, consider a yucca or desert spoon that will bloom year after year.
With all of this talk lately about GMOs, how can I be sure that the vegetables I plant in my garden are safe?
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, have been modified through technology to contain genes that they did not acquire through conventional breeding. Although widely deemed safe by the scientific community for consumption by humans and other animals, many people still have reservations about their use. Only a handful of GMO crops have been released, and none of those seeds are available to home gardeners. Seeds for commercially grown cotton, corn, soybeans, sugar beet, papaya, squash, alfalfa and canola are often genetically modified, but they are only available to farmers through authorized dealers. You cannot buy GMO seeds for your home garden, either intentionally or by accident. If you are still worried, purchase certified organic vegetable seeds, which per the USDA National Organic Program, cannot be genetically modified.
I was picking a bouquet of desert flowers and felt tingling in my hands and forearms. When I looked down, I noticed I was covered in tiny, biting insects. What were they, and how can I prevent them from attacking me again?
Those tiny insects were probably western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), and they weren’t really “biting” you, they were “rasping” you with their specialized mouthparts. Western flower thrips are tiny, approximately 1⁄16 of an inch long, and feed on flowers and pollen from hundreds of plant species. When you picked your bouquet, hordes of alarmed thrips rushed out of the flowers to investigate and decided to taste you. They probably only rasped you once to determine if you were a delicious flower and gave up, disappointed. Although it feels disturbing, this feeding behavior doesn’t harm or transmit any diseases to humans. Next time, wear gloves and long sleeves.