» Archive for August, 2012

Brave New World

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant Beets now for fall harvest. They will have a deeper red color than beets planted for spring harvest, and tend to have higher sugar levels too.
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • Take house plants outside and wash down dusty leaves. Let them dry in the shade before bringing them back inside.
    • When lily flowers fade, remove the flowers but don’t cut back the stems until leaves have yellowed in the fall.
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.

Brave New World

Almost overnight, genetically engineered (GE) crops have profoundly changed agriculture in the U.S. Leading the way have been corn, soybean, and cotton crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®). As a result, traditional farming and IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods have been tossed aside and replaced with a simplistic solution.

Seeds are drilled into the soil without cultivation. When weeds appear, fields and crops are sprayed with glyphosate, usually by aerial application. Repeated applications are needed, and glyphosate resistant (GR) crops are often grown in the same field, year after year.

Glyphosate is systemically absorbed by the crop, and it appears in the food sold for consumption. Other GE changes include crops that grow their own pesticide. Genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuiringiensis (BT) are inserted into plant genomes. Each plant cell produces insecticidal proteins and these insecticides are incorporated into the food. These are called BT crops.

Genetically engineered foods are not labeled, despite thee fact that 90% of Americans support labeling. This issue will be on the November ballot in California as Prop. 37, which would require foods to be labeled if they contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Consumers are exposed to these new genetic creations and their systemic pesticides without their knowledge. The effects of longterm, widespread exposure to these products have not been fully investigated, and most of the studies supporting their safety have been produced by industry.

Overall, GE crops have caused a large pesticide increase. Though BT crops have led to less applied insecticide, GR crops need large amounts of glyphosate. Roundup Ready® GR crops were introduced in 1996, and cumulative pesticide use over 16 years had increased by about 400 million pounds. These production systems are not sustainable, but agribusiness has bet America’s future on GE crops, in exchange for large, short-term corporate profits.

GE crops are not sustainable because farmers rely on larger amounts of fewer pesticides. Weeds and pest insects then become resistant, and resistance increases pesticide applications. GR crops actually reduced herbicide applications over the first three years after their introduction. But rapid emergence of resistant weeds has caused large glyphosate increases each year.

Repeated use of the same pesticides is leading to their buildup in soil and contamination of water and air. GE crops have caused destruction of habitat for the monarch butterfly and other environmental problems. Resistance to BT and invasion of secondary pests have led to systemic seed treatments with other pesticides that have toxic effects on bees. More than 45% of U.S. cropland is now treated with systemic chemical pesticides and use is increasing every year.

There are many issues surrounding GE crops including food safety, glyphosate resistant weeds, BT resistant insects, and disappearance of traditional non-GE seeds. If agribusiness continues to overlook safety and environmental issues, the outlook is not good. Support organic products and vote for Proposition 37 in November.

[much of this article was borrowed with permission from William Quarles, “Brave New World – Systemic Pesticides and Genetically Engineered Crops,” The IPM Practitioner (July 2012) 33:3/4]

Moon Garden

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • First-year fruit trees need to be well-watered through the dry weather. If they are neglected the first year, they may never be strong, productive trees.
    • Feed fuchsias, begonias, summer annuals and container plants to keep them green and blooming right up until frost.
    • Trim grapevines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and sweeten the grapes, if they are being shaded heavily by the foliage.
    • Wisteria trees need to be trimmed throughout the summer. Keep long tendrils trimmed back to maintain the shape of the tree.
    • When perennials have finished blooming, cut them back by about one third, or to a flush of basal growth, to promote repeat bloom on coreopsis, lavender, penstemon, phlox, salvia and Shasta daisy.

Moon Garden

What is a moon garden?  It is simply a garden planted to “shine” in the moonlight. Moon gardens contain white flowers and silvery foliage that seem to sparkle and reflect light of the moon. 

There is something quite magical about a garden at night. To truly appreciate it, you have to sit down and let the worries of the day fade away, and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Light colors and white take on a new glow, and many blooms appear to float because the green stems and leaves fade into the darkness. The lighter colors of variegated plants become more pronounced in the evening.

