Garden Talk: January 27, 2011

From NGA Editors

Gardening Made Easy with Seed Collections

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It's always lots of fun to browse through seed catalogs and peruse the racks of seeds at the garden store, marveling at the diversity and beauty of all the varied plants you can grow. But sometimes that wealth of choices can be overwhelming, especially when you're new to the gardening world. To help make things easier, High Mowing Organic Seeds has put together four collections of their organic seeds.

If you're just starting to cultivate your green thumb, then the Garden Starter Collection may be just what you need. Included are ten different varieties of vegetables, herbs -- even an edible flower! -- that can be sown directly in the garden or containers to keep you enjoying fresh produce all season long.

Herbs fresh from the garden open up new culinary possibilities. The Kitchen Herb Collection lets you plant an easy-to-grow assortment of dill, parsley, basil, cilantro and thyme. No garden space? Grow these herbs in containers on a porch, deck, or balcony.

Heirloom vegetable varieties are prized for their diversity and delicious flavors. The Heirloom Vegetable Lovers Collection lets you sample vintage varieties of beets, radishes, kale, peas, summer squash, lettuce, cucumbers, chard, carrots and tomatoes, and discover why so many gardeners have become passionate about saving these old varieties.

And if Michelle Obama's gardening enthusiasm has you fired up to grow your own in a big way, the White House Garden collection provides 18 kinds of vegetables and herbs for a bountiful harvest.

For more information on High Mowing Organic Seeds and their seed collections, go to: High Mowing Seeds.

Please Don't Share the Daisies

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We all know how important it is to wash out hands frequently to avoid sharing germs and spreading illnesses. But who would have guessed that bees might be at risk from germ sharing as they fly from flower to flower?

Much to the dismay of bee researchers, eleven species of wild bees have been found to be infected with viruses that are known to cause disease in domestic honeybees, according to an article in Science News Web Edition for December 24, 2010. The viruses have never before been found in the wild pollinators, and it is thought that they were transmitted by exposure to infected pollen picked up from flowers that had been visited by both wild and domestic bees.

While no one yet knows the reason for the colony-collapse disorder that is wiping out domestic honeybees at an alarming rate, it is thought that viruses such as the Israeli acute parasitic virus play a role in the epidemic. The spread of viruses to wild bees was demonstrated when researchers found this virus in wild bees near infected apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois, but discovered no virus in wild bee populations near disease-free apiaries.

According to Sarina Jepsen of the invertebrate conservation group The Xerces Society, these viruses may pose a major threat to wild bumblebees. Native pollinator species like the wild bumblebee are in decline in the U.S. and viral disease may be at least part of the reason.

For more information on the threat to wild pollinators from honeybee viruses, go to: Science News. For more information on invertebrate conservation, go to The Xerces Society.

The Cat's Meow of Catmints

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Catmints are longtime perennial favorites in the flower garden. Members of the genus Nepeta, they are dependable, long-blooming, and trouble-free, come in a range of sizes and colors, have attractive foliage, and mix well with a wide assortment of garden neighbors from peonies to roses, bee balm to phlox.

A cousin of the less refined looking catnip, catmint also contains the same essential oil that causes cats to go wild, but at lower levels that make it less of a lure to felines. Its flowers will, however, be a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

To help you choose the best species and cultivars for your garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of thirty different catmints. Over a minimum of four years, five of each kind of catmint were grown in full sun in a Zone 5b garden with well-drained clay-loam soil. All were given minimal maintenance in order to duplicate average home garden conditions. Plants were evaluated for their ornamental traits, disease and pest resistance, cultural adaptability, and winter hardiness.

Four of the catmints tested received a top rating of five stars. These included the widely available Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' and N. racemosa 'Walker's Low,' both of which have lavender-blue flowers and reach about 30 inches tall. The other top selections were N. 'Joanna Reed,' about 24 inches tall, and Nepeta x faassenii 'Select Blue' at 14 inches tall.

Some of the many that received a four-star "good" rating include the long blooming N. sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron,' pink flowered N. subsessilis 'Sweet Dreams' and the lower growing N. racemosa 'Blue Wonder' that reaches about 18 inches tall.

For more information about catmint cultivation, including the ratings of all the catmints evaluated, go to Chicago Botanic Garden.

A Rainbow of Color in the Vegetable Garden

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With the increasing interest in edible landscaping and the "food, not lawns" approach to cultivation, gardeners want their food gardens not only to be a bountiful source of fresh produce but to look great as well. One way to add beauty and excitement in the landscape as well as the kitchen is to grow vegetables in a colorful array of varieties.

Burpee makes this easy with many of its new offerings for the 2011 season. Start with the Kings of Color Tomato Collection, available either as seeds or started plants. The four large slicers in this collection are all hybrid, indeterminate varieties for a summer-long harvest. The varied colors of 'Heritage,' 'Pink Pounder,' 'Orange Slice' and 'Sunny Boy' will delight the eye in the garden as well as on the plate.

The luminous, light green, 8-inch fruits of the new, early-maturing 'Limelight' hybrid zucchini contrast beautifully with its silver-mottled, deep green leaves. Ready in only 50 days, with a rich, creamy flavor, its unique color is really eye-catching.

Spaghetti squash is enjoyed for its flesh that separates into strands like its namesake pasta, to be enjoyed hot with sauce or cold in a salad. Burpee's new variety 'Goldetti' will also add a bright accent to the garden with its deep, rich gold color. This semi-bush variety produces a heavy yield of 4 to 6 pound fruits.

For some dramatic garden color, try the new basil 'Round Midnight.' The shiny, deep purple leaves of this highly aromatic hybrid variety, along with its dense growth habit and showy spikes of light purple flowers, make it a standout in the garden as well as a beautiful culinary garnish.

So this year, don't think of color only as the province of the flower garden. Plan a food garden that contributes equally to the table and the landscape with a rainbow of vegetables.

For more information on these colorful new vegetables and all of Burpee's new 2011 offerings, go to : Burpee.

 
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