Garden Talk: February 4, 2013

From NGA Editors

2013 Espoma Environmental Stewardship Award

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Environmental stewardship begins at home. One way to do this is to incorporate sustainable, ecologically sound practices into the gardening and landscaping you do. Creating and maintaining an environmentally-friendly landscape, garden, or outdoor living space benefits you, your family, the community, and all the life that shares the environment with you.

Espoma, the pioneer in natural gardening solutions, and the National Gardening Association want to recognize and reward the efforts of gardeners who are working to protect and improve the environment. That's why we've created the Environmental Stewardship Award. This year we'll select five home gardeners and one retailer from across the country who are using the most effective, interesting, and innovative practices to help protect the environment and make their corner of the world a better place. Tell us how you work to protect and improve the environment on your own home grounds.

To learn more about the Espoma Environmental Stewardship Award and to apply, go to: 2013 EESA.

Harvest a Harvest Moon

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You won't have to wait for a harvest moon in the sky to pluck one from your garden -- a 'Harvest Moon' watermelon, that is! A 2013 All-America Selections (AAS) Vegetable Award Winner, this is the first ever hybrid, triploid seedless watermelon to garner this distinction.

Similar to the seeded heirloom variety 'Moon and Stars', with the same deep green rind speckled with yellow dots, this seedless hybrid is earlier ripening, higher yielding, and, according to many, better tasting than its old-time kin. Its short, healthy vines produce elongated round, medium-size fruits weighing 18-20 pounds, with sweet, crisp, pinkish-red flesh. Ready in 80-100 days from transplant, each vine produces 4-5 fruits, on average.

Like other seedless watermelon varieties, 'Harvest Moon' is best started from seed indoors in peat pots about four weeks before planting out, using bottom heat to aid germination. Set hardened off seedlings in the garden once the soil is warm and the danger of frost is past. Included in the seed packet will be seeds of a diploid, seeded watermelon variety to provide the necessary pollinator vines; plant one diploid for every three triploids. If you start with purchased seedlings, be sure to buy a suitable pollinator variety as well.

AAS winners are new garden seed varieties that have been selected by AAS judges for superior garden performance in impartial, judged trials across the country.

To read find out more about ‘Harvest Moon’ watermelon, go to: AAS.

Linking Neighborhoods and Childhood Obesity

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We've probably all heard the real estate maxim, ″Location, location, location!″ Well, it turns out to be true for more than just housing values. It also plays a role in the problem of childhood obesity. Two recent studies, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and described online on the Science News website, found that children living in neighborhoods lacking green spaces like parks that afford opportunities for physical activity and that were without ready access to a grocery store were about twice as likely to be obese as children living in areas that afforded these amenities.

In one study, researchers from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver rated the built environment in hundreds of neighborhoods in the San Diego and Seattle areas on the number and quality of their parks, their general ″walkability,″ and whether they had easy access to a grocery store selling fresh fruits and vegetables. They then evaluated 681 children randomly selected from among these neighborhoods, correlating their health information with their neighborhood amenity score, while taking into account differences in factors such as sex, race, ethnicity, household income, and the body mass index of parents. They determined that children living in neighborhoods with high physical activity and nutrition scores were 59 percent less likely to be obese than similar children in neighborhoods with low scores.

This research points out the vital importance of encouraging not only easy access to stores selling healthful food in urban neighborhoods, but the development of green spaces like safe parks, playgrounds, and school and community gardens with pedestrian-friendly ways to reach them. Says researcher Lawrence Frank, an urban planner and public health researcher who conducted this study along with colleagues, ″We've engineered out of our communities the ability to travel on foot to things nearby. If we want to reverse the obesity epidemic, we need to reverse the way we're building our communities.″

To read more about the link between neighborhoods and obesity, go to: Science News.

Producing Perfect Pepper Transplants

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Peppers, whether hot or sweet, are not the easiest crop to grow in many parts of the country. They sulk in cold, yet if it gets too hot, with temperatures above 90 degrees F, they may not set fruit. Starting your own transplants from seed can also be tricky.

Fortunately, the folks at Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine have had lots of experience growing peppers in a challenging climate, and they share their tips for growing successful pepper transplants on their website. While their advice is targeted at market growers, it contains lots of useful information for home gardeners as well.

Their most important piece of advice -- get your timing right. Your aim is to have your pepper seedlings ready to go into the garden as soon as the soil and air are warm and the danger of frost is past. For most gardeners, this translates to two weeks after the last expected spring frost date for your area. This means starting seeds indoors eight weeks before your set-out date.

Bottom heat is essential for good germination, says Johnny's. With 80-90 degree bottom heat, seeds will germinate in seven to eight days. Without this boost, germination is slower and more erratic, with fewer seeds germinating. If you start your seeds in flats, transplant to individual cells or pots when they get their first set of true leaves. Be sure seedlings don't get rootbound, are regularly fertilized, and let the soil dry out between waterings. And of course, seedlings need adequate light; for most home gardeners this means growing under fluorescent lights. In about eight weeks your peppers will be 6-8 inches tall, possibly with buds but no flowers, ready to be hardened off and set out in the garden, weather permitting.

To read all of their tips for growing successful pepper transplants, go to: Johnny's Selected Seeds.

 
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