Flourishing Winter Gardens

Winter gardening is something that millions of people take part in. The summer is one of the best times of the year for gardening; however, the winter takes most of the flowers and vegetables away. In an effort to spruce up your home and add to the décor, you should consider winter gardening with an outdoor garden or an indoor garden. There are several flowers that actually flourish through a winter garden. Here are a couple of flowers that you can plant to tie you over until spring.

Pentas

/>Pentas are a beautiful flower that give off a dark to light shade of pink. These flowers can grown indoors and grow about 20 inches high. They can reach 16 inches wide depending on the planter they are in and require partial shade. Water your pentas frequently and the can reach full growth within a month.

Camellias

Camellias are another great plant for winter gardens. They have glossy evergreen leaves and pretty pink flowers. As the winter closes they will turn to a darker red. Camellias can get really big if you have them in the right planter. With proper conditions, your camellias can grow up to 10 feet high. Give them acidic soil and make sure that you provide plenty of mulch in the winter.

Evergreen Holly

/>Evergreen Holly is usually associated with Christmas, but it makes for a great plant in your winter garden. The plant gives off red berries and the familiar holly leaves. These plants are successful in any environment but really come to life in the winter. Come of the berries will turn a distinctive yellow when winter is coming to a close. Use acidic soil to grow your evergreen hollies, as these are great for the berries. They need minimal water and are also drought tolerant.

Snow Drops

Snow drops are usually seem popping up through the snow in gardens around the world. These plants are resilient and will stay dormant until the conditions improve for their growth. Snow drops have a small bell shaped white flower that makes them distinctive. The are short and have very delicate stems. They usually will not grow more than six inches high, but may reach up to 10 inches in some conditions.

Crape Myrtle

Crape myrtles are native to Southeast Asia, but have been affluent in other parts of the world for a long time. These are design to give any winter garden greatness. These are usually grown outside as they can easily reach 25 feet in height. Crape Myrtiles need plenty of sunlight and do very well in soil with pH of at least 5.0

New Plant Species Discovered

A new species of plant which spreads its own seeds has been discovered in the South American country of Brazil. The plant, whose seed-dropping motion is somewhat akin to genuflection, was given the name Spigelia genuflexa.

According to a late-breaking report by BBC News that the plant’s branches form fruits and then drop facing the ground to deposit “the capsules of seeds … and sometimes [bury] them in the soft cover of moss.” Reported last in PhytoKeys, this recent discovery was made by José Carlos Mendes Santos, a handyman that works for the botanist Alex Popovkin in Bahia, Brazil.

According to a recent press release, the handyman found the inch-high plant behind a bush. Popovkin brought the plant inside and put the photographs on the internet, in hopes it would be identified. It took scientists from three universities to figure it out. Live Science reports “Scientists from Rutgers University, the State University at Feira de Santana in Bahia, and Western Carolina University collaborated to confirm that the plant was indeed a new species.”

According to Discover, the plant’s behavior is only one example of geo-carpy which is “a rare adaptation to survival in harsh or short-lived environments with small favorable patches.
A botanist over at Rutgers University, Lena Struwe told the BBC, “In this species, it is most likely that because it is so short-lived (just a few months) and lives in small fragments of suitable environments, the mother plant is most successful if she deposits her seeds right next to herself, [rather than] spreading them around far into less suitable environments.”
In India, scientists recently discovered that 12 new frog species. Also in the news recently, scientists in Utah discovered a new species of raptor dinosaurfor. This is the first time in over 75 years.

Battle of the Trees

A plant ecologist at Princeton University in New Jersery, Ray Dybzinski, trees possess “way more” roots than needed for them to absorb the soil’s nutrients. Well, if so, what purpose, exactly, do these roots serve? According to Dr. Dybzinski and his colleagues, the overabundant roots are weapons for preventing other trees from sprouting up. Why? Because creating trees takes up a lot of energy. So, ideally, each tree would have just enough roots to capture the water and nutrients it needs.

Trees that produce fewer roots, in this resulting system, (or too many roots) lose out.

