Ask the gardening expert

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In reading my seed catalog I've noticed there are some letters next to the seed, usually at the end of the description of what the plant will be. I wonder what they mean?

These are most likely a code to you the reader as to what diseases this batch of seeds have been bred to resist. You most likely find the key to their particular meaning in the catalog, usually near the index of seeds offered.

I've looked into one of my catalogs, and found these common symbols offered next to the front page: PM (Powdery mildew), F (Fusarium), V (verticillium wilt), MV (Mosaic virus), A (Alternaria) early blight, Anth. (Anthracnose.)

If you are interested in a description of the diseases I suggest you contact the master gardeners' office to help you learn which particular disease the seed is stated to be resistant to, call them at 360-397-6060 ext. 5711. If no one is manning the office when you call, leave a message with your contact information in order for a volunteer to assist you. You can also reach them by email at MGanswerclinic@clark.wa.gov.

A fellow from my husband's work gave him some nice winter squash and my family likes them but they are so hard to get into. Last year I had one slip when I took a hatchet to it. It so unnerved me that I vowed to never try again. I know folks open them but I don't know how to safely do it. Any suggestions?

I feel this is a question for the WSU Clark County Extension Office's food safety program. They answer homeowners' questions on food safety, nutrition, canning, etc. They just may have the answer to your question. Reach them at 360-397-6060 ext. 5740 or 5700.

However I can tell you what I do, but with this caveat: it may not be their recommended solution.

I place the clean wet squash in a plastic bag and into the microwave oven, after I've given it a couple of pricks with a sharp fork for safety's sake, and run it on high for a minute or two. Carefully allow the hot steamy air to escape, then place the squash on a cutting board. I find that I can slice into the hard shell quite easily Please remember to check with the food safety program, since this may not be a method they would recommend to you.

I've attached a photo to this email to you. It is of a vine that my neighbor is growing. It is so cute, it's purple bell-like blooms, with a darker purple flower in the center. The plant is a climber, and she had it in with a climbing pink rose. They look so nice together. She cannot remember the name of it. From the photo can you tell me what it is?

Yes, I'm amazed to be able to say I can, I happen to be growing it for the third year in my greenhouse. It's called Rhodochiton atrosanguineus. Quite a mouthful I know but the common name is easy enough, it's Chinese purple bell vine. It's easy to grow; I started mine from seed I found in Thomson & Morgan Seed catalog. The plant will grow to 10 feet, T&M say. Mine is not that tall. It blooms some all summer but profusely in early fall; it still has hundreds of blooms right now as I write.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.

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