Garden Talk: December 29, 2011

From NGA Editors

Something New Under the Sun

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Coleus is great for adding bold, season-long color to garden beds and containers. And now you can get double the color in one easy "seed." Part of the Fuseables® line from Harris Seed, the new coleus blend 'Under the Sun' gives you two attractive varieties in one easy to sow pellet. Multiple seeds of 'Versa Crimson Gold' and 'Versa Lime' are blended into multi-seed pellets that germinate and grow compatibly. It is an easy and economical way to get an eye-catching mix for a container planting or shade garden.

The maroon-red and gold foliage of 'Versa Crimson Gold' contrasts nicely with the bright chartreuse color of 'Versa Lime'. Plants reach 20-32 inches tall and 18-22 inches wide. Growing well in partial sun or shade, these colorful plants will continue to look good in spite of heat, rain, and wind.

Sow seeds early indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost date. Place the pellets on the soil surface, leaving them uncovered, but make sure they don't dry out. Provide bottom heat for the best germination. Grow them on for 6-8 weeks at temperatures between 60-70 F. Transplant outdoors after the danger of frost is past. Then enjoy the show!

To find out more about Coleus Fuseables® 'Under the Sun', go to: National Garden Bureau. To purchase seeds, go to: Harris Seeds.

Arsenic and Old... Apple Juice?

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Well, it's not old ladies spiking their homemade elderberry wine with arsenic, as they do in the classic play Arsenic and Old Lace, but it may be even more sinister. According to a new report by Consumer Reports Magazine, about ten percent of the 88 apple and grape juice samples they tested, from five brands purchased in three states, had levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, that exceeded federal drinking water standards. And one in four samples had lead levels higher than the federal limit of 5 parts per billion (ppb) set for bottled water.

Since children are big juice consumers, these findings are particularly worrisome, especially in light of the fact that there are currently no federal standards for threshold levels of arsenic or lead in juice. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the FDA to set acceptable levels for lead and arsenic in apple and grape juices that meet or exceed the standards for bottled and drinking water.

How are arsenic and lead getting into juice in the first place? Although they are now banned, for years lead-arsenate insecticides were used in apple orchards. So in spite of current responsible farming methods, residues from pesticides used decades ago may still be present in orchard soils. Also much of the juice sold in the U.S. comes at least in part from concentrates made from apples grown in foreign countries where arsenic-containing pesticides may still be in use or grown in areas known to have high levels of arsenic in the groundwater. No one yet knows for sure how these different avenues contribute to the levels detected in juice.

But according to Keeve Nachman, a risk scientist at Johns Hopkins University, ″The current analysis suggests that these juices may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure.″ And because of their small size, the fact that they often drink lots of apple and grape juice, and because ″recent studies have shown that early childhood exposure to arsenic carries the most serious long-term risk,″ children are especially vulnerable.

There are other dietary sources of arsenic exposure, including well water in some areas, and other products in which elevated levels have been detected, including commercial baby food and rice. Again it is thought that this may be due to the legacy of arsenic-containing pesticides on agricultural land.

Other than lobbying for regulatory changes, are there ways to reduce your family's risk? Consumer Reports suggests following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for children's juice consumption, testing your water if it doesn't come from a municipal system, and buying organic chicken, which is not allowed to given feed containing arsenic.

To read the entire Consumer Reports article, Arsenic in Your Juice, go to: Consumer Reports.

Occupy Green/Red Chile

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If you missed the opportunity to rally with protesters over corporate greed and economic inequality in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, here's your chance to join a new movement. Only this time the Occupy Green/Red Chile movement is aimed at protesting the efforts of some New Mexico State University (NSMU) scientists to unravel the genetic mysteries of red and green chiles.

According to a recent Associated Press article, what has pepper purists all heated up is the fear that the scientists will use their knowledge to develop a genetically engineered pepper. It all stems from the fact the culture of New Mexico's iconic vegetable is in decline. Problems with plant diseases, rising labor costs, and competition from lower-priced imported peppers have led to a 75 percent decline in the acreage devoted to growing chiles in the state in the last twenty years.

Traditional plant breeding techniques have long been used in the quest to produce chile pepper plants that are disease resistant, flavorful, and easy to harvest. The newer process of genetic engineering, which involves inserting genes from unrelated species into a plant's genome to add desirable traits, has been used in crops such as corn, soy, and potatoes. But according to Professor Paul Bosland, director of the NSMU Chile Pepper Institute, this process has not proved successful with peppers, and NSMU scientists are simply trying to understand why it doesn't work, not trying to breed or create genetically modified(GM) chiles.

But the issue of genetically modified organisms is a charged one and passions run high. So just the possibility of a GM chile has some folks hotter than a jalapeno. They are concerned that the lack of labeling of genetically modified foods leaves consumers who wish to avoid them unprotected, and that small growers could face possible patent infringement lawsuits if their crops become inadvertently cross-contaminated with a genetically engineered variety. There is also concern that an important part of New Mexico's cultural heritage could be lost if GM chiles are developed.

Occupy Red/Green Chile protesters are planning marches, circulating petitions, and using social media to connect with supporters. They may be hoping to keep to traditional paths in plant breeding, but they are up-to-the-minute with their own Facebook page!

To read more about New Mexico chiles and the Occupy Red/Green Chili controversy, go to: Burlington Free Press. To find out more about chiles, visit the website of NSMU's Chile Pepper Institute at Chile Pepper Institute.

Black Olive

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It may sound like an addition to the appetizer tray, but this 2012 All-America Selections winner is a pepper, and an outstanding ornamental one at that. Although its fiery hot fruits are edible, 'Black Olive' pepper is attractive enough to have garnered its award in the Flower category.

The 18-20 inch tall, upright plants are covered with nicely draping leaves of an attractive purple color accented with bright purple flowers. As the season progresses, purple-black fruits appear in small clusters along the stems. Maturing to red, they provide an eye-catching contrast to the dark foliage.

This is a great plant for use as an accent in the flower border or an edible landscape design. It also works well in containers and as a cut flower to add spice to mixed bouquets. AAS judges noted that its heat resistance makes it a great choice for southern gardens.

Bred by Seeds by Design, 'Black Olive' begins flowering 14 weeks from seed sowing and shows resistance to TMV. Like all peppers, it does best in full sun and well drained soil.

For more information on 'Black Olive' ornamental pepper and other 2012 AAS winners, go to: AAS.

 
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