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Avant Gardener

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Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Derek Fell, Cedaridge Farm, 53 Iron Bridge Road, Pipersville, PA 18947
and 760 Cardium Street, Sanibel, FL 33957

January 2013

BUREAUCRATIC INSANITY? COUPLE FINED FOR GROWING THEIR OWN FOOD. A Florida couple, Jason and Jennifer Helvenston have launched a ‘Change the law’ initiative as a way to protest an Orlando city ordinance which bans food gardens in front yards. Told that their veggie garden violates a city code, they were threatened with a fine of up to $500.00 per day if they did not remove the garden. Jason Helvenston, responding to news media interest in the ban, stated: “The greatest freedom you can provide is the freedom to know you will not go hungry. Our garden pays for its costs in healthy foods…while having the lowest possible carbon footprint. It supplies valuable food while being attractive. I really do not know why there is even a discussion about it. They will take our house before they take away our garden.”

WHAT ARE THE BEST AND WORST LANDSCAPING IMPROVEMENTS TO INCREASE PROPERTY VALUES? Avant Gardener interviewed a number of real estate agents across the country to find out what landscaping improvements can enhance the value of a home and what ‘improvements’, if any, could deter a prospective buyer: we have all heard of ‘curb appeal’ and so it is hardly surprising to discover that the best landscaping investment is to improve the driveway and second best is to improve the entrance to the home. With many houses, the driveway is the shortest distance between the street and the residence and it can be an eyesore, presenting a wide expanse of paving and ugly pair of garage doors. Several ways to improve a bare driveway are with parallel hedges or a parallel line of trees to create an avenue, with the outspreading branches arching out high above the car roof line and meeting to knit overhead. However, avoid ‘messy’ trees like female ginkgo and black walnut which can drop fruits with an unpleasant odor in the case of ginkgo and cause an oily black stain in the case of walnuts. A trellis above a pair of garage doors can soften the harsh architectural lines of a residence when planted with a flowering vine like a wisteria or bougainvillea and even a grape vine. When there is some distance between the street and the residence, a curving driveway is more appealing than a straight one, especially when the residence can be revealed at the last moment, because it creates the sense of a ‘sanctuary’. 

The front door is a place to say ‘welcome’ and there are several easy ways to improve an austere looking entryway. First consider the use of an attractive gate, and a none-slip path such as textured brick or pea-gravel. A pair of small trees planted in containers to act as sentinels on either side of the doorway can enliven a monotonous entryway. Also a vine planted to create an ‘eyebrow’ over the doorway, can soften harsh expanses of brick, stone or stucco. Be aware that a ‘busy’ garden can put off a lot of prospective buyers, especially one that features a number of theme areas like a vegetable garden, fruit tree orchard, a complex water garden, cutting garden and lots of mature trees and shrubs that need pruning to keep tidy. Contrary to popular belief a swimming pool is not always a good feature. Many home buyers are put off at the expense and liability of owning a swimming pool. Also, hedges and tall shrubs to create a screen from neighbors are preferred to tall, ugly fences like stockade fencing, or stone walls like those made of brick or block. Where a monotonous expanse of fence or wall looks ugly consider covering it with inexpensive trellis and training vines along them, particularly those that can produce edible fruits, like grape vines and kiwi vines. If a residence features lots of flower beds filled with annuals or perennials and even a shrubbery, consider turfing some of them over with grass. Many prospective buyers would rather contend with an attractive lawn than contend with extensive areas of flowering plants. “Think easy maintenance”, is the advice given by many real estate agents. If you plan on installing a greenhouse consider that a lean-to greenhouse which benefits from house heat is generally preferred to a free-standing unit that can be costly on heating and present a liability to many prospective buyers even though a free-standing unit will usually give better plant performance from improved light.

