Garden Talk: November 5, 2009

From NGA Editors

New Hawaiian Taro Plants

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The hot summer weather may be long gone, but fall is a good time of year to reflect on what grew well and plan for next spring. Colocassia, or taro, is a tropical plant that has huge leaves and edible roots. Used for food and considered a sacred plant in Hawaii, colocassia is also gaining in popularity for its attractive leaves. Ornamental selections look great grown in the landscape or in containers and add an exotic look to any garden.

Now from Hawaii comes a new line of ornamental colocassias that feature uniquely colored leaves. The Royal Hawaiian Colocassia series consists of 5 different selections. Here are some of the best: ‘Blue Hawaii’ has large green leaves with bluish-purple veins and red petioles (stems). ‘Diamond Head’ features large, dark purple leaves and dark burgundy petioles. ‘Pineapple Princess’ has yellow-green leaves with purple veins. All of these selections grow from 4 to 6 feet tall and thrive in hot, humid conditions. Consider adding one of these new Royal Hawaiian colocassias to your foliage garden next summer.

For more information on the Royal Hawaiian colocassia series, go to: Royal Hawaiian Colocassia .

Deep Composting

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Composting is a great fall activity. Instead of shipping your leaves, grass clippings, and old annual plants to the landfill, they can be used to make a rich soil amendment for your garden. Most gardeners know these materials can easily be made into compost, but what about woodier materials, such as tree prunings, corn stalks, and hedge trimmings?

There is a simple technique to create compost from these slow-to-decompose materials. It’s called hugelkultur (in German), or mound composting (in English). This permaculture technique involves combining partially decomposed trees, green hedge trimmings, old corn or broccoli stalks, and small branches and piling them together in a windrow. (It’s best to avoid wood from rot resistant trees, such as hemlock and cedar, since they take a very long time to decompose.)

There are two ways to mound compost: Either dig a 6-inch-deep pit and bury the materials, or lay them on the ground and build them up into a 1- to 2-foot-tall mound about 6 to 8 feet long. Cover the material with rotten leaves and old weeds and plants from the garden, add a layer of soil or partially decomposed compost, and leave it. Common composting knowledge would tell you to wait to plant in the bed until the material breaks down. However, although it does take years to break down completely, in the meantime the bed will heat up in spring from the decomposition process. This makes it a perfect spot to grow potatoes, squashes, melons, and pumpkins. The wood holds moister longer than soil, the bed is aerated from the woody materials, and the soil adds enough fertility to grow crops. You may have to add a little nitrogen fertilizer the first year to jump-start the plants. The bed can stay naturally raised and fertile for up to seven years depending on the materials. So, this fall create a mound raised bed and try planting it in spring. You may be amazed at the results.

For more information on mound composting or hugelkultur, go to: Oregon Live.

Creating a Nation of Farmers

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It is well-known that there are serious problems with our food system. It’s heavily dependent on fossil fuels, making it vulnerable to rising gas and oil prices. It contributes to pollution and global warming because food is shipped an average of 1500 miles before it reaches consumers. And food production is concentrated on large farms that are far away from (and have little or no contact with) the people eating the food. While these and many other problems are well known, the solutions often feel out of reach for the everyday citizen.

A new book, A Nation of Farmers, by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton (New Society Publishers, 2009), not only highlights the problems, but also offers practical steps that anyone can take. Harkening back to Thomas Jefferson’s phrase that America should be a “nation of farmers” because it would be the best way to preserve our democracy, the authors call for the creation of 100 million new farmers to reconnect people with their food and create a more sustainable food system. The book combines essays and factual information plus interviews with the movers and shakers in the alternative agriculture community, such as Gene Logsdon. There are even recipes to try at home. If you’re looking for inspiration, practical ideas, and a good winter read, try this book.

For more information on this book, go to: A Nation of Farmers

Stop Cats from Catching Birds

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Cats are cute and cuddly, but they still are felines. Their instincts are to hunt. Many cat owners are horrified to find their cat stalking and killing birds, especially those at the bird feeder. It’s estimated cats kill more than 4.4 million birds a year. Unless you keep your cat indoors 24/7, there is a possibility they will go after birds in your yard.

Now there’s a new product that will allow your cat to roam the property freely, yet prevent them from catching and killing birds. The catbib is a lightweight neoprene material that attaches to the cat’s collar. It hangs down in front of your cat to disrupt their hunting while allowing the cat to run, jump, eat, sleep, and act normally. The brightly colored bib alerts birds to a cat’s presence before they strike. Tests at Murdock University, Western Australia, showed the catbib prevented 81% of cats from catching birds. It also reduces small mammal predation as well.

For more information on the cat bib, go to: : Cat Goods.

 
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