Garden Talk: May 17, 2012

From NGA Editors

Stand Up and Garden

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If that loud noise you hear when you get up from kneeling in your garden is your bones creaking, then Stand Up and Garden (The Countryman Press, 2012, $16.95) is the book for you! Written by Master Gardener Mary Moss-Sprague, it describes her no-dig, no-till, no-stooping approach to growing vegetables and herbs, a system that lets everyone enjoy a healthful and delicious harvest.

She starts by covering container growing and vertical gardening in detail. But her most innovative system is her version of raised beds. Using bales of straw as an underpinning, Moss-Sprague teaches you how to easily build waist-high beds that can be tended standing up, easing the strain on your back and knees. Not only do these beds make life easier for the gardener, they provide ideal growing conditions for plants as well, with fewer weed and disease problems.

Moss-Sprague also describes how to set up a micro-drip irrigation system to make your raised bed or container garden even more carefree, and includes basic planting and growing information, along with helpful sections on making compost and dealing with weeds, pests, and diseases in sustainable, environmentally responsible ways. Even gardeners without physical challenges will find much to interest them.

For more information on Stand Up and Garden, go to: The Countryman Press.

Toxic Shock

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Results from a study done by Michigan-based Ecology Center's Healthy Stuff.org had some alarming news for gardeners. 179 common garden products such as hoses, garden gloves, kneeling pads, and garden tools were tested for levels of lead, cadmium, bromine (associated with flame retardants), chlorine (associated with polyvinyl chloride or PVC), phthalates, and BPA. Two-thirds of the products were found to contain levels of some toxins high enough to be of concern.

For example, 30 percent of the products contained lead levels greater than the 100 ppm maximum set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission for children's products. Of particular concern are the findings for garden hoses. Lead levels eighteen times higher than the federal drinking water standard were found in one hose, and all hoses sampled contained phthalate plasticizers that are currently banned from children's products. Although it has long been recommended that water from garden hoses not be used for drinking water, it can still present risks. Hoses are used not only to deliver water to our food plants but to fill children's wading pools or to deliver water to sprinklers for kids to run through on a hot summer day.

There are some things you can do to minimize your exposure to undesirable compounds from hoses. When purchasing a new hose, choose one made from PVC-free natural rubber or polyurethane. Select ones labeled ″drinking water safe″ and ″lead-free.″(Marine stores often carry hoses meant for carrying drinking water.) Don't leave your hose sitting in the sun since heat can increase the leaching of toxins from the hose into the water. Let your hose run for a few minutes before using it to water the food garden or for children's activities, since standing water in the hose will have the highest level of contamination.

For more information on the results of the study and suggestions on what you can do to reduce your risks, go to: Healthy Stuff.

Learn about Late Blight

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A couple of summers ago, gardeners in many areas of the East were devastated to find their once healthy tomato plants dying within a matter of days. What started as a few water-soaked spots on the leaves and stems spread rapidly until the entire plant collapsed in a heap. The cause of all this devastation was late blight, a disease caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytopthera infestans, which strikes potatoes as well. It was late blight that decimated the potato crops in Ireland in the mid-1800's, leading to the famine that caused so much suffering and led to the immigration of so many of the Irish to our shores.

Late blight can be a serious problem just about anywhere in the country if weather conditions are right. That's why the USDA has set up the website www.USAblight.org. Led by a team of 25 university scientists throughout the county, the site offers a wealth of information about late blight, including color photos to help with identification and information specifically for home gardeners.

There is an occurrence map showing where confirmed outbreaks have happened -- in Florida, California, and North Carolina so far this year -- and a place to report new outbreaks. Tips for managing late blight are provided, with links to additional state-specific information for a number of states. There is also a link to the Cornell University Potato/Tomato Late Blight Decision Support System, set up to help commercial growers decide when the application of preventative fungicide applications is warranted.

To visit this helpful website, go to: USAblight. For a USAblight brochure in PDF format, go to: Late Blight.

Pesticides Cause Bees to Lose Their Way

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Just about all gardeners are aware that honeybees are in trouble and that scientists are hard at work trying to figure out the cause of their mysterious decline, called colony collapse disorder. And native bumblebees are in distress as well.

Now some new research indicates that some widely used pesticides may be playing an important role in the bees' demise. The nicotine-related neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that become incorporated into a treated plant's tissues. This makes them effective against a number of chewing and sucking pests, but also means that the chemicals work their way into the pollen and nectar that the bees collect and bring back to their hives.

In one study, bumblebees were exposed to the levels of pesticide they would encounter if they were visiting a field of canola flowers that had been treated with a neonicontinoid -- low enough not to kill the bees outright. After two weeks of the eating pesticide-spiked pollen and sugar water, the bees were let out to forage naturally. By the end of the season the exposed colonies were significantly smaller than unexposed ones due to a decrease in the production of new young queens. Since the queens are the only members of a bumblebee colony to survive the winter, this drop in reproduction has dire consequences for the future of the bees.

In another study, researchers (amazingly) attached electronic identifiers to 600 individual bees with dental cement. They fed the bees non-lethal doses of pesticide-laced sugar water, then took the bees a kilometer from their hives and released them, both in familiar and unfamiliar territory. An automated counter logged their return to the hive. The study showed that exposure to the pesticide doubled the risk that a bee would not make it back to the hive on a given day, leading researchers to conclude that this low-level exposure interferes with the bees' ability to learn and remember.

The research strongly suggests that more needs to be done to test the safety of commonly used pesticides in ways that take chronic exposure by bees into account and perhaps to change some of the regulations regarding their use to protect these vital pollinators.

To read more about this research, go to: Science News.

 
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