DR. GALLETTA’S THORNLESS ‘CHESTER’ AND ‘HULL’ BLACKBERRIES PRAISED BY GROWERS. Dr. Gene Galletta, retired from the Agricultural Research Service, a branch of the USDA located in Maryland, is well-known for his day-neutral strawberries, particularly ‘Tristar’ which has the ability to ripen several flushes of fruit during the growing season. Less well known is Dr. Galletta’s two thornless blackberry introductions that are a favorite among commercial blackberry growers. Anne and Charles Geyer of Oak Grove, Virginia, cultivate four acres of blackberries and assert that the two blackberries are the highest profit makers on their berry and fruit farm, known as the Westmoreland Berry Farm and Orchard. “The varieties are very similar in size, shape and taste,” says Anne, “but the ‘Hull’ variety matures later in the season so planting both prolongs the harvest.” The couple harvest 25,000 lbs of berries per acre, and in 1987 they harvested between five and seven tons of fruit. Both varieties are self-pollinating and are resistant to cane blight disease. Individual canes can grow to 12 ft long with fruit occurring on the previous year’s growth. They are best suited to zones 5-8 or wherever 900 hours of chilling can be assured during winter. ‘Chester’ produces pink flowers and ‘Hull’ produces white. Highest yields (up to 20 lbs of fruit per plant) are possible by training the canes up trellis. 

CLAM SHELL PRODUCE CONTAINERS MAKE GOOD SEED STARTING TRAYS. Many kinds of fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are sold at the supermarket produce counter in clear plastic containers called clam shells. Similar take-out containers are used at self-service salad bars and also to pack bakery products like donuts and croissants. These make excellent seed starting trays when filled with a sterile potting soil. When the potting soil is moistened and the transparent lid closed it creates a humid micro-climate ideal for germinating all kinds of seeds, from fine seeded plants like impatiens and lettuce to larger seeded plants like sweet peas and okra. Holes in the lid allow for air-circulating. Germination times are speeded up whenever a seed tray is placed over a warm air source such as a heat blanket or a heat duct since most seeds benefit from ‘bottom heat’.  

Another excellent seed starting container is the quart capacity cardboard milk carton. Filled with potting soil and several holes punched in the bottom for drainage, it makes an excellent transplant pot for plants that need an extra vigorous root system prior to transplanting, such as tomatoes, zucchini squash and peppers. Consider it also for rooting cuttings of trees and shrubs. When the roots fill the container, peel away the bottom and plant container and all into its permanent planting position. 

DO DISHES OF BEER CONTROL SLUGS? A REVIEW OF SNAIL AND SLUG CONTROLS. While it is true that dishes of beer will drown a few slugs, attracted by its yeast content, the number of slugs caught during a controlled test in a greenhouse at Michigan State University showed that it was not enough to be effective as a control irrespective of the number of dishes of beer placed around the greenhouse. Slug bait – scattered liberally along pathways and around plants is more effective. Also effective is hand-picking the slimy creates with a glove or tweezers early in the morning before they hide during daylight hours. Following is a review of other commonly used methods of snail and slug control: commercially packaged snail baits come in two basic formulas, one set using iron phosphate, an organic compound harmless to humans and pets that breaks down into fertilizer over time; and another set using metaldehyde, a chemical product harmful to pets that becomes ineffective when wet. Sluggo and Escar-Go are examples of the former, Slug Out and Slug Clear are examples of the latter. Since slugs and snails cannot tolerate copper there are copper barriers such as Safer Snail & Slug copper barrier tape, but these are not nearly as effective as snail baits. In general scratchy materials such as wood ashes, hair and diatomaceous earth are also poor controls since their effectiveness is reduced when wet. Natural predators include possums, ducks, chickens, turtles, tortoises, rats, some song birds, snakes, frogs and toads.

RECORD PRICE AT AUCTION FOR A REDOUTÉ ROSE PAINTING. Pierre-Joseph Redouté during the time of Napoleon made a name for himself by painting beautiful realistic botanical prints of roses in the garden of Empress Josephine. A Redouté rose painting, Rosa bifera officinalis has sold at auction for 265,000 pounds sterling (approximately $430,000.00), to a private bidder, setting a new record. It is one of more than 50 Redouté watercolors sold by Sotherby’s in London as part of a collection owned by Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh.

