Garden Talk: May 20, 2010

From NGA Editors

Maui Sunshine

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Coneflowers (Echinacea) have always been beautiful, easy-care additions to the perennial garden. But in the last few years breeders have given us all sorts of new choices in flower color, form and height for this old standby.

An exciting newcomer to the clan is Echinacea 'Maui Sunshine' from Wayside Gardens. Think bright sunshine on a Hawaiian beach and you'll have an idea of the glorious color of its large, daisy-like blooms. This 2010 introduction sports brilliant golden yellow petals surrounding a prominent orange-amber central cone on a 4' tall and 3' wide mounded plant. Blooming profusely from midsummer to early fall, this cultivar sets multiple flowers on each stem. It makes a great cut flower and will attract butterflies and bees. Foraging songbirds will visit if you let some of the flowers go to seed.

Hardy in Zone 4-9, 'Maui Sunshine' does best in full sun, but is tolerant of many soils as long as they have good drainage, is not prone to pests or disease, and is usually left alone by deer. Daylilies, Russian sage, sea holly, garden phlox, balloon flower and globe thistle would all make nice garden companions.

For more information on Echinacea 'Maui Sunshine', go to: Wayside Gardens .

Putting the Squeeze on Carbon Emissions

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Over a year ago, PepsiCo partnered with the environmental auditing firm Carbon Trust to determine the carbon footprint of its Tropicana Pure Premium® orange juice. Much to their surprise, the biggest contributor to this footprint was the fertilizer used in growing the orange trees. Approximately 35% of the carbon emissions from the production, distribution and packaging of the juice came from the production and application of the inorganic fertilizers used. Clearly, this was a good place for PepsiCo to start in their effort to the find innovative ways to develop more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.

To that end, PepsiCo has begun a long-term pilot study with one of its long-time growers in Florida, testing two alternative low-carbon fertilizers. Traditional inorganic nitrogen fertilizers have such a large carbon footprint because enormous amounts of natural gas are used in their production. It's estimated that agriculture accounts for 5% of the world's natural gas consumption. One alternative fertilizer being trialed, made by Yara International, the world's largest supplier of mineral fertilizers, reduces its carbon footprint through a proprietary process that cuts its emission of nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, by 90%. The other fertilizer being tested, manufactured by Outlook Resources, uses locally sourced carbon-neutral materials such as food and agricultural waste instead of natural gas to reduce its carbon footprint.

As this study goes forward with the maturity cycle of the orange trees, PepsiCo and University of Florida researchers will monitor results. If successful, this change in fertilizer use could result in an overall reduction of Tropicana's carbon footprint by 15%. It's great to see a big company using its resources to develop sustainable agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions. Hopefully, PepsiCo's efforts will lead the way for other growers to adopt more environmentally-friendly ways of growing crops. And perhaps it will encourage those of us who garden at home to do the same by enriching our soil with locally made compost and green manures.

For more information on PepsiCo's pilot program to reduce Tropicana's carbon footprint, go to: PepsiCo.

Fighting Hunger with Corn Research

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Corn is a diet staple in many parts of the developing world, including sub-Saharan Africa. But unfortunately most varieties of this vital grain are low in carotenoids, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A. This puts millions of people who depend on a corn-based diet at risk for health problems due to vitamin A deficiency. For example, 40 million children suffer from xerophthalmia, a condition caused by lack of dietary vitamin A that can lead to blindness.

To help remedy this problem, researchers funded in part by the National Science Foundation are working to develop varieties of corn that will have at least triple the levels of carotenoids now found in African corn. Using genetic and statistical tools, the researchers have identified two genes that are involved in increased production of the carotenoid beta-carotene in corn and have come up with faster, more cost-effective ways of screening for them.

This will enable researchers in developing countries to cross the high beta-carotene corn varieties with locally adapted ones and breed new varieties that will grow well and contain much higher levels of the needed vitamin A precursors. Development of this new high-carotenoid corn could improve the lives of millions of people around the globe.

For more information on this research, which is part of Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics and Genetic Improvement, Agricultural Research Service program #301, go to: Agricultural Research Service.

Pocket Gardening

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Is it time to repaint, but you're having a hard time picking out a color? How about green- plants that is? Woolly Pocket Wally planters are flexible, breathable, modular gardening containers that can be used for vertical gardening indoors or out. And they are environmentally friendly- the breathable portion of the containers is made completely from recycled plastic bottles, while the built-in moisture barrier is 60% recycled plastic. Hang one or cover an entire wall- the possibilities are endless. Wally planters come with universal fasteners and wall anchors, making it easy to set up your living wall system.

Not into vertical gardening? The free-standing, soft-sided Meadow and Island planters have similar breathable construction and can be used on horizontal surfaces indoors and out. Like the Wally planters, Meadow containers can be combined in a modular system that's perfect for budding urban gardeners.

For more information on Woolly Pocket, go to: Woolly Pocket.

 
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