Garden Talk: November 4, 2010

From NGA Editors

Landscapes for Life

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Would you like to have your garden be more in tune with nature? Are you interested in designing a landscape that not only looks good, but can be maintained with sustainable practices? If so, you can get lots of advice and ideas by visiting Landscape for Life, a new Web site developed by the United States Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

This site provides information on practical approaches homeowners can use to "green" their gardens based on the principles outlined in SITES, the Sustainable Sites Initiative. This national rating system for sustainable landscapes, first developed for landscape professionals, has been adapted to reflect practices that can be put to use in any home landscape and to explain the potential benefits they provide.

Along with comparisons of conventional and sustainable landscape practices, you'll find information on how to manage water sustainably, nurture healthy soil, select plants and landscape materials with sustainability in mind, limit you exposure to pesticides and VOC pollutants, reduce light pollution and grow a food garden. Checklists are available to help you choose a new house site, plan a new garden or renovate an existing one, and know what to ask when hiring a landscape designer or contractor. The Web content is also available as a downloadable workbook.

As Holly Shimuzu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden notes, "Conventional gardens often work against nature. We hope to enlist the power of all those home gardeners who want to give the benefits of nature a helping hand with a regenerative, sustainable garden. What a difference that can make."

For more information on landscapes that give back, go to: Landscape for Life.

Homegrown Harvest

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If you're looking for a food gardening book full of not only helpful information but plentiful- and gorgeous- instructional photos as well, look no further than this new offering from the American Horticultural Society. Homegrown Harvest: A season-by-season guide to a sustainable kitchen garden, compiled by garden expert Rita Pelczar (Mitchell Beazley, 2010, $32.50) is organized into early, mid and late sections for spring, summer, fall and winter so you know just what to do and when to do it in the food garden.

From asparagus to zucchini, apples to strawberries, there is advice on planting, caring for and harvesting edible crops throughout the growing season and in all regions of the country. Interspersed is advice on a wide range of topics, such as soil preparation, growing vegetables in containers, storing homegrown fruits and vegetables, kitchen garden design and growing edible flowers.

There is also a section with handy charts giving the timing for sowing and harvesting vegetables and fruits for different climatic regions, and the symptoms and controls for both vegetable and fruit pests and diseases.

This would make a great holiday gift for a new gardener- or you might even ask Santa to leave a copy under the tree for you!

For more information on this book and the American Horticultural Society, go to: AHS.

Take Two Cockroaches and Call Me in the Morning

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Most gardeners know that, when it comes to the insect world, we have friends as well as enemies. While some insects cause problems for us in our gardens and homes, many more are beneficials, working hard to pollinate plants, keep the "bad bugs" at bay, and provide food for other creatures in the food web. But it's been hard to take anything other than a negative view of that ubiquitous, hardy and very "yucky" pest, the cockroach.

Until now that is. Recent research by microbiologist Simon Lee at the University of Nottingham in England has shown that the brains of cockroaches and locusts are teeming with antimicrobial compounds that are effective against some nasty, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. (And don't you just wonder what made him even think of testing roach brains to begin with?)

As reported in the October 9, 2010 issue of Science News, extracts made from the ground up brains of both the American cockroach and the desert locust were lethal to more than 90% of a type of E.coli that causes meningitis and also killed MRSA, a virulent, antibiotic-resistant staph bacterium. The scientists hope that this discovery will lead to the development of new medicines to fight the serious infectious diseases these germs cause.

So while it may be too much to expect folks to look kindly on a roach scuttling across the kitchen floor at night, perhaps its image will be somewhat rehabilitated by this news- maybe.

For more information on this research, go to: Cockroach Brains.

Nutrition News

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Need more reasons to grow- and eat- lots of fruits and vegetables? How about keeping your bones strong? In an article in the November 2010 issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Bess Dawson-Hughes, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, explained that as we age, our bodies become less efficient at handling the acid load generated by our diets. And this increased acidity can lead to increased bone loss.

The foods that increase acidity the most are grains- in foods like bread, rice and pasta- and proteins because they release sulfuric and other acids into the bloodstream as they're metabolized. Foods that help neutralize acidity are ones that break down into bicarbonate as they are digested. The top foods for combating excess acidity are fruits and vegetables. Spinach, zucchini and carrots, raisins, apricots and kiwi are all great choices for improving the acid-base balance of your diet. (And she notes that acidic fruits like citrus do not contribute to excess body acidity- they're bone-protective as well.) In fact Dr. Dawson-Hughes recommends eating at least 11 servings a day of fruits and vegetables as one of the best ways to neutralize excess acid in our bodies and keep our bones strong.

She also notes that weight-bearing exercise like walking is helpful in keeping bones strong. While she doesn't mention gardening specifically, all the walking, lifting and digging that gardening entails certainly won't hurt our bone health either!

For more information about Nutrition Action Health Letter, go to: Center for Science in the Public Interest.

 
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