IS WOOD ASH A GOOD SOURCE OF POTASH FOR THE GARDEN? An article in the current issue of the Dallas Men’s Garden Club reminds us of the confusion surrounding wood ashes as a plant nutrient, and the writer warns that its efficiency depends on the type of soil it is applied to and in what amounts. Many Texas (and other Southern) soils are heavily alkaline and so adding wood ashes can make the soil even more alkaline, locking up nutrients. In Northern soils where forests have made the soil more acidic then wood ashes can act like lime and sweeten an overly acidic soil. Wood ash contains approximately 3% potassium, which encourages vigor and disease resistance. It also contains a number of trace elements needed by plants for overall vigor. Rather than apply wood ashes directly to the root zone, most soil scientists recommend using it as an ingredient in compost piles to produce a balance of essential plant nutrients. Home-made compost should be applied to the root zone, either in spring at the start of the growing season, or as a booster fertilizer in mid-summer. Thin layers of wood ashes applied directly to acid soils is not likely to have a detrimental effect on most garden soils.

THE CARE & FEEDING OF HOUSE PLANTS. Justen Dobbs, tropical plant specialist at Seabreeze Nurseries, Florida believes that improper watering is the biggest cause of problems with growing healthy house plants. The first rule is to ensure that the potted plant has good drainage. Even if it has drainage holes check to see if these are clogged since poor drainage is a killer. A layer of small stones or broken clay crocks in the bottom of pots will help keep the drainage holes clear. If indoor plants in a pot with good drainage become discolored with brown spots on the leaves, or turn brown at the tips that is an indication of poor watering. It is not sufficient to simply pour a cup of tap water with a dilute liquid fertilizer into the soil once a week. In this manner the plant’s roots will likely absorb the water and leave salts and minerals as waste deposits. A build-up of these salts and minerals will poison the soil. Dobbs recommends instead giving a potted house plant a good soaking once every three weeks. This allows the soil to dry out between watering, killing off most harmful bacteria and fungus. If the plant is in a container that you can lift up to your kitchen sink, that is the best place to water it. Place the container in the sink and run lukewarm water from the top so it runs through the soil, being sure to spin the container while the water is running so all parts of the root ball receive a soaking. Place the container on a watering tray so excess water seepage does not stain the floor. The application of a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote at the time the plant is potted will avoid having to feed plants at every watering for up to four months. When roots appear through the drainage hole that could be a sign that the plant is root bound in which case lift the root ball clear of the pot, and if the roots form a tight mesh then wash away all the soil, clean the interior walls of the pot, trim the root mass to create more air circulation and use a potting soil. It may also be necessary to trim back the top growth to force new juvenile foliage and improved subsequent flowering.

GETTING CITRUS TO FRUIT INDOORS. Martin Page, author of Growing Citrus, the Essential Gardener’s Guide, advises that citrus grown from seeds rarely flower or fruit indoors and that professionally grafted plants fruit more reliably, given sufficient light and a room temperature no colder than 50F in winter. Low humidity and low light are the chief causes for citrus to fail as house plants. Plants weakened by a long period of low temperatures (especially frost), and poor drainage also are at risk. He notes that healthy plants flower mostly in spring, and that the flowers are self-fruitful, requiring no cross-pollination. Initially, many fruits may form, but any kind of stress, such as fluctuating temperatures and low light will cause them to drop. He advises against allowing plants to form mature fruit the first season of flowering to encourage a vigorous root system, and in subsequent years to thin crops so that the weight of maturing fruit does not break branches. Kumquats and the ‘Meyer’ variety of lemon are two of the easiest citrus to grow indoors with the expectation of producing fruit.

SCIENTISTS WARN THAT GENE POOL OF MEXICAN PEASANT CORNS IS THREATENED BY GMO CONTAMINATION. All varieties of corn including sweet corn, field corn and ornamental corns are descended from a wild type of grass native to Mexico and other parts of Central America. Called teosinte (Zea mexicana) several wild annual and perennial species of teosinte are believed to have resulted in thousands of varieties of ‘peasant’ corns through human selection for the biggest cobs, sweetest flavors, brightest colors and other attributes. Now a plan by several big seed companies who are heavily invested in GMO seed (an abbreviation for Genetically Modified Organism) to plant six million acres in the birthplace of modern corns, has many conservation groups agitating for a ban, believing that the GMO plants will contaminate the unique Mexican gene pool, damaging more than 7,000 years of selection by native peasant groups and ancient tribes. For more information, and to learn how to add your signature to the proposed ban, visit www.etcgroup.org.

