list Horticultural Update - September 2007

In keeping with my promise made in Nov. 2002, I present a horticultural update for this year 2007. I usually present one at least annually, sometimes more often. I think it is important to provide a brief time capsule of horticultural news that is influencing history and increasing awareness in this huge field.

A study published last month tells us that Italian and French scientists have successfully deciphered the entire genetic code of Vitis vinifera, the Pinot Noir varietal, the core species of grape wine producing plants. This is the first fruit crop completely sequenced and only the fourth for any flowering plant. Dozens of researchers learned that twice as many genes contribute to aroma than in any other sequenced plant. This directly ties genome level with wine flavor. Much to learn here, but stay tuned if you're a wine lover. The Burgundy region of France has got to be very excited, greater plant disease resistance included.

The American College of Nutrition has just completed a study of 43 crops grown from 1950 to 1999. In looking at 13 nutrients, the study reveals that the vegetables offered today from commercial enterprises fall far short of the vegetables offered and consumed by our parents and even grandparents. Industry's constant yearning for higher yields, longer shelf life and greater aesthetic appeal has all along sacrificed nutrition. We have lost uniqueness of character, color, flavor, and nutrition. Now we know. Seek out your farmers markets, their heirloom vegetables and fruits, and taste and health will peak together.

Gardening can promote a healthy lifestyle. Many of us are believers. Candice Shoemaker of Kansas State University with the help of a USDA grant created a study called PLANTS, Promoting Lifelong Activity and Nutrition Through Schools. The concept is simple and wonderful. She is convinced that gardening activity can combat child obesity. She believes that children who help grow and harvest their own fruits and vegetable will be more interested in eating them. They are off the couch, they are outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and they are getting physical activity. The after school gardening club allows students to take plants home with them, hopefully interesting others at home to become more involved. She is starting community hubs, including parents, after school staffers, area Master gardeners and community volunteers. "Physical activity and good nutrition are essential elements to prevent chronic disease and obesity," Shoemaker said. Congratulations, Dr. Shoemaker, and good luck with what seems to me to be a slam-dunk.

The sixth China International Garden and Flower Exposition will open on the Zhongzhou Island of Jimei, Xiamen from Sept. 23, 2007 into March 2008. Its area will encompass 6.76 square kilometers (2.61 square miles or almost 1700 acres). It will likely be the largest park on the sea. Twenty-four cities from abroad and 44 Chinese cities will show their gardens and flowers. There will be 98 gardens in ten areas based on different styles. See you there?

A wonderful little article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Amy Stewart begins "Imagine a neighborhood garden tour where every house on the block is on the tour." It goes back to The Buffalo News article Of Sept. 1, 2007. It made me think of Sullivan Renaissance's wonderful effort to revitalize our Sullivan County, and it seems we are doing it, township by township. Kudos to all those involved. Congrats to Allen and Sandra Gerry and all those motivated to join the effort.

British scientists have found in a recent study that cabbage aphids have employed a chemical in the plant they eat to fend off one of their predators, a ladybird beetle. The plant in question is cabbage. The aphids store and use a chemical from the plant in the form of a mustard oil and when attacked the aphids release an explosive burst of mustard oil that repels the predator. In the garden there are still good guys and bad guys.

News from Canada: A research specialist for Grape Growers of Ontario, Won-Sik Kim grew impatient wanting a good, fast and inexpensive way to diagnose plant diseases. So, he invented it. His machine reduces the time to find and identify a pathogen from three to five hours to ninety minutes. He calls it the Direct Pathogen Extract Buffer, or DIPHEB. Its mobile, a huge money saver, is licensed for medical use, and will help growers more than ever.

The following is a totally accidental discovery on my part. I got an email with a link and I pursued a hunch. Did you know that a natural and national treasure of Peru is celebrated on a mountain slope blanketed with green vegetation? A few miles from Pisac sits a 9,280-hectare (almost 23 thousand acres) Potato Park, home to more than 1150 species of potatoes, it is the closest thing to an outdoor classroom and it comes with guides. Created in the late '90s as an experimental cooperative farm formed of six communities dedicated to potato farming for centuries.

In some botanical circles, the perfect flower contains fertile male and female organs on the same plant. Perfect for a species that is tired of the old ways. Scientists have since 2004 believed that weeds began to spread due to their preference for self-pollination somewhere around 400,000 years ago. Turns out, the sex changed a million years ago. That's the real reason weeds spread so successfully. They've been at it so long. The announcement came from the USC biologist Chris Toomajian. Scientists from Cornell U. Cambridge U., Salk Institute, and Max Plank Institute were also involved in these studies.

Every now and then, American researchers get so excited about a plant find that they sign an agreement to pay royalties for any drugs developed from it. The Samoan village of Falealupo has already received more than $400,000. The plant is native Mamala, a traditional healing plant among the population. Scientists believe it has potential for a breakthrough in curing AIDS and cancer. California University Berkeley has signed an agreement with the Samoan government that if a drug is produced, the country will receive 20% of the profits.

Whitefly is a pest known to home gardeners and especially to commercial farmers who suffer great losses of crops to the miniscule insect. Hope is on the horizon. Currently, no control for the Silverleaf whitefly (the latest, baddest of the group) has shown to be effective. The Agricultural Research Service isolated a new fungal species from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Alfredo Flores, ARS Public Affairs Specialist, described it as being "unusually durable". Whiteflies cause both feeding damage and transmit viral diseases. This newly named fungus species, Isaria propawskii, also shows great promise against a second major crop pest, the glassy-winged sharpshooter. We may have a new biological control for both pests in the near future. Save the planet and our crops.

In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful weather these days are providing, and the gardens' continuing bounty. Day length is on the wane. The sun's angle is becoming more acute. The autumnal equinox is eleven days away, the half way mark to official winter.

From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on September 12, 2007

© 2007 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.