Ask Farmer Jason Fall 2016

Question: What do toads eat?

–Kelsey, age 10, Nashville, Tennessee

Farmer Jason: Toads and frogs eat bugs, mostly flying ones like flies and mosquitos. To catch them they sit very quietly making no sounds or movement. When a flying bug gets close to them, they can catch it with their sticky tongues. Believe it or not, their tongues move so fast when catching bugs that the human eye has trouble even seeing the motion. It is an amazing thing. Because toads eat bugs, they are a very beneficial animal to have in your garden, and lots of fun to watch when they hop around in the evening or early morning.

Question: What is the difference between summer and winter squash?

–Justin, age 12, Kingston Springs, Tennessee

Farmer Jason: Summer squashes (mainly yellow squash and zucchini) have soft skins, which are edible. The plants grow fast and produce very quickly compared to winter squash. They do not store well and must be eaten within a week or so. They are excellent steamed, fried or in casseroles. Here in Tennessee, you can grow two or even three crops of them. If you stagger the plantings every month you can have summer squash from June to November, right out of the garden. Winter squash—usually butternut or acorn—is very different. The plants take longer to grow, sometimes as long as four months. The skin is hard and not eaten. Planted in the spring, it is ready to harvest in early fall. The fruits of the vine can be stored for several months. Winter squash is usually baked, and one of my favorite garden dishes. However, some folks make butternut squash into soup, which is absolutely delicious. Winter squash is easy to grow, but you must watch out for squash bugs. There are organic methods of controlling them, but the best method is to simply squash (no pun intended) their egg sacks before they hatch.

Question: Do â€TMpossums really play dead?

–Ashley, age 7, Lafayette, Louisiana

Farmer Jason: Yes, they do that! Many predators will not eat a dead animal. So the â€TMpossum will act like it is dead when attacked by a fox, coyote or human. It sounds like a crazy way to defend yourself, but apparently it does work!

TIP THE FARMER (Useful gardening tips for busy gardening parents)

In the fall, you can get a great radish or lettuce crop here in Tennessee. Our autumns are very mild, heavy frost comes late in the year and sunshine is abundant. As soon as the hot weather moderates in September, plant the lettuce and radishes, making sure to keep the ground and seeds moist in the sum- mer weather. I use raised beds and cover the beds with old boards to shade the seedbed until the seeds come up. Once they do come up, if we get a stretch of hot weather I will put a screen or lattice over the plants to mitigate the hot sun. That is the most important part of growing fall cold weather veggies: You have to protect the plants from heavy heat. Once established, by late October you will have deli- cious radishes and lettuce. I believe they taste better than the spring crops.