BEST OF THE ANGEL’S TRUMPETS. There are two kinds of woody perennials that we call angel’s trumpets – Datura species and Brugmansia species. They are closely related, but generally speaking the flowers of Datura face up while the flowers of Brugmansia face down. Also, species of Datura are generally grown as annuals to flower the first year, while Brugmansia are tender perennials. All can be deadly poisonous if ingested. In New Zealand, a group of boys from a correctional institution were killed when they smoked the leaves of a Brugmansia that they found growing in a garden when they were allowed to camp on a beach near Christchurch. The ingestion of the smoke caused them to hallucinate and believe they could fly. One boy was killed when he threw himself off a cliff, and another was drowned when he began swimming out to sea. In the 1980’s a California nurseryman, the late Charles Grimaldi conducted a hybridizing program and produced some incredibly beautiful varieties of Brugmansia, mostly in white, pink, yellow and orange. The best of the bunch – a honey-scented orange - he named after himself. Not only are the trumpet-shaped flowers of ‘Charles Grimaldi’ large – as much as 12 inches long – they are abundant, generally produced in several flushes during the growing season. All Brugmansias are sensitive to frost damage, but they are easy to overwinter where frost damage is likely. Simply dig them up, pot the root ball and trim the branches back to a single main trunk. Water sparingly – just enough to keep the plant alive and after the last frost date in spring transfer to the outdoors, water and fertilize freely and the plant will flush out with new leaves and flowers. Plants will grow to twenty feet high, but can be kept low by pruning. As many as 50 blooms can be open all at one time on even a heavily pruned specimen. They prefer full sun but will tolerate light shade and will overwinter outdoors only in relatively frost-free areas, such as zones 9, 10 and 11.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WHITE MARIGOLD? Before World War II the most popular annuals were old fashioned plants like nasturtiums, sweet peas, African daisies and morning glories. Zinnias tended to be small and the only marigolds grown were the French (Tagetes patula), but when the sweet pea began falling from favor as a result of fungus root diseases, plant breeders switched their attention to expanding the size and color range of both marigolds and zinnias because they were likely to bloom through summer months. Today, the range of zinnias is astonishing. Mixtures like the dahlia-flowered and cactus-flower kinds – with big blooms up to 5 inches across – are popular for garden display and for cutting, while the American marigold (Tagetes erecta) is also embraced as a dependable cut flower as well as a bedding plant. 

It was in 1954 when the late David Burpee, head of Burpee Seeds, offered $10,000.00 to the first person who sent seeds of a pure white marigold, as big as ‘Man-in-the-Moon’ marigold and as white as ‘Snowstorm’ petunia. The offer produced thousands of entries, and each year Burpee would offer seeds of progressively whiter marigolds to increase a gardener’s chances of producing a pure white. These were given names like ‘Whitemost’, ‘Hopeful’ and ‘Nearest-to-White.’ Although Burpee’s competitors scoffed at the contest as a publicity stunt, there was a rational reason to engage the public in the search. Photographs in travel magazines showed nearly white marigolds already growing in India where they are used extensively at weddings and religious ceremonies, and the introduction of a white could be key to producing other colors, such as a pink or a true red. 

The contest ended in 1975 when David Burpee, retired from the company, decided to bring the contest to a conclusion, and selected an entry submitted by a widowed housewife from Sully, Iowa – a Mrs. Alice Vonk – even though it was not nearly as white as ‘Snowstorm’ petunia. Since awarding the prize in a ceremony at Burpee’s Fordhook Farm, Pennsylvania, attended by dozens of media representatives (including a cameraman and reporter from Associated Press who syndicated photos of Mrs. Vonk receiving her check from David Burpee to hundreds of newspapers worldwide), the company has continued to make improvements towards a pure white, and one of the best is named ‘French Vanilla’. However, other companies are also working towards an improved white, though one major flaw has proven difficult to overcome – when the white marigold flowers fade, they produce an ugly black seed head and so constant dead-heading is needed to keep the plants attractive. 

