Garden Talk: May 31, 2012

From NGA Editors

Grow Fruit Naturally

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If you are home gardener growing or thinking about growing fruit, you might fantasize about having an expert like horticulturist and garden writer Lee Reich out in your garden with you, dispensing advice. In the real world, the next best thing to a personal visit is to read Reich's new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit (The Taunton Press, 2012, $24.95).

Reich certainly knows his subject. A former researcher at the USDA and Cornell University, with a Ph.D. in fruit science, he is also a long-time home gardener at his ″farmden″ in New York State and an excellent garden writer to boot. So the information he provides on selecting, planting, growing, pruning, and propagating fruits is clear, accurate, appropriate for home gardeners, and engagingly written.

The first section of the book provides extensive information on the basics of fruit growing throughout the country, from planning a fruit garden, planting, growing, and pruning, to controlling pests and diseases using environmentally sound practices. You'll also find advice on growing fruits in containers and how to harvest and store your bounty.

The second part of the book covers thirty-one fruits individually, from favorites like apples, blueberry, pear, citrus, and strawberry to unusual choices like jujube, medlar, quince, and shipova, including advice on variety selection. Lots of clear diagrams and many photos enhance and expand on the information in the text.

In short, whether you are planting an entire orchard or growing only a few fruit plants, Grow Fruit Naturally will be an invaluable resource.

For more information on Grow Fruit Naturally, go to: The Taunton Store.

Summer Jewels

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Annual salvias are real troupers in the garden. No prima donnas, they are tolerant of dry soil, and boom prolifically in full sun. One of the best is Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink', a 2012 All-America Selections Bedding Plant award winner.

Sister to Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red', which was selected for the same award in 2011, 'Summer Jewel Pink' is a dwarf selection that blooms like gangbusters throughout the growing season. The hooded flowers are two-tone, with shades of light and deeper pink carried on spires above a cluster of broad green leaves.

The 10-24 inch tall plants come into bloom about two weeks earlier than other varieties of pink salvias and will lure butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. Look for this salvia at your local garden center or greenhouse.

For more information on Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink, go to: AAS.

The Value of Bees

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All gardeners know that bees are valuable creatures without which many of the food plants we depend on would not bear fruit or seeds. But do you know just how valuable they are? According to a recent study done at Cornell University, busy honeybees and other insects pollinated crops that contributed $29 billion to farm income in this country in 2010.

The study looked at the economic value of these pollinators for 58 crops that depend directly on insect pollination to produce a crop, including apples, blueberries, almonds, cherries, oranges, and squash, crops worth $16.35 billion. But that is only part of the picture. There are many other important crops, such as alfalfa, sugar beets, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, and onions, that depend on pollinating insects in order to produce the seeds we need to continue to grow these crops. These crops added another $12.65 billion in value.

The study reinforces the importance of scientists' efforts to discover the cause of the steep declines seen recently in honeybees and native bees. And it also reinforces the importance of doing what we as individual gardeners can to protect bees by minimizing the use of pesticides in our home gardens and, if we do choose to use them, following label instructions and applying pesticides in ways that minimize harm to bees.

To read more about the value of insect pollinators, go to: Cornell Chronicle Online.

Plants and Noise Pollution

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Well, corn may have ears, but we know it can't hear! So it seems on the surface that noise in the environment should have little effect on plants. But a recent study done around noisy gas wells in a New Mexico woodland showed some surprising results. Some wells had machinery that emitted constant loud noise, while other wells that were similar in setup but lacked the noisy machinery served as controls.

The important thing to remember is that everything in an ecosystem is connected. So while the clamor from the noisy wells' compressors blasting out sound around the clock did not affect plants directly, it did have an effect on other parts of the biological community, which in turn had an effect on plants.

For example, researchers found that the birds that spread the seeds of pines around without eating them all were driven off by the noise, while mice didn't seem to mind the din. The mice also feed on pine seeds, but tend to eat most of their cache, leaving fewer seeds around to grow into new pine trees.

Black-chinned hummingbirds (pictured)and house finches were more populous around the noisy wells, which the researchers speculated might be because predatory bird species were driven off by the noise. Western scrub jays, for example, were very scarce around the noisy wells. This affected plants by increasing the amount of hummingbird pollination going on around the noisy wells.

This study is a good reminder of the interconnectedness of everything in the natural world and how important it is to keep these connections in mind when we make any changes in the environment.

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

 
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