Garden Talk: August 11, 2011

From NGA Editors

More Good Reasons to Eat Fruits and Vegetables

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For years we've been told that, in terms of weight loss, it's not what you eat but how much that matters. If you eat fewer calories, you'll lose weight, regardless of where those calories come from.

Some new research is dispelling that idea. According to Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School and co-author of a study published in the June 23 New England Journal of Medicine, "Our results demonstrate that the quality of the diet -- the types of foods and beverages one consumes -- are strongly linked to weight gain."

As explained in an article in the July 30, 2011 issue of Science News, the study combined data from three long-term surveys that included information from more than 22,000 men and nearly 100,000 women. None of the participants were obese to begin with, and all had their weight gains or losses monitored every four years. Participants added an average of 3.35 pounds at each four-year interval.

What caused people to pack on pounds? Potatoes, especially those made into French fries, were one of the worst culprits. A serving of French fries daily added 3.35 pounds over four years on average; a single serving bag of potato chips added 1.69 pounds; and boiled, mashed, or baked spuds added half a pound. Drinking just one non-diet soft drink a day added one pound every four years. Other sugar and/or fat-heavy foods like butter and desserts, red meat, refined grains, and foods with added trans fats added less than a pound.

The good news is that adding a daily serving of fruit or nuts resulted in a weight loss of about a half a pound. Eating a serving of yogurt was even more beneficial, which took off nearly a pound over four years. An extra serving of whole grains, vegetables (other than potatoes), and diet soft drinks helped with slight weight reductions.

The researchers note that, while a few pounds over four years may not seem like a lot, that gradual accumulation of excess weight is what is helping fuel the epidemic of obesity in this country. All the more reason to expand your gardening efforts to provide a steady supply of those beneficial fruits and veggies to add to your diet.

For more information on how food choices matter in weight control, go to: Science News.

If You Want to Get Rich, Become a Farmer

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This surprising bit of advice comes from Wall Street investment whiz Jim Rogers. It seems that while the rest of the economy continues to limp along, the farm sector is in something of a boom. According to an article in the July 11, 2011 issue of Time Magazine, while overall economic growth in the country is a disappointing 1.9 percent, net farm income was up 27 percent last year and is expected to increase another 20 percent this year. The Federal Reserve says that the value of the average farm has doubled in the last six years, making farmland one of this year's hottest Wall Street investments.

This change in farming's fortunes is due in large part to economic growth in countries like China and India. Wealthier consumers in these countries are eating more, especially more meat, which drives up the demand for the grain needed to feed livestock, as does the production of ethanol fuel from corn. Technological advances, like GPS-aided, computer-monitored planting systems, have also enabled farmers to increase their yields.

In the face of this prosperity, there's talk about significant changes to legislation that currently provides bountiful subsidies (to the tune of $19 billion a year, $8 billion of it in direct payments) to many farmers when the farm bill comes up for renewal next year. Opponents claim the current subsidies favor grain production over other crops and mainly benefit large commercial farms or hobby farmers that don't need help.

Unfortunately, what benefits this country's farmers comes at a cost to many of the poor in developing countries who depend on staples like corn as the basis of their diets. As demand goes up and more grain goes to make ethanol or feed livestock to meet the increased demand for meat, higher prices make it harder for those struggling in many parts of the globe to afford to feed themselves.

Will the good times on the farm last? Historically, farm income has fallen as the economic picture improves. But some economists think that the continued increase in demand for food in developing Asian countries will keep crop prices high even when the economy finally swings upward again.

To read the entire article on farming's economic boom, go to Farmer. To read more about the problem of rising global food prices, go to: Food Prices.

Grow a Weed-free Garden

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Weeds are the bane of just about every gardener. While insect and disease problems may wax and wane with pest populations cycles and the weather, just about everyone who gardens counts weeding among their regular chores. So some advice from the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) on ways to reduce the number of weeds in the garden is welcome indeed.

In an article on their website, WSSA member Dr.Robert Norris explains how to deplete your weed seed "bank" by never letting annual weeds set seed. He notes that weeds seeds remain viable for quite a long time and sprout when conditions are right, so it may take several years to achieve a weed-free goal. But diligence pays off. Seeds of most annual weedy grasses die after two or three years, although some broadleaf weed seeds can last for decades. On average though, according to Norris, the bulk of your weed seed bank will be depleted in about five years if you keep new seeds from being added. His article also gives advice on dealing with troublesome perennial weeds.

The WSSA's mission is to foster awareness of weeds and their impact on managed and natural environments by providing science-based information to the public and policy makers and by promoting research, education, and outreach activities related to weeds. Check out their website's weed photo gallery, then test your skill with a weed ID quiz, or find out about harvesting edible weeds or how to use weed-and-feed herbicides responsibly.

To read Never Let 'Em Set Seed, go to: WSSA.

Landscape Mulches and Fire Safety

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The battles against big wildfires in the Southwest and other parts of the country this summer highlight the importance for homeowners in fire-prone areas to consider the combustibility of mulch materials used in their landscapes, especially within five feet of a dwelling. Mulches used in this near-home zone should always be non-combustible or of low combustibility.

Recently the California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department released information on the fire safety of various types of commonly used mulches. In a research study, eight different types of organic mulches were tested, including composted wood chips, medium-sized pine bark nuggets, pine needles, shredded rubber, shredded western red cedar, and either two or three inches or a single layer of Tahoe chips (a composite made of plant materials) with and without fire retardant. After exposing the mulches to summer weather for 12 weeks, each type of mulch was ignited and evaluated for flame height, rate of fire spread, and temperature above the mulch bed. All of the mulch materials began flaming readily, with the exception of the composted wood chips, which smoldered but produced few flames. The fire spread fastest in shredded rubber, pine needles, and shredded western cedar.

The researchers recommend that no organic mulches be used within five feet of a home in fire-prone areas, instead using non-combustibles like rocks and pavers or well-irrigated plants with low-combustibility such as turf or flowers. Highly combustible mulches should be located at least 30 feet from a structure.

To read the entire study and its recommendations, as well as other helpful information on landscaping for fire safety, go to: Center for Fire Research and Outreach.

 
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