WHO PRODUCED THE ORIGINAL MCINTOSH APPLE? There are two markers in a small Canadian town that identify the birthplace of the popular, crispy, sweet and juicy ‘McIntosh’ apple. The larger plaque commemorates the work of John McIntosh (1777-1826) who emigrated from Inverness (Scotland) to the Mohawk Valley, New York, and then moved to Ontario, Canada in 1796. In 1811 he bought a farm and while clearing an overgrown area discovered some apple seedlings. He transplanted these to his orchard and one bore the beautiful, large, glossy red-and-green fruit that became known as the ‘McIntosh’ apple. His son, Allen saw its potential as a desirable orchard fruit and established a nursery to supply local growers with plants. Its popularity gradually spread from eastern Canada into the northerly US states and also British Columbia.

The smaller plaque was sponsored by the Ontario Agricultural and Historic Sites Commission, and adds that close to this marker is where the original ‘McIntosh’ apple grew, and from which hundreds of cuttings were taken in order to propagate thousands of trees for world-wide distribution. Since then historians have speculated on the parents of this original ‘McIntosh’ seedling, and they have concluded that it is descended from a small-fruited apple variety popular in France, named ‘Fameuse’, but also known as ‘Snow’ in English speaking regions on account of its pure white flesh. Because breeding with ‘Snow’ consistently produces inferior progeny, others have speculated that a Russian apple named ‘Alexander’ may also be the parent.

HOW TO ACQUIRE GOURMET QUALITY ASIAN PEARS. “On the mist-shrouded hillsides of Japan since 330 BC, orchards have produced a fruit so distinctive and unforgettable in its flavor that it is steeped in legend and celebrated in myth.” So states the introduction to a description of a strain of Asian pears developed in the United States and known as Subarashii Kudamono gourmet Asian pears, grown in orchards located in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. While on business to Japan, American inventor and businessman Joel Spira discovered a liking for the Asian pears he was served in restaurants, but he had difficulty locating in the US. With the aid of his botanist wife, Ruth Rodale Spira, thousands of trees were planted, with the Subarashii Kudamono name (meaning ‘wonderful fruit’) reserved for only the finest, unblemished and shapely fruit from each year’s crop. Years of growing and breeding have produced five patented varieties, grown only in the Subarashii Kudamono orchard, and available by mail from www.wonderfulfruit.com. The five patented varieties each have a different flavor and vary in size. ‘AsaJu’ is a lightly russeted yellow and a smooth round shape, semi-sweet, crisp and juicy; ‘EliSan’ offers a sweet, complex flavor, with an orange-brown skin color; ‘JunoSan’ has a reddish-brown color and sweet; ‘LilySan’ has a semi-sweet, crisp, clean flavor; SuSan is the sweetest, an ovate-conical shape with light brown skin. Sizes vary up to a grapefruit-size, depending on variety. Although plants of these patented varieties are not available commercially, the orchard grows other commercially available Asian pears, such as ‘Hosui’ and ‘Olympic’. Asian pears are no more difficult to grow than European pears, but the eating quality is generally considered superior. More than one variety is usually needed for pollination, and the secret to a good mature size is ruthless thinning of the fruit set, also protection from crows eating the small, immature fruits.

WHAT IS THE SCOOP ABOUT LEAF MOLD? A recent issue of the RHS journal, The Garden, reminds us how valuable leaf mold (the British call it leaf mould) is as a soil conditioner. There is nothing finer to improve an impoverished soil providing the leaves are sufficiently well decomposed. First, it is important to realize that big leaves like sugar maple, oak and hickory can take a long time to break down and so it is best to shred them with a lawn mower. Trees and shrubs with smaller foliage, like willow, Japanese maple and winterberry do not need to be shredded. After shredding big leaves, rake them onto a tarp and drag them to a holding area such as a leaf pile or a bin made by creating a circular enclosure of chicken wire. Leaves are not only a power house of plant nutrients and trace elements, the consistency of leaf mold can dramatically improve the drainage of clay soil, and the moisture holding capacity of sandy soil. Moreover, it is impossible to apply too much. Decomposition of shredded leaves can take a year, and unshredded leaves can take two and even three years to break down. To hasten the decomposition process, aerate the leaf pile at monthly intervals and pour a nitrogen liquid fertilizer into holes that allow it to seep into the center of the heap. This increases the population of micro-organisms responsible for decomposition. 

