Garden Talk: October 21, 2010

From NGA Editors

Recipes for Healthy Kids

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Did you come up with some delicious new ways to use the produce from your garden this year? Did you hit on ways to serve garden-fresh veggies that your kids gobbled down? Are you interested in helping youngsters learn about the benefits and enjoyment of eating healthy foods? Why not gather together some like-minded community members and enter the Recipes for Healthy Kids competition. Part of Michele Obama's Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity, in association with the USDA, this contest challenges school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, parents and interested community members to form teams to create tasty, healthy new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country.

Teams will work on developing at least one healthy recipe in one of three categories- whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, or dry beans and peas. Their creations will be served in the school's cafeteria and rated by students. Then fifteen semi-finalist teams will have their recipes evaluated by a judging panel during events held at their school; judging criteria will include student involvement, nutrition, creativity and originality, recipe presentation and ease of use in schools. The top three teams will compete in a national cook-off to determine the grand prize winner, whose team will take $3000 back to their school! In addition, first and second prizes of $1500 and $1000, respectively, will be awarded in each category. Semi-finalists' recipes will also be posted for online voting by the public to determine a Popular Choice Winner with a $1500 prize. Winning teams will be invited to prepare their healthful, prize-winning meals alongside White House chefs.

Recipes can be submitted through December 30, 2010 and the judging will take place between January 1 and May 15, 2011. What a great way to help schools improve their lunch programs and get kids excited about good nutrition. It could also be an excellent tie-in to a school gardening program.

For more information and details on how to enter, go to: Recipes for Healthy Kids.

A Kaleidoscope of Color

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Flowers add to the beauty of the garden, but for season-long excitement, nothing beats plants with colorful foliage. And few are as colorful for as long as the new 'Kaleidescope' abelia from Plant Haven. This dense, compact shrub is not only the longest blooming of any abelia, it lights up the garden with its dramatically variegated leaves as well.

The show starts in early spring when the leaves emerge with lime-green centers and bright yellow edges set off by bright red stems. As spring turns to summer, the yellow matures to golden and the variegation does not burn or scorch in the hottest weather. In fall and winter the leaves change to shades of orange and fiery red, and the winter foliage hangs on better than on other abelias. Along with this vibrant foliage display, beginning in late spring and continuing well into fall, soft pink buds open to small, fragrant, funnel-shaped, white flowers that attract swallowtail butterflies.

Because it stays under 3 feet tall, 'Kaleidoscope' works well in many landscape situations- as a foundation plant, in mass plantings or even in containers. Hardy in zones 6-9, abelias need well-drained, moist, acid soil and will develop the best foliage color if grown in full sun.

For more information on this exciting new abelia, go to: 'Kaleidoscope' Abelia .

Sweet Bittersweet

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With its abundant berries in autumnal shades, bittersweet vine has long been a favorite for fall decorating. Unfortunately the popular Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a rampantly growing vine that is a prohibited noxious weed in many of the New England states and considered a potential invasive in some other areas.

Fortunately for gardeners and home decorators, the native species of this vine, Celastrus scandens, is both decorative and not such a threat. It is, however, a vigorous vine that can grow to 25 feet and engulf shrubs and young trees growing in its path, so it needs thoughtful placement in the landscape. The main difference between the two species is that on American bittersweet vines, the flower clusters are borne at the ends of the stems, while they're found along the stems on the Oriental Bittersweet. The yellowish white flowers are not particularly showy. It's in fall, when the three-lobed yellow-orange fruit capsules open to reveal a crimson seed, that the true decorative value of the vine becomes apparent.

Bittersweet is dioecious, that is male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. Only the female vine will produce the decorative fruits, but a male vine must be nearby for the female flowers to be pollinated and form fruits. To make sure that you have at least one plant of each sex, choose named cultivars such as 'Diana' (female) and 'Hercules' (male) or 'Indian Maiden' and 'Indian Brave.'

But now there are exceptions to this rule. Autumn Revolution™ (C. scandens 'Bailumn') and Sweet Tangerine® (C.scandens 'Swtazam') are self-fruitful American bittersweet vines. Only one vine is necessary for fruiting, a boon to gardeners with limited space.

For more information on American bittersweet, go to: Plant Diversity. For more information on Sweet Tangerine® American bittersweet, go to: Lake Country Nursery. For more information on Autumn Revolution™ American bittersweet, go to: Gardening Club.

Managing Soil Pathogens with Mustard

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No, we're not talking about raiding the condiments cupboard for some Grey Poupon! But research done at Cornell University has demonstrated that mustard plants, as well as other related brassicas such as canola, when grown as a cover crop, act as a biofumigant that helps to suppress certain soil-borne pests and diseases.

While all members of the Brassica clan, which includes cabbage, broccoli, kale, mustard and turnips, among others, produce compounds called glucosinolates that are toxic to microorganisms, the ones that are used as cover crops have been developed to have very high levels of these anti-microbial compounds.

When the plant cells of these cover crops are damaged by chopping, the glucosinolates are released and come into contact with an enzyme that, in the presence of water, causes the formation of the natural gas isothiocyanate that suppresses the plant pathogens. After the harmful soil organisms are killed, beneficial microorganisms quickly repopulate the soil. Research has shown that Phytophthora, Verticilllium, Rhizoctonia and Fusarium are among the pathogens that are checked with this biofumigation.

The cover crop residues need to be incorporated into the soil immediately after chopping in order to keep the gas produced from being lost and the soil must be irrigated for maximum effectiveness. In addition to the disease-suppressing effect of a mustard cover crop, the soil benefits from the addition of the large quantity of organic material when the cover crop is turned under.

For more information on research using mustard crops for biofumigation, go to: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

 
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