Seasonal Gardening: A Plant Cures AIDS, Used Tea Bags and Saltwater Tomatoes

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PHOTO: AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE/USDA
The seeds from a Moreton Bay chestnut used in research to cure AIDS.

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.

Seasonal Gardening: A Plant Cures AIDS, Used Tea Bags and Saltwater Tomatoes

THE ONGOING SEARCH FOR AN anti-AIDS drug leads scientists
down some bizarre trails. One current path of research
involves an Australian rain forest tree, the Moreton Bay
chestnut. Laboratory tests at the National Cancer Institute
show that castanospermine, a chemical extracted from the
tree’s seeds, prevents the AIDS virus from killing healthy
cells.

At the same time, Dr. James A. Duke, a botanist with the
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, is trying to raise
the exotic chestnut (it’s actually a legume) as an
ornamental houseplant. “The plant looks somewhat like the
popular Benjamin fig except the leaves are slightly larger
and glossier,” Duke says. It does well under fluorescent
lights, needs little maintenance and will grow about six
feet high in a container. (It can tower over 100 feet in
its native environment.)

Assuming that both the NCI anti-AIDS testing and Dr. Duke’s
container-training efforts continue to go well, will home
gardeners start raising AIDS remedies on their windowsills?
Will there be a rush for Moreton Bay seeds, similar to the
peach pit collecting craze back when Laetrile was touted as
a cancer cure? Not likely, according to Duke. “The seed
should not be chewed because it contains toxins in its
natural state. The castanospermine is extracted by water
and purified with chromatography.”

Oh, well. Still, you have to admit that having the source
of a possible anti-AIDS drug posing graciously in your home
would be a great conversation piece!

Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs

Try tea and see. Don’t throw out used tea
bags-tear them open and spread the contents around garden
plants! Tea leaves contain triacontanol and, according to
Indian chemists, very tiny amounts of this potent
plant-growth stimulator in the soil can produce significant
increases in crop yields.

Wile E. Melon. The midnight munchers in
your melon patch might not be raccoons. Commercial melon
growers as far east as Mississippi have lost several
thousand dollars’ worth of their melons to coyotes!

Young seed potatoes. If you’re going to
save some potatoes for next year’s seed tubers, harvest
those spuds early-even before the plants die. “Young” seed
potatoes tend to produce higher yields of larger, better
quality tubers. (Exception: If your growing season is quite
short, pick your seed spuds from more mature tubers. Young
seed potatoes need a longer growing season than old ones.)

Great glistening whiteflies! Low-toxic
horticultural oils (including “dormant oils”) are often
used to control insect and mite pests on outdoor crops.
Recent research by the Agency for International Development
indicates they work well indoors, as well. Concentrations
of 1-207o Sunspray 6E (made by the Sun Oil Company)
controlled greenhouse infestations of whiteflies, spider
mites and leaf miners.

Saltwater tomatoes. Israeli scientists
have produced significantly better-tasting tomatoes by
irrigating the plants with diluted seawater. However, since
season-long saline irrigation also reduces yields,
the researchers apply the salt treatment only after many of
the fruits have begun to form. A 3 dS/m solution works best
(consult your local extension agent to learn how to concoct
it).

Strung-out deer. Kentucky wildlife deer
specialist John Phillips reports that a double fencing of
plain string will keep deer out of relatively
small
areas. A three-strand, yard high outer fence is
set about one yard away from a one-strand, yard-high inner
one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Greg and Pat Williams raise most of their own food on a small farm and publish HortIdeas, a fine newsletter on gardening research and products (available for $10 a year from G. & P. Williams, Gravel Switch, KY).

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