Such behavior, says Dr. Dybzinski, is analogous to the competition between trees to grow taller in order to get maximum sunlight:

“They are fighting to stay in the light, and that is sort of not optimal…If they could somehow agree to cooperate and not compete, they could all stay closer to the ground and do something else with that energy, like create seeds.”

While the study was based on trees in temperate climates, the researchers also have plans to model the growth of trees in the tropics and in grasslands.

Soiling the Garden

GardenAn organic garden must start with healthy soil. Natural fertilizers promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, earthworms and fungi which build soil structure and foster healthy plants.

The best fertilizer for your lawn and garden is homemade compost, made from food scraps, fall leaves and lawn clippings. If you still need store-bought products, there are some things to keep in mind.

Commercially made compost has a high level of naturally occurring nitrogen and phosphorous which is released gradually and is absorbed more easily by plants. Other soil improvers, such as worm castings, Epsom salts and decomposed organic matter called humates, add nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Watch out for commercial fertilizers, even those that are labeled “organic”, because they most likely contain harmful ingredients, like animal byproducts or sewage sludge. Animal byproducts, such as bone meal or fish meal, may have come from industrial farming operations, and sewage sludge, might be contaminated with diseases or heavy metals.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), an accredited certifying agency for the USDA National Organic Program, approve of products which have been composted according to USDA Organic standards. The only synthetic materials that can be added to NOFA approved compost are those allowed in the production of organic crops.

Have your soil tested by your local USDA Cooperative Extension Service to determine pH and which nutrients your grass is missing, or test it yourself with a soil testing kit.

Once you know the pH, you may add organic matter to help balance it. Lawns prefer slightly acidic soils with a pH range of 6.5 to 7, while flowers, shrubs and trees vary in their pH preferences. Lime helps balance acidic soil, while sulfur helps with alkaline.

To find out the nutrient content of a fertilizer, look for the “NPK” number (NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). A “5-6-5” NPK number, for example, means that a fertilizer is 5% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus and 5% potassium with the remaining 84% representing filler material.

Spread only about 1/2 an inch of compost on your lawn at a time. Even though plant-based nitrogen is more easily absorbed, composts and organic fertilizers may still be applied too heavily, leading to nitrogen- and phosphate-heavy runoff.

Avoid applying fertilizer before a downpour which will rinse it away before it gets absorbed. Wear a mask if you are applying dusty fertilizers made with lime or any other fine particles that you might inhale.

“Stuck on You” : A Love Story Despite Deforestation

Life has always been rough for the African wasp Certosolen arabicus. Their lifespan of two days doesn’t provide them with much time to get to know the world. But, if there’s one thing that makes these 48 hours worth living, it’s their intimate relationship with the fig tree Ficus sycomorus. A beautiful tale of romance…

These two species are inseparable. There might be ‘plenty of trees in the forest’, but the wasp only eats the fig’s nectar, while in return, the wasp is the only thing capable of pollinating the fig tree. For many long years, this unlikely partnership has carried on unfettered. But deforestation in the region means less fig trees and more sparsely distributed. Let’s hope this romance has a happy ending…

Researchers tested to see if the love-affair between the wasp and fig could stand the test of a long-distance relationship.

In an environment pumping with pollinator promiscuity, the symbiotic relationship of the wasp and fig compel a loyalty uncommon in the natural world. The fig tree, which serves as a nest for the wasp’s eggs, only opens its pollen-rich male flowers once the wasps are born. The same tree will wait two weeks to open its female flowers, to avoid being self-pollinated, with consideration that the wasps only live a couple of days.

So, the young wasps sip from the male flower’s small reserve of nectar, picking up pollen on the way, and then go out to find their next meal at another fig tree’s more nectarous female flower. They eat, pollinate, mate, lay eggs, and finally, die. Just like that.

Sadly though, due to deforestation, researchers worry that the fig trees will soon become too few, too isolated for the little wasps to get to them in their brief lives, effectively breaking the reproduction capability of the wasp and fig.