HOW BEST TO HAVE YOUR SOIL TESTED. Soil scientists at Penn State University recommend home gardeners have a lab test to test their soil rather than rely on do-it-yourself kits because a professional lab test will not only provide a more accurate reading, it also makes specific recommendations for improvement, whether the soil needs a vital nutrient or the addition of organic matter such as peat (or peat substitute) to improve its consistency. An interesting fact about the Penn State soil test is that the report does not measure nitrogen content. “That is because nitrogen is so unstable – here today and gone tomorrow, depending on rainfall – that we prefer to assume the soil lacks nitrogen,” said one of the soil scientists we spoke to. If your garden soil is to be planted with a wide assortment of vegetables and flowers, the report will give a ‘happy medium’ recommendation, but if you are a grower interested in planting, say an acre of strawberries or blueberries or cantaloupes for additional income, then a report can be made on the basis of the specified crop. Usually, when a soil is too acidic the recommendation will advise the addition of lime and if it is too alkaline then the addition of sulphur and horticultural peat will be recommended.

BETCHA CAN’T EAT JUST ONE. Women’s Health magazine features the following healthy substitute for potato chips, using curly kale such as ‘Scots Blue Curled’, preparation time, 30 minutes; cooking time 35 minutes; 8-10 servings: ingredients required are three bunches of kale, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 1- Preheat oven to 325F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Wash and dry kale thoroughly. Cut kale into chip size pieces, discarding thick stems, and arrange on baking sheet. 2- With a pastry brush gently cover the surface of each kale chip with the oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until crispy (usually 30-35 minutes). An optional step is to sprinkle grated cheese over the hot chips before adding salt and pepper.

THE TOMATO/POTATO PRODUCES TOMATOES ABOVE GROUND AND POTATOES AMONG THE ROOTS. The recent interest in growing grafted tomatoes seems like a good time to discuss the merits of the tomato/potato plant which is a graft of a tomato onto a potato. Advertised in mail order catalogs and on the internet, what you will receive is a potato cored all the way through and a tomato plant plug inserted into the hole which is open at the other end to allow the tomato’s roots freedom to grow into the soil. When planted out in the garden after frost danger in spring the two plants grow together and form a graft, the tomato part of the graft producing tomatoes on the vine portion and the roots producing potatoes. Usually, the tomato part of the graft is an indeterminate variety like ‘Sub-Arctic’ which ripens its fruits all at one time. The potato is usually ‘Red Pontiac’ which matures its tubers at the time the ‘Sub-Arctic’ fruits ripen so that the entire planting can be pulled from the soil. These grafts are popular for growing in containers, such as three to a whiskey half-barrel.

WHEN AND WHETHER TO OVERSEED A DORMANT WINTER LAWN. Traditionally, throughout the southern states, when warm-weather grasses like Bermunda-grass turn brown and go dormant for the winter, a homeowner or groundskeeper will over-seed with ryegrass to maintain a lush green appearance. This is particularly true in areas of the southwest like Texas and Arizona. However, with increases in cost for city water to provide irrigation and higher costs for fertilizer, many homeowners and groundskeepers are allowing their lawns to go dormant and remain brown. Some golf courses effect a compromise by over-seeding the fairways but not the rough. Since the rough can be up to 60% of a golf course, a golf club can save tens of thousands of dollars in city water alone. Seed savings can add another $100,000.00 for over-seeding, plus labor costs to put down the seed and fuel costs for mowing when the new over-seeded grass germinates. Some golf courses now are using a green dye instead of over-seeding to keep a winter course looking green and aesthetically pleasing. Courses in Florida don’t need to over-seed because the temperature generally does not dip low enough to induce dormancy, and of course northern lawns do not require over-seeding since the grass simply stops growing and stays moderately green. Ernie Park, grounds superintendent for a deluxe 36-hole golf course, Grayhead, predicts that most courses will move towards minimal over-seeding. “In the boom days when golf courses were highly profitable no-one cared about the cost of over-seeding, but we have had to learn a lot about creating good playing surfaces at much less cost. I don’t know if high end clubs will ever get to no over-seeding, but they might.”