Night gardens also attract important pollinators, such as moths and bats. Flowers that open their blossoms late in the afternoon and have pale colors and strong scents attract these night flying pollinators.

One of the most important components of a moon garden is a place to sit and take in the view. Place a chair or bench where you can sit and take in the subtle beauty.

White flowers and plants with pale leaves reflect the moon, along with other sources of light, for an enjoyable effect. For white flowers plant some Shasta daisies, white alyssum, petunias, impatiens, phlox and pansies.

Be sure to include evening primrose (Oenothera) with its silky blooms, white candytuft, and Moonflower vine with its 4-inch white flowers that open at dusk, and release a sweet scent into the night air. Gaura, known as ‘Whirling Butterflies’, is a graceful perennial that will add a touch of whimsy to the moon garden. And don’t forget a beautiful white rose like ‘Sally Holmes’ or ‘Walking on Sunshine’™.

While plants with white or light-colored flowers are common to the moon garden, you should also consider the foliage – silver, gray, and variegated foliage enhance the garden as well. Artemesia, Dusty Miller, soft woolly lamb’s ear, and lavenders will glow in the moonlight. So will garden sage, ‘Moonshine’ yarrow, and ‘Snow in Summer’ Cerastium.

Variegated leaves also glow in the moonlight. Hostas are especially nice and Pewter Pink Lamium and Lirope ‘Silvery Sunproof’ will also add green and white leaves to the landscape.

Another aspect of the night garden is fragrance. Many of the night bloomers have strong fragrances. Honeysuckle, mock orange and star jasmine have wonderful, rich fragrances.

Many gardeners like to design their beds in the shape of a full moon or crescent–even a star–though any shape will do. A small area is fine.

Start designing and planting your moon garden now and you will be ready to enjoy it by the ‘blue moon’ later this month.

Harvesting Herbs

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Set out starts of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and lettuce for a fall harvest. Spray weekly with BT to keep the cabbage worms at bay.
    • Roses have more flowers all summer long than any other shrub. Plant them in a sunny location and feed monthly for continuous blooms.
    • Impatiens will give you instant color in shady areas and continue blooming right through the fall.
    • Mottled leaves are often a sign of spider mites. Check for them with a hand lens or bring a leaf into your nursery for identification and treatment options.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.

Harvesting Herbs

Herbs are plants with many uses. They are used for cooking, medicine, aromatherapy, pest control and fragrant potpourris. Usually the leaves and stems are used, but sometimes the flowers, fruit and even the roots contain the desired substances.

It is important to be sure that you have the right plant before you use it for culinary or medicinal uses. Common names are often misleading, since the same common name may be given to different plants. All herbs are toxic in excess, so be careful about self-medication.

Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Most herbs can be cut and used fresh throughout the growing season.

Herbs grown for their foliage, such as sage, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and basil, should be gathered when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give each herb its distinctive flavor and aroma, are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove up to 1/3 of the stem’s length.

Cut basil frequently, 6-8 inches down the stem. This will keep it bushy and prevent it from flowering. You should get many cutting through the summer. In the fall, you can cut the plants at ground level before the first frost.

Harvest herbs grown for seeds just before the seed heads turn brown so that the seeds don’t fall off while cutting them. Cilantro, if left to go to seed, is called coriander. Dill and fennel are also grown for their seeds.

Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower. Harvest herb roots, such as echinacea, chicory, comfrey, and goldenseal, in the fall after the foliage fades.

Herbs should be harvested in the early morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water. Shake off excess water and place them on paper toweling to dry for a few minutes.

Air drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs. Gather 8 to 12 stems in a bunch, tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70-80°F), dry, shady area. Herbs grown for seed can be dried on screens or inside brown paper bags. The herbs should be dry in 2 to 4 weeks. When thoroughly dry, strip the leaves or seeds from the plants, and store in them in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.

Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep for a year if stored properly.

You can make a potpourri mixture of dried herbs and flower petals to preserve the aromatic fragrances of summer. Most potpourris start with rose petals or lavender flowers as a base, to which other dried herbs are added.

By growing your own herbs, you can spice up your cooking with fresh, flavorful tastes and freshen a room with the delightful perfumes of summer.