July 11, 2007

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Vegetables, like people, urged to live up to their potential

By Kathleen Phillips
Texas Cooperative Extension

Carrots may be underachievers. Healthy and good for one’s eyes, yes, but they could be so much more, researchers say.

A major stress in a carrot’s life — like the slash of a kitchen knife — and the tapered tuber kicks in the juice and pumps up its phytochemicals.

That’s the finding of Dr. Luis Cisneros, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station food scientist. He calls it abiotic stress — pushing the button, so to speak, on a crop after it has been harvested.

"What happens is that on many occasions, plants do not express their real potential. They can actually express more if they are challenged to a point," he said.

"It’s something similar to what would happen with people. You stress people, and people tend to respond more to the challenges in front of them," he added. "In this case, when you stress plants, you actually trigger this genetic response, and the plant will synthesize chemical compounds. You end up with a carrot that is healthier than the original carrot in a short period of time with a very cheap and easy stressor."

A key to his research was understanding the plant’s pathway to a specific, desired compound and getting it to increase only that one. So far, his lab has successfully increased the amount of antioxidant activity in carrots up to five times.

The finding is important for food processors, Cisneros said, because as companies increasingly seek ways to add healthier components to foods, the technique could yield more of those desired substances.

One kilogram of anthocyanin extract is valued at $1,000 in the marketplace, Cisneros said. Anthocyanin is the red pigment in vegetables which is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

"So, if you stress (carrots) and they accumulate more anthocyanin, that means more money," he said. "Now imagine using that carrot to make a juice or making an extract of it that could be added to bread or some other product. You end up with an array of different products that you can benefit from."

Growers also stand to gain, he said. In traditional vegetable marketing, the only way for a producer to make more money is to harvest higher yields.

"But with this process, a grower could market not for the yield in tonnage, but for the percent of phytochemicals," he explained.

Other current research on producing phytochemicals in foods focuses on breeding fruits and vegetables to have increased amounts of the compounds, Cisneros noted. While that is beneficial, the ability to quadruple the phytochemical with a simple, post-harvest technique would add even more value.

In his lab, the "wounded," or cut, carrots were placed under an ultraviolet light for a few seconds. Analysis a couple of days after that simple treatment showed a "huge increase" in antioxidants, he said.

"Abiotic stress has been known for decades," he said. "But our work is new because we targeted something specific to accumulate what we wanted. We used stress to manipulate."

The finding opens the door for more research, he said.

"We are trying to see if these responses can be duplicated in other types of plants — different types of fruits and vegetables," he said. "We want to see the signal molecule that is promoting these types of responses to maybe improve the way we are applying these stresses."

When the lawn threatens to swallow her sidewalk, the author does battle with her string trimmer. (Photos by Emerson Hovey and Judy Kriehn)

  The lighter side of gardening
Aren't power tools supposed to make life easier?

By Judy Kriehn
Freelance Writer

Okay. I'll admit it. My gardening skills stink. When forced to, I water just enough to keep the grass from going belly-up. I mow often enough to keep city code-enforcement at bay. The only times the front yard gets "edged" is when either a good Samaritan takes pity and edges it while I'm not looking or when I hire a kid looking for a few bucks to do so. But having a yard that will win a "yard of the week" honor? Not likely.

However, I have to say, it's not for lack of trying. I was introduced to the world of power tools, but the tools have ganged up against me.

When I bought my house in 1983, my dad gave me his old electric lawnmower. I liked it well enough, except for the need for fly-casting skills to whip the longggg extension cords out of harm's way as I turned up and down the yard. Inevitably, I would mis-toss and then sit grumbling on the steps as I spliced the electrical wiring back together. So I bought my first gas-powered mower. Knowing nothing about internal-combustion engines, I shopped based on price-point. I guess I got lucky, because I got a little workhorse that never gave me a day of grief for many years, despite me neglecting the finer maintenance details like sharpening the blade, adding oil, etc. But then came the sad day when I smacked into a hidden concrete chunk that had risen from the dirt during a dry spell. Thus began my slippery slide into the abyss of cranky power garden implements.