NEWS BRIEFS

HORTIDEAS TO END PUBLICATION. The publishers of the monthly on-line horticultural newsletter, HortIdeas, have announced their decision to retire and end publication after 40 years. Like the Avant Gardener, HortIdeas started as a paper edition and then changed to an on-line newsletter, but stayed one color. Although Avant Gardener also ended its paper edition in favor of an on-line edition, the newsletter upgraded its content from one color to full color at no increase in its subscription rate. The two competing newsletters were similar in their goals, to present unbiased, up-to-date horticultural news without advertising. The end of HortIdeas leaves the Avant Gardener as the only other authoritative subscription newsletter that presents impartial gardening and horticultural information monthly, now in its 45th year of continuous publication.    

GOOD NEWS FOR CHOCOHOLICS. The quality of chocolate varies from country to country. France will not even allow many American-made chocolate products to be sold because they do not live up to standards required by the French. Switzerland and Belgium also have excellent reputations for quality chocolate. Artisan Chocolates, of Naples, Florida is an exception among American chocolate manufacturers. It is a small company that specializes in quality chocolate barks using cacao beans imported from South America. Some of the flavors are like nothing you will find in Europe or any other part of North America, not only because of the high percentage of cacao used, but a mouth-tingling selection of exotic ingredients, for example: Indian curry and coconut; mango macadamia with roasted cacao nibs; and banana walnut. Half-pound gift boxes contain chocolates filled with raspberry cheesecake, ginger peach and black mission fig with candied lemon peel, costing $16.00. For more information visit www.onceuponabean.com or call 239-206-3092 for a brochure. 

PALM OIL PLANTATIONS THREATEN RAIN FOREST ECOSYSTEMS. Scientific American reports that the world’s growing consumption of palm oil is causing rain forests to disappear at an alarming rate through clear cutting to provide space for palm oil plantations. This not only threatens a delicate ecological system of plants but also the wildlife that relies on it for food and shelter. For example, in Indonesia’s Aceh province the rare Sumatran orangutans are facing extinction. Oil palms are tropical trees whose fruits yield palm oil, a component of biofuels, cosmetics, food and cooking oil. It is estimate that in Indonesia 82 million hectares of land have been cleared (an area the size of Maine), and that the number is expected to increase significantly as the country prepares facilities to double its palm oil production by 2030. 

PLACES TO LEARN ABOUT VERMICULTURE. Most good gardeners know that earthworms are good for a healthy soil, ingesting soil particles and expelling it as waste, richer than they found it. Vermiculture is the science of raising worms and collecting their waste, which is rich in plant nutrients. Here are three websites that provide good information about raising earthworms: www.treehugger.com; www.herbgardens.com; and www.wikihow.com.

PRUNES ARE GOOD FOR BONES. Studies on animals suggest that eating prunes (dried plums) can increase bone density and avoid osteoporosis, a mostly aging disease that causes bones to turn brittle. In 2011 a study among post-menstrual women who ate 3 ounces of prunes daily for a year, experienced a significant improvement in bone mineral density, especially in the spine and forearm, compared with women who ate dried apples. Prunes are rich in bone-building boron, selenium and potassium. However, people with kidney problems from high potassium levels should avoid prunes.

TOMATOES LESSEN CHANCE OF STROKE. According to a 12 year study, reported in On Health magazine, 1,031 Finnish men with high blood levels of lycopene, a potent anti-oxidant found in tomatoes, were 55% less likely to have a stroke compared to men with low lycopene levels. 


IN THE NEXT ISSUE: Snap a photo and immediately identify that tree - welcome to Leafsnap, a new tree identification app from the Smithsonian Institution; an update on wood preservatives and whether they pose a problem for raised beds; a summary of No-Dig garden systems from Ruth Stout to Lee Reich; a hydroponic growing system for home gardeners; IRS rules about deductions gardeners can take on their income tax forms; why gardening advice on the internet is generally not reliable; why future gardens will be smaller but more numerous; and more.

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