Green’s keen for most veggies except spuds

  • Martha Stewart Living Magazine
  • Wednesday, May 30, 2007 9:00pm
  • Life

When potatoes are exposed to light they can make chlorophyll, which turns them green. A bitter compound known as solanine, which can be toxic if eaten in quantity, forms during this process. Avoid eating potato skin or flesh that has a green tint. Cut off green portions or peel until only white flesh is exposed.

To prevent the greening process, store unwashed potatoes in a cool, dark, well ventilated place for up to two months for baking varieties; new potatoes keep for a week. Temperatures of 70 degrees and above can cause potatoes to shrivel or sprout. Sprouting is also associated with increased amounts of solanine, so always remove any growths before eating.

Do not refrigerate potatoes: At temperatures below 40 degrees, the vegetable’s starches can turn to sugar, resulting in an overly sweet taste and excessive browning during cooking. And consider purchasing individual potatoes instead of a bulk bag. This way you can handpick the best spuds.

A window well is a cutaway in the soil around a basement window that lets light in and serves as an emergency exit. U.S. building codes require “egress” or a safe exit when a bedroom is located below ground. A window well or bulkhead (a sloping exterior door) satisfies the requirement.

In the former case, most building codes call for one window that is 5.7 square feet or larger and no more than 44 inches off the floor, so a person could boost himself up and out. Unless the lot slants, there often isn’t room between the ground and the top of a foundation for a window that complies with these regulations. That’s where window wells come in.

To make one, the soil outside must be cut back around the window, creating a landing that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet. There also needs to be a reinforcing system, such as a metal or wooden wall, to hold the soil in place. And if the outside landing is more than 44 inches below ground, there must be a ladder or steps. Check your local building codes for additional requirements.

Some window wells have grates over the top to prevent people – especially kids – from tumbling in and to provide extra protection against intruders. You may also install bubblelike covers, which keep water from draining onto the landing and then seeping into the basement. Grates or covers must be designed to be opened easily from the inside.

What are the benefits of time-release fertilizer? If I use it, will I need to apply other kinds?

Time-release, or controlled-release, fertilizer gradually delivers the major nutrients plants need – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – over a fixed period. This can range from a few months to a year, depending on the product you choose.

The nutrients are encapsulated in small spheres, called “prills,” made of a resin that dissolves slowly in soil. While conventional fertilizers must be applied regularly throughout the season, time-release varieties need to be used only at planting time. In most cases, additional fertilizers are not necessary.

With time-release formulas, you don’t have to worry about clumping, which can be a problem when granular fertilizers are exposed to humidity. And unlike powder or liquid kinds, which must be diluted in water, time-release fertilizer is ready to use — just distribute the prills within the top 3 inches of soil.

You may apply a time-release fertilizer in almost any garden situation, but it is especially well suited for use with annuals. The life spans of both the product and the plants coincide nicely. Heavy feeders, such as petunias, tuberous begonias and angel trumpets, are the best candidates for this formula. The high cost of time-release fertilizer, however, usually prohibits its use in large-scale applications, such as in vegetable beds.

Read the package carefully to be sure the time-release formula you choose is appropriate for your growing season, and avoid applying it too early. The prills are engineered to dissolve in higher temperatures (generally 70 degrees and higher). Freezing temperatures can damage the coatings, causing all nutrients to be released on the first warm day.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. E-mail to

2007 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

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