Garden Talk: July 7, 2014

From NGA Editors

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

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Nutritionists are always encouraging us to add more fruits and vegetables to our diets. What's a delicious and easy way to do this? To combine them, of course! Fruits salsas blend fruits such as strawberries, cherries, watermelon, and peaches with vegetables like sweet and hot peppers, onions, corn, and tomatoes along with fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, and basil to make delectable dips or accompaniments to grilled meat, poultry, and fish.

Sweet and savory fruit salsas generally include ripe fruit, along with peppers for a little heat, vinegar or citrus juice for piquancy, and herbs for flavor. But they can also include vegetables like tomatoes, onions, tomatillos, and corn, and the fruits and veggies can be raw, cooked, even grilled. Your imagination is the only limit, so take advantage of what is ripe in your garden and at local farmers' markets to have fun and experiment with different combinations of ingredients.

Depending on the ingredients used, fruit salsas may be frozen for future use. For example, a salsa based on fruit like peaches or strawberries is a better candidate for freezing than a watermelon salsa, which is best enjoyed fresh. You can also can salsa to enjoy long after the growing season has come to a close, but be sure to use a tested recipe from a reliable source so you can be sure it will be safe to eat.

To get you started, try this easy recipe for Watermelon Salsa from Eating Well Magazine. For information on how to can salsa safely, as well as some tasty fruit salsa recipes for canning, go to National Center for Home Food Preservation.

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Year of the Echinacea

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If you'd like to grow gorgeous flowers that are easy to care for -- and roll out the welcome mat for butterflies, bees, and birds -- echinacea, commonly called coneflower, is the plant for you! These central and eastern North American natives are so attractive and useful in the garden that 2014 had been chose by the National Garden as the Year of the Echinacea.

Most popular in gardens is the purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. But don't be misled by the common name. The drooping rays of daisy-like purple coneflower blossoms are more pink than purple. And breeders have been busy coming up with an ever-increasing range of colors and flower forms to choose from. From icy 'White Swan' to orange 'Tiki Torch', light green 'Green Jewel' to yellow 'Mac 'n' Cheese', there are cultivars to fit just about any color scheme. 'Doubledecker' and 'Pink Poodle' sport two-tiered blooms, as does 'Coconut Lime', topped with a lime-green pop-pom for its center cone.

For those interested in natural landscaping, there are a number of other native echinaceas to choose from. Pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) is distinguished by its very thin, pale pink, drooping ray petals set off by a coppery-orange center cone. Narrow-leaved purple coneflower (E. angustifolia) is a drought-tolerant prairie denizen that blooms earlier in the season than purple coneflower.

All echinaceas are good choices for those interested in low-maintenance gardening. Give then full sun to light shade, especially in hotter climates. They are not fussy about soil as long drainage is good and are drought tolerant once established. Divide every few years to keep plants vigorous.

To find out more about the history, care, and culture of coneflowers, along with a descriptive list of popular varieties, go to National Garden Bureau. (Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Extend Your Growing Season

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Now, in the midst of summer's warm temperatures, may not seem like the time to be thinking about the cold weather that will be returning in fall and winter. But if you'd like to continue enjoying the bounty from your home garden as the days shorten and cool and frost threatens, now is the time to start planning a seed sowing schedule for fall-harvested crops. And it's also a great time to build structures like cold frames and raised bed cloches that offer protection to plants and can prolong your harvest later in the season. The extra protection these structures afford can extend your growing season by a month or more depending on your climate, especially if you plant cold-tolerant crops like greens, cole crops, and root crops.

Cold frames are boxes with a clear hinged or removable tops for access and venting that are easy and inexpensive to build at home using some simple tools. Make the back or north panel of the box a little higher than the front or south panel to maximize sunlight; side panels in the 12-15 inch high range work well. A clear fiberglass panel for the top lets in light and provides some nighttime insulation.

A raised bed cloche is another easy to build season extender made by stretching plastic sheeting over PVC hoops above a wooden frame. Such a cloche allows you to protect taller plants than can fit in a cold frame. Oregon State University Extension offers plans online for building this handy season extender at OSU Extension Service. For a handy fall-harvest planting calculator that lets you figure out when to plant for a fall harvest based on your fall frost date go to Johnny's Selected Seeds.(Image by Sam Angima, courtesy of OSU Extension Service)

Jack London Community Day School

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The peace garden at Jack London Community Day School is much more than a place for quiet contemplation and peace studies. Students at this year-round program in Valley Glen, California are getting a head start on their future through a six course plant and soil science career pathway. The course prepares at-risk high school students for jobs in the horticulture field through hands-on experiences in nursery growing and maintaining plants, building garden structures, landscape maintenance, and developing relationships with community members and one another. Students are responsible for every aspect of the garden from building to harvest. A team of dedicated educators led by Program Director Myrna Fleming and Bruce Woodside, Master Gardener and Certified Permaculture Designer, supervise and guide students as they develop and maintain the space. Student-created artwork adds a personal touch to the garden is woven throughout the campus.

Peace is a central theme for this 2014 Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant recipient, a grant program offered by National Gardening Association. The garden brings purpose and alternative learning opportunities to the lives of students who struggle or have been expelled from a traditional high school setting. Since the establishment of the garden, students can be seen working together and with community partners to sell produce, secure funding, and coordinate volunteer opportunities. Program Director Fleming believes student success can be linked directly to work in the garden. "As a community day school we educate students who've been expelled, are at high-risk, or been referred by the probation department to catch-up on credits and develop the social skills that will enable them to return to a traditional school. For our students, the experience of working together in the garden and of forming a unified community has been instrumental in building a more harmonious atmosphere on our campus, which transfers into the classroom and plays an important role in keeping our high-risk youth from drifting further into trouble," Fleming notes. The most recent addition to the garden program is the establishment of 20 dwarf fruit trees around the campus. Students cut up strips of concrete to make planting spots for trees around the campus.

 
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