Garden Talk: July 28, 2011

From NGA Editors

21st Century Greens

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As the world population soars toward a predicted peak of around 9 billion by the middle of this century, the global food system falls short both in providing adequate nutritional support to many and in ecological sustainability. Billions in the developing world suffer from hunger or a deficiency of vital nutrients in their diets, while millions more in the developed world suffer from "industrial food malnutrition" in an epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases as a result of eating too many refined, calorie-dense but nutritionally lacking foods. Rising energy costs, climate change, depletion of soil and water resources, and increasing urbanization all contribute to the challenges of feeding the world's inhabitants without destroying the environmental systems that food production is dependent on.

These are all things that David Kennedy hopes to change with the information in his book 21st Century Greens: Leaf Vegetables in Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture, (Leaf for Life, 2011, $24). Kennedy is the founder and director of Leaf for Life, a Kentucky-based non-profit organization that helps people improve their health by showing them ways to make better use of vegetables, especially leaf crops, in their diets. Since 1986, Leaf for Life has trained people in ways to combat malnutrition with leaf crops in the U.S., South and Central America, Africa, and India.

The book explores the potential role of under-utilized leaf crops in ending malnutrition and building a more durable global food system. Leaf crops are high in nutrients such as Vitamin A and iron that are deficient in many diets dependent on staples such as rice, corn, and cassava, and they can provide their nutritional bounty at a very low cost. While they are nutrient-dense, leaf crops are low in calorie density, making them also an excellent complement to modern industrialized diets that lack fiber and antioxidants.

The 260 page book explains how to grow, prepare, and preserve over 100 different leaf crops that are suitable for cultivation in a wide variety of climates. In addition, there is information on making leaf concentrate, a food that contains as much protein and several times more iron, calcium, and Vitamin A, as beef, eggs or pinto beans; raising edible cover crops; and building your own solar food dryer. Also included are 36 original recipes using leaf vegetables.

To top it off, all proceeds from the sale of the book go to support the excellent work of Leaf for Life. The book is available from the organization or at amazon.com.

To find out more about Leaf for Life or to purchase the book 21st Century Greens, go to: Leaf for Life.

The National Heirloom Exposition

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If you are one of the many gardeners interested in growing heirloom vegetables, fruits, and flowers, you can find out more by attending the National Heirloom Exposition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California this September 13, 14, and 15. Over 3000 varieties of heirloom produce will be on display by growers and seed companies, allowing you to see and taste hundreds of varieties of traditional fruits and vegetables. More than 200 vendors will offer seeds, plants, food products, tools and more.

Talks and workshops on seed saving, home gardening, preparing and preserving food, marketing, food politics and farming will be offered by nationally recognized experts. Popular chefs will prepare traditional fair favorites along with their own specialties.

Also included in the festivities are an heirloom poultry and livestock show, giant pumpkin, watermelon, and tomato contests, a garden art show, and traditional music performances. All profits from the Exposition will be donated to school garden projects and other food and garden-related charities. Adult admission is $10; children 17 and under are free.

For more information on this event, go to: The Heirloom Expo.

Orchids are Tops

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What is the highest value floriculture crop these days? According to an article in the July 2011 issue of Greenhouse Grower, it's no longer poinsettias. As noted in the USDA's Floriculture Crops Summary, orchids are now the top floral crop. While more individual poinsettia plants are produced for the holiday season, each orchid sold produces considerably more dollars, resulting in higher overall value for the crop.

The most popular orchids currently are phalaenopsis or moth orchids. They grow relatively fast and are easy to bring into flower, making them popular with commercial growers. Consumers like the fact that they are long-flowering, thrive in average home temperatures, and come in all colors of the rainbow, except for true blue. But other orchid groups, such as oncidium orchids, are increasing in popularity.

You may have heard of the release of the 'Blue Mystique' orchid recently. Is it really the first blue orchid? Not exactly. It's a white orchid infused at closed bud stage with a special medium in a proprietary process that results in light blue flowers when buds open. Any new flowering stems will likely produce white blossoms.

If you're thinking about venturing into orchid growing, a good place to start is at the Green Circle Growers Just Add Ice website. (The name comes from their advice that the best and easiest way to water orchids is to "just add ice" -- use ice cubes to water plants) You'll find lots of information on caring for orchids, including videos, as well as an orchid care forum where you'll receive answers to your questions from the Just Add Ice support team, a blog, links for orchid lovers, and information on finding a store that carries their plants.

To visit the website, go to Just Add Ice Orchids.

Bronze Birch Borer Resistance

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The bronze birch borer is a native insect that can weaken and kill birches in landscape plantings. While trees that are stressed by dry soil are most vulnerable, different species of birches have been noted to have varying susceptibility to this pest.

Some of the popular non-native birches used in landscapes, such as the European white birch (Betula pendula), show quite a lot of vulnerability to borer infestation. But the monarch birch (Betula maximowicziana) has often been touted as having good resistance. A newly-completed, long-term field trial conducted at Ohio State University has shown that this is not the case.

In an assessment of birches planted in 1979, most of the monarch birches and all of the other non-native species (B. pendula, B. pubescens, and B. szechuanica) had died from borer infestation within a few years of planting. But twenty years after planting, 97 percent of river birch (B. nigra), 76 percent of paper birch (B. papyrifera) and 73 percent of 'Whitespire' gray birch (B. populifolia), all native species, were still alive.

These results suggest that monarch birch should be considered as vulnerable as other non-native species to the borer and that in terms of resistance, river birch (pictured) is the most problem-free choice for most landscape uses.

To read the entire study, go to: Environmental Entomology.

 
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