Garden Talk: August 23, 2012

From NGA Editors

Grow an Old-Fashioned Fruit Garden

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What's the best way to use your delicious, home-grown small fruits? If you're looking for ideas beyond just popping them fresh into your mouth, as well as advice on growing and harvesting, check out The Old-Fashioned Fruit Garden: The Best Way to Grow, Preserve, and Bake with Small Fruit by Jo Ann Gardner (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, $14.95). Gardner is a long-time garden writer with years of experience growing, preserving, and cooking with fruits. She gardened for years on Cape Breton Island in Canada and now maintains extensive gardens in northern New York State.

In The Old-Fashioned Fruit Garden, she shares her knowledge of strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb, as well as less familiar fruits such as red and black currants, gooseberries, elderberries -- even citron melon. She includes information on planting, cultivating, harvesting, and preserving these crops, then entices with delectable recipes such as Black Currant Sticky Buns, Gooseberry-Rhubarb Jam, and Raspberry Slump. A section on tree fruits and wild fruits provides more mouth-watering recipes like Ginger-Peach Jam. A chapter on fruit preserving methods covers the basics with information on making not only jam and jelly, but juice, dried berries, and fruit leather. Beautiful color photos enhance the text.

To find about more about The Old Fashioned Fruit Garden or to purchase a copy, go to: Skyhorse Publishing.

Get Some Good Vibrations

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Evergreen junipers are popular for the low-maintenance color and structure they provide year round in the landscape. But their prickly foliage isn't always fun to work around. But Good Vibrations®, a new juniper from Proven Winners, is soft to the touch. It also offers a dynamic show of color changes as the seasons progress. In spring, the new growth is an eye-catching chartreuse that changes to bright yellow and finally takes on orange hues as the weather cools in fall.

A cultivar ('Hegedus') of Juniperus horizontalis, Good Vibrations® grows 12-18 inches high, with a spreading growth habit that eventually extends 7 to 9 feet wide. Like all junipers, it does best in full sun and well-drained soil and tolerates heat and drought well.

It is great choice for rock gardens or mass plantings, especially as a groundcover on hard-to-mow banks and is adapted to Zones 4-9. Colorful, changing foliage, easy care, and soft, touchable foliage -- that will give any gardener some good vibrations!

To learn more about Good Vibrations® juniper, go to: Proven Winners.

Gardening in a Drought

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Much of the country has suffered in the throes of record –breaking heat and drought or abnormally dry conditions this summer. Keeping a garden thriving when the mercury rises and the rains don't come can be a challenge, especially if the dry weather has resulted in restrictions on outdoor water use. With the predictions that climate change due to global warming may increase the likelihood of these kinds of weather extremes, gardeners across the country can benefit from strategies to help their gardens cope with drought and make the best use of available water.

Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont Extension Service offers some tips for drought-wise gardening, including a prioritized plant watering list when water is in short supply. Give the highest priority to newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as newly seeded or repaired lawns. Established plants can endure more drought and even tolerate wilting and still recover. But even established plants growing in sandy soils or in windy, exposed spots will benefit from supplemental water, as will vegetable crops, especially when they are flowering and setting fruits.

When you do water, don't use overhead sprinklers that lose lots of water to evaporation. Instead water by hand or use soaker hoses or drip irrigation that place water right where its needed.

David Whiting, Carol O'Meara, and Michael Bauer of Colorado State University Extension offer some additional tips on the critical watering periods for vegetables. They note that beans have the highest water use of any common garden vegetable, so this might be a crop to forgo when drought hits. Corn needs water most at tasseling, silking, and ear development, while cole crops need consistent moisture throughout their development.

They suggest planting in blocks instead of rows to shade the soil more and reduce evaporation. If drought is really severe, their advice is to plant and water a few containers of productive plants like tomatoes, and sow a non-irrigated cover crop in the garden to prevent erosion and add organic to the soil while waiting for conditions to improve.

To read more about coping with drought in the garden, go to: Drought Gardening and Home Vegetable Garden Management During a Drought .

Tasteless Tomatoes

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It's not big news that many modern tomatoes don't have the flavor of older varieties, especially those that have been bred primarily for commercial production. But some new research published recently in the journal Science may have at least a partial explanation as to why that's the case.

It turns out that selective breeding done to make it easier for commercial growers to judge when mature green tomatoes in the field are ready to be picked and shipped had some unexpected consequences. Growers knew that if uniformly light green tomatoes were picked and shipped to distant markets, by the time they arrived on store shelves, they would be the even red that customers look for. But many older tomato varieties have "green shoulders," areas at the top of the fruit remain a darker green. This uneven coloration made it hard for growers to know if a tomato had reached the "pickable" stage. So over the past seventy years or so, breeders have selected for varieties that develop a uniform green color when they are mature enough to harvest.

Unfortunately for consumers, however, it turns out that getting rid of the green shoulders also got rid of a gene called SIGLK2, whose function is to boost the level of sugars and other flavor compounds in the fruit as it ripens. Another recent study by Harry Klee of the University of Florida showed that the loss of this gene also diminished the volatile compounds a tomato gives off, aromatic compounds that contribute to our enjoyment of tomato taste through our sense of smell.

Klee notes that the loss of SIGLK2 gene and the green shoulders trait it codes for is not the only reason that modern tomatoes are short on flavor, but it is a piece of the puzzle. And for the best flavor among modern tomatoes? He suggests cherry tomatoes. These little varieties came late to the breeding party and he says, "Breeders haven't had as much time to mess them up."

To read more about how convenience shouldered tomato taste aside, go to: Science News.

 
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