A couple of months ago, John Quinney, the executive director of the New Alchemy Institute (and the man who wrote our permaculture mini-manual in MOTHER EARTH NEWS N0. 88), wrote us to heartily recommend a little-known newsletter called HortIdeas . . . a twelve-page monthly compendium of research briefs, book reviews, and product rundowns, all written for the backyard gardener! When we got hold of a couple issues of that paper, we decided to call its editors and ask them if they like to write our Seasons of the Garden column on a regular basis.
So here are Greg and Pat Williams. We hope you'll welcome the to MOTHER as eagerly as we do!
Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs
If you can't irrigate in that dry spell, mulch! You've got a drought and no easy way to get water to a suffering tree; can anything be done? Sure . . . mulch it! In trials with sour cherry trees over a three-year period at Michigan State University, experimenters found no significant differences in growth between irrigated, unmulched trees and unirrigated trees mulched with black plastic, straw, or crushed corncobs. So if you can't water, at least mulch.
If you have plants outdoors in containers, beware of dark-colored pots! Investigations at the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station have shown that root temperatures can reach levels causing reduced growth or even death of the root tips when plants are set in full sun in black containers.
Chile peppers cross-pollinate readily. According to geneticists at New Mexico State University, cross-pollination among chile peppers is the rule rather than—as commonly thought—the exception. When cross pollinating chile peppers strict measures (e.g., bagging the flowers on each plant) are necessary to assure genetic purity if you're growing more than one pepper cultivar and planning to save some seeds.
"Acupuncture" for corn? Amateur researchers in the Pacific Northwest report earlier ripening and extra sweetness when a toothpick is stuck through the base of the ear stem of a sweet corn plant and on into the main stalk just above the joint. This should be done when the silk is still green. The reasoning behind corn acupuncture? Sugars concentrate near plant wounds.
Garlic sprays for powdery mildew. Experimenters in India report good control of powdery mildew fungus on pea plants that were sprayed with garlic oil immediately upon the appearance of the mildew and again 15 and 30 days later.
Calcium chloride dip can prolong apple storage life. Calcium chloride is readily available as an alternative to rock salt for winter de-icing of streets. Now researchers in India have used a solution of 4% calcium chloride in water to aid apple storage: The fruits are simply soaked in the solution for 15 minutes, then dried off. Red Delicious apples given this treatment and stored for nearly a month at 60 degrees Fahrenheit showed higher quality than untreated apples stored in the same way.
Unhealthy grass may result from mowing too often. Agronomists at the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station grew Merion bluegrass in a controlled environment and clipped it either every three to four days . . . once a week . . . or once every two weeks. They found that root growth, shoot regrowth, and lateral stem formation were reduced by frequent clipping. If your grass looks sick, could it be because you're mowing it too often?
Vitamin C content of leafy vegetables declines quickly with wilting. Experimenters in Tanzania and Nigeria report that the vitamin C (ascorbic acid) content of various leafy vegetables drops drastically as the leaves lose moisture. If left uncovered, some greens can lose nearly half of their initial vitamin C in only 24 hours. To safeguard the nutritional value of your greens, cover them with a wet cloth when they're out of the refrigerator.EDITOR'S NOTE: A one year subscription to HortIdeas costs $10 (sample issue $1.00) from G. & P. Williams, Gravel Switch, KY.