I took my friend Ed with me to select a replacement lawn mower. I wanted to move up in the world to a self-propelled number, hopefully with some racing stripes and maybe some nifty side-pipes. Since he was a retired mechanic and had been a consumer advocate regarding mechanic shops for a local municipality, I trusted his judgment. With the salesman's help, he steered me toward a snappy-looking green lawn machine. I thought the color was nice, so I plunked my money down and we loaded it into his truck to return to my house.

After he drove off, I filled it with gas, added the prescribed quantity of motor oil, and fired it up. Well, I tried to, anyway.

The instructions very clearly said "prime carburetor five times, then pull the rope." I soon made the discovery that this particular machine would settle for no less than 50 pumps of the carburetor-priming bulb. To add insult to injury, it also preferred to have the tank completely full at the time of starting (a partially filled tank, and even the 50 primes of the pump, elicited no satisfying roar.) If I stopped mowing in less than 15 minutes to empty the clipping bag or transition to another part of the yard, we had to start over from scratch on the starting process again.


A few years later, I decided I wanted to have one of those yards with pretty even edges instead of St. Augustine creeping over all concrete surfaces. I marched to the neighborhood Home Despot store, and stood contemplating the display. An oh-so-helpful sales guy came up and gave me a pitch for the gas-powered string trimmer. I was wary, as I pictured myself bursting into flames or some other tragic gas-powered incident, but he assured me that it would be fabulous, and SOOoooo much better than those silly electricity-powered string trimmers. Okay, fine. I handed over my credit card and drove home with the string trimmer, the replacement head that allowed me to use spiffy individual chunks of plastic string instead of a long reel, motor oil, and all the other implements of grass destruction.

I painstakingly attached the new head, filled the tank with oil and gas, and followed the "prime the pump five times…" instructions printed on the side of the handle. Nothing. I tried again. Still nothing. I kept trying for some time. I read the owner's manual just before I crammed everything back into the box to march back to the Despot and demand my money back. What do I see? A boldfaced admonition in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS that faulty machines NOT BE RETURNED TO THE RETAILER. Say whut?

Okay. So I'm a gullible female who tends to believe the instructions. So I didn't take it back. I fumed for 24 hours. The next morning, I stomped out to the backyard, snatched up the stupid alleged weed whacking machine, and was ready to march back to the Despot, admonition be damned! But before I stuffed it into the box, I decided to give it one last try. It started right up. Alrighty, then. You can stay. I whacked a bunch of weeds and grass and put it away. However, the next time I wanted to whack some weeds, I pulled it out — only to have the previous experience. So I became the not-so-proud owner of a string trimmer that required 24 hours notice before using.

A year ago, I finally decided that having to give an inanimate object notice that I intended to use it just got my goat, and I decided to get a new one. And no gas one, this time. Nosirreebob! Good old extension-cord electricity fired for me! I marched to a different store for this one, figuring that the advice from salespeople at the Despot had yielded both the cranky mower and the cranky weed whacker, so I needed to return to the land that used to be the home of the Christmas Wishbook. I picked what appeared to be a nice testosterone-powered electric string trimmer, and took it home. I took it out of the box, screwed the parts together, and plugged it in. I approached a nice weed in the yard and poof! The string retracted into the spool and couldn't be coaxed back out. Even worse, I could find no instructions indicating how to get the thing open to manually extract the string. The next morning, I headed to the repair center and asked for assistance.

Armed with newly acquired string-retrieval skills, I marched back into my yard and plugged it in. Again. It did great! Well, more accurately, it did great until I approached a weed that was thicker than your average blade of St. Augustine. Then slurp! Back into the recesses of the weed whacker went that string. Good Grief! Saddled with yet another cranky yard implement? Why me?

Y'know… I'm beginning to think that there's a reason that spiffy-looking yards are referred to as "manicured lawns." I think those crazy people literally groom their yards with nothing more than a pair of manicure scissors…

  The compost heap
Looking for plants

"Do you have some sources for foxtail barley?" writes Sandra Sheridan. “I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at the edge of Tarrant and Denton counties and am interested in this plant."

