Question: I live in Corpus Christi, Texas and we've been having a severe drought. I want to grow a fall vegetable garden, but I can't afford the cost of water to keep it alive. Are there certain vegetables that require less water than others?
Answer: I know much of Texas is suffering through an epic drought, but that doesn't mean you can't grow a vegetable garden. You'll just have to be smart about how you garden and what you grow. First of all there are ways to save water. Consider installing rain barrels to collect rain water this winter and store it for future use. Install drip irrigation hoses on a timer to maximize the use of the water you have. Mulch to conserve soil moisture after plants are established. Consider planting in areas with afternoon shade to lessen the amount of water loss due to evapotranspiration.
There are some vegetables and herbs that require less water once established. They do need water to germinate and start growing, but once mature, they aren't considered water hogs. Some of these drought tolerant vegetables and herbs that are good for a fall planting in your area are southern peas, mustard greens, onions, New Zealand spinach, sweet corn, Swiss chard, sage, chives, oregano, thyme, and lavender.
Question: I have squirrels in my Pennsylvania garden that are eating the pears on my new pear tree before they ripen. What can I do to stop them?
Answer: Squirrels can be a big problem on fruit trees because they love sweet, juicy tree fruits almost as much as you and I do. The best way to thwart the squirrels is to grow your trees where they can't get into them. This means away from buildings or other trees where they can jump from one structure or tree to another. Once the trees are isolated, place squirrel baffles around the trunks so they can't climb up the tree.
If isolating the trees doesn't work, you can try repellent sprays containing garlic, hot pepper, or bitrex (a bitter compound). These will work best if applied early, just as the fruits are forming, so when the squirrels try out a few fruits they learn to not like the taste. Reapply after a rain and rotate the use of two or three different repellents for the best results. Another option would be to cover the individual pears with paper bags until they reach the mature green stage, then harvest and let the pears mature indoors.