Garden Talk: October 25, 2007

From NGA Editors

Thornless Lime Tree for Containers

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Dwarf citrus trees make great container plants because they are adaptable to both indoor and outdoor conditions and produce fruit while taking up very little space. In warm climates (USDA zones 9-11) they can be grown year-round on decks and patios. In colder climates, they can be moved indoors for the winter to a sunny window or greenhouse.

One of the best container citrus is the Mexican lime tree, and a new thornless variety is now available. The Mexican thornless lime (Citrus aurantifolia) features upright branches with no thorns, fragrant blossoms, and 2-inch-diameter fruits for use in cooking and beverages. Mexican limes dehydrate quickly because of their thin rinds, so freshly picked limes are much more flavorful than store-bought fruits. The Mexican lime tree reaches 12 to 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide outdoors in frost-free areas, but it grows much smaller in a container. The green fruits set in summer and mature to a pale yellow in early winter. The fruits hold well on the tree and continue ripening even when moved indoors.

For more information on the Mexican thornless lime, go to: Monrovia Nursery.

Handy Tool for Cleaning Up Dropped Fruits

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There are many tools for raking and removing leaves that drop on our lawns and gardens, but when it comes to picking up fallen nuts and fruits, most of us resort to picking them up by hand or leaving them to rot on the ground, which can increase disease and insect problems.

Now cleaning up fallen fruits and nuts is a little easier. The Apple Rake features a woven fabric bag attached to a bent steel rod. It has a telescoping handle that adjusts to between 46 to 72 inches long. You can pick up several fruits with a simple sweeping motion and easily detach the bag for dropping the fruits into a pail or barrel. Not only does it make for faster cleanup, it helps reduce back stress by avoiding continuous bending.

For more information on the apple rake, go to: Lee Valley .

Fruits and Vegetables Are Bigger But Not Better

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Large strawberries, huge watermelons, bigger tomatoes -- it seems we have a fascination with large fruits and vegetables. However, in the quest to grow larger and higher-yielding produce, we may have lost something very important: the nutrients.

This decline in food quality is documented in a new report from the Worldwatch Institute called Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields. The report contends that while yields of most food crops have doubled or even tripled over the last 50 years, the nutrient density (concentration of nutrients per ounce, serving, or calorie of food) of those crops has declined. The report highlights the decline of nutrients in modern food varieties. For example, researchers at the USDA Vegetable Laboratory grew 43 broccoli varieties and found that as broccoli head size increased, the calcium and magnesium in those heads decreased. A British study showed that today you would have to eat three apples to get the same iron content that one apple provided in the 1940s.

Researchers attribute this decline to breeding for increased size and modern agricultural practices that emphasize yield over soil quality and health. They also state that by breeding for quicker maturity, plants have less time to accumulate nutrients from the soil. The solution, according to the report, includes growing a wider variety of crops, breeding for higher nutrient content, and using more organic farming techniques.

For more information on this research, go to: The Organic Center.

Perennial Vegetables That Keep on Giving

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While perennial flowers have been popular for many years, little attention has been paid to perennial vegetables. Most gardeners think of vegetables as annual crops. In his new book, Perennial Vegetables From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles (Chelsea Green, 2007; $35), Eric Toensmeier discusses the usual suspects in the perennial vegetable world (asparagus and artichokes), and he also opens our eyes to some unusual perennial selections (ground cherries and ramps).

The first section of the book features design ideas for edible landscaping and discusses perennial vegetables for different climates and soils. The second section covers more than 100 vegetables, with information on each crop’s history, growing needs, propagation, harvest, and storage.

For more information on this book, go to: Chelsea Green Publishing.

 
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