Dan writes, "Several years ago I got some cottonboll okra seeds via your seed exchange program.  Due to a drought that year I was not able to grow any seed. I would like to find someone with cottonboll okra seed that I can contact to re-obtain this seed? Can you help?"

If you know a good source for foxtail barley or cottonboll okra seeds, contact us at I have a source! And we’ll share it with readers. — Michael Bracken, Editor

  Gardening tips

"We hate to throw anything out at our place, and when we replaced some bent plastic mini blinds," writes Misty Panzino, "I cut the slats into varying lengths and made plant markers. You can use a permanent marker to write on them and stick them in the dirt. Or use a hole punch to punch a hole near one end, and use a twist tie or string to attach to tomato cages or trellis. They also flutter around in the wind to help keep birds out of your garden."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Even if your soil is full of nutrients, your plants may have difficulty absorbing some of the elements if the pH is wrong. A pH scale shows how acid or alkaline your soil is. Most soils in Texas lean towards the alkaline side and will benefit from the addition of liberal amounts of quality compost and sulfur in some cases. In some areas like east Texas, soils are more acid and will benefit from the addition of lime. The only way to know for sure is to test your soil with a pH test kit.


  Upcoming garden events

Victoria: Victoria Master Gardeners will hold its Summer Garden Symposium July 14 from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Victoria Regional Airport 4-H Activity Center, 259 Bachelor Drive. Admission is $30 and includes lunch, door prizes, refreshments and a silent auction. Topics are: Container Gardening, Water Gardening, Attracting and Managing Wildlife in Your Garden, and Herbs for the Patio. All topics are taught by qualified trainers. Registration deadline in July 2. For more information, contact Liz Andres at (361) 575-1746.

San Antonio: As part of Contemporary Art Month and Texas Uprising, the San Antonio Botanical Society and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center will host Art in the Garden, a sculpture exhibition featuring the work of James Surls, at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston Place, San Antonio, beginning with a reception on Thursday, July 26 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. The exhibition will be open daily beginning July 27 and will run for one year. For more information, call (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners will be sponsoring training classes  August 22 through December 5. Classes will meet every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Texas Cooperative Extension Building, 210 East Live Oak, Seguin. Application deadline is July 31. Enrollment is limited to 30 paid students. For more information and application forms, visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org or call the Guadalupe County Extension Office at (830) 379-1972.

Austin: The Fifteenth Annual Texas Bamboo Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26 at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Bamboo Society, the event will celebrate the wonders of bamboo with presentations, demonstrations and education information, including Bamboo 101, a Bamboo Kite Making Workshop led by Greg Kono, and Bamboos of Southeast Asia presented by Harry Simmons. Bamboo plants and crafts will be for sale. For additional information, call (512) 929-9565 or visit www.bamboocentral.net.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

Tyler: The Smith County Master Gardener Association will sponsor its annual Fall Gardening Conference at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, 400 Rose Park Drive, Tyler, on Saturday, September 8, from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. A plant sale and expo will be held at Harvey Hall and Convention Center following the conference, from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Conference speakers are Steven L. Chamblee. chief horticulturalist for Chandler Gardens in Weatherford, and Keith Kridler, cultivator and merchant of daffodil varieties including antique daffodils that are no longer or not commonly produced. Admission to the conference and to the plant sale is free. For additional information, call (903) 590-2980.

Independence: The Herb Association of Texas is hosting its annual conference September 14-15 at the Antique Rose Emporium in Independence. "Explore the Senses Through Herbs" is open to the public. Jim Long of Long Creek Herb Farm is the featured speaker. Register via www.texasherbs.org or call (830) 257-6732 for details and to have registration material mailed to you.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association “Hidden Gardens Tour & Fall Plant Sale” will be held Saturday, September 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Hidden Gardens Tour and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the Fall Plant Sale at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Get your tickets and maps at Green Acres for this one-day event in addition to purchasing those much-wanted plants that you can’t find anywhere. The maps will lead you to wonderful Hidden Gardens in both Aransas County and San Patricio County. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres, which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. Admission is $10.00. For pre-registration tickets and/or questions contact the Aransas County Texas Cooperative Extension, Rockport, at (361) 790-0103.

Fort Worth, Dallas: Visit America's very best, rarely seen, Private Gardens. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program has been opening the gates to America's best private gardens since 1995. The 2007 season features more than 350 gardens across 21 states. Learn about gardens participating in your area through the Open Days Directory, an annual publication listing open gardens with garden descriptions, open dates and hours, and directions. To purchase a Directory or for more information, call (888) 842-2442 or visit www.opendaysprogram.org. The $5 admission fee supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American gardens such Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. 2007 Texas Open Days: Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

Belton, Temple, Killeen: The Bell County Master Gardener Association will host the Fall Glory garden tour Saturday, October 20, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens in Belton, Temple and Killeen will be showcased. Admission is $5 for adults. For additional information, contact Sue Morgan at (254) 698-8668.

St. Francisville, La.: The 2007 Southern Garden Symposium will be held October 26 and 27 in St. Francisville, La. Friday workshops held at Afton Villa Gardens include "Creating Interior Focal Points through Floral Design," led by Dr. James DelPrince; "Pruning for Plant Health," led by Martha Hill; "21st Century Gardening: Plants, Products and Practices," led by Nellie Neal; and "Timeless Tips for Fool Proof Landscapes," led by Mary Palmer and Hugh Dargan. The Friday evening cocktail buffet will be held at Live Oak Plantation. Saturday lectures held at Hemingbough include "Hot New Flowers and Captivating Combinations," led by Norman Winter; "Furnishings for the Garden: 1750-1900," led by H. Parrot Bacot; and "Garden Design Inspirations: Seeing Art Design Elements in Nature and Applying them to Southern Garden Designs," led by Edward C. Martin. $60 per person, per day admission includes lunch. Admission to the Friday evening cocktail buffet is $35 per person. For registration and additional information, contact Lucie Cassity at (225) 635-3738 or write to Southern Garden Symposium, P.O. Box 2075, St. Francisville, LA 70775.

Waco: The Texas Gourd Society presents its 12th annual Lone Star Gourd Festival October 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, at the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., Waco. Featured will be gourd artists and crafters, demonstrations, seminars and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 are free. For additional information, visit www.texasgourdsociety.org.

New Braunfels: Hill Country Orchid Society's "Wurst Orchid Show & Sale" will take place Saturday and Sunday, November 3 and 4, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the New Braunfels Elks Lodge, 353 S. Seguin, New Braunfels. Admission is free. For more information, call (830) 629-2083.

Galveston: Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens at the sixth annual Festival of Lights November 17 through January 5. This whimsical celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 17, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Festival of Lights is celebrated Thursday through Sunday November 17 through December 16, and daily beginning December 17. Transforming its lush tropical garden setting into a winter wonderland, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and glide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink at Moody Gardens. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or even gaze upon a giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will feature a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Three films will be playing at the IMAX 3D theater and two films will be playing at the Ridefilm theater. The Garden Restaurant will feature a delectable holiday buffet, offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Group rates of $20 per person are also available for groups of 20 or more, and include admission to Festival of Lights and the holiday buffet. Admission into the Festival of Lights is $5.95, and tickets to additional attractions including the Rainforest Pyramid, holiday IMAX 3D film, holiday Ridefilm, Outdoor Ice Rink and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, can be purchased for only $4.00 each. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org.

Garland: The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

Rockport: An herb study group founded in March 2003 meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard with welcoming landscapes  

Roll out the welcome mat for butterflies and hummingbirds. In this lavishly illustrated book, author Sally Roth reveals the secrets for creating irresistible gardens and welcoming landscapes that lure these amazing creatures up close and personal.

 $18.09 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of July and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seeds
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