In an attempt to find out just how far the wasps were able to travel from a male flowering tree to a female flowering tree, scientists collected seeds from 79 different fig trees across Namibia and performed a DNA test on each.

Here’s what they found: While some trees may be closer to one another, the wasps still preferred to travel long distances to find a female fig flower. The paternity tests found that, on average, the wasps traveled a whopping 88.6 miles to pollinate, that’s in one evening! Actually scientists found at least one tree was pollinated with the DNA of another that was 150 miles away.

The results of this research are reassuring to scientists who fear that fig trees isolated by great distances due to deforestation will gradually be lost. So these two lovers will bestaying together, we’re happy to report.

NEWS FLASH: Tiny parasitic wasps may be used as pesticides to protect crops

Tell your local farming buddies…

The group of scientists who sequenced the genomes of three different minute wasp species, say that their work has proven that the bees have qualities, useful for both pest control and medicine. They could even improve understanding of genetics and evolution.

The tiny insects lay their eggs inside larger hosts, including caterpillars. When the eggs hatch, they kill the unsuspecting host from the inside out. Very Machiavellian of them…

The wasps all fall in the Nasonia genus, and they present other gifts too, outside of the pesticidal forum. Like the fruit fly, a common genetic research subject, the wasps are small, easily grown in a laboratory and reproduce quickly, but they only have one set of chromosomes. Singe chromosome sets, more commonly found in lower single-celled organisms, like yeast, is a wonderfully handy genetic tool. It especially facilitates the study of how genes interact with one another. Socialable genes…

The scientists also discovered that the wasps have acquired genes related to the human smallpox virus. This revelation may have applications for the study of evolutionary processes.

Here’s what John Werren, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester in New York had to say about this beesness:

Parasitic wasps attack and kill pest insects, but many of them are smaller than the head of a pin, so people don’t even notice them or know of their important role in keeping pest numbers down…there are over 600,000 species of these amazing critters, and we owe them a lot. If it weren’t for parasitoids and other natural enemies, we would be knee-deep in pest insects…therefore, if we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides, which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment, including a single set of chromosomes, which is more commonly found in lower single-celled organisms such as yeast, is a handy genetic tool, particularly for studying how genes interact with each other…emerging from these genome studies are a lot of opportunities for exploiting Nasonia in topics ranging from pest control to medicine, genetics, and evolution…”

A Quick Look at Permaculture

Trying to rebloom the deserts? Try Permaculture.

A quick overview: The method, invented in the 1970’s, involves analyzing the environment you are trying to build and jumpstarting the system. Think of it as trying to get a dough to rise with a starter kit. For example, if you’re trying to grow chickens, you take into account what chickens need and produce, add those into your ecosystem.

Once you add part of it, the system can begin to work to help along the next part, meaning, the chicken manure starts breaking into the soil, making it more fertile and producing more feed for chickens. If you do it well enough, you have a nice closed ecosystem going, that according to permactulture farmer Geoff Lawton, can even help the desert bloom again.

“Almost all the deserts on earth at one point were forested,” he said. “They all have different types of oasis systems. What you’re doing is picking different points in the desert and turning them into a rich oasis.”

Check out this video for a good overview, and see if you’re interested in the cause.

Electricity from Trees? Not so Much, but a Bit

It began with a finding from researches at MIT that trees can generate a current of up to 200 millivolts. That’s one fifth of a volt, which isn’t so much, but starting hooking it up and storing it, and you can get a bit of power out of an array. To give you an idea, your standard AA battery is 6 volts, and your car battery is 12.

Electric TreeSpecifically, it is the big leaf maple that generates the most electricity. Scientists attached the tree to a booster that stored the energy for later use, and eventually got the charge up to 1.1 volts, which is enough to fun low-power electronic equipment.

As for the implications of the experiment, they are so far not so far-reaching, but for now it’s the concept that is important. It’s also hard to say how extracting electrical power from trees would effect the growth and health of the tree itself. But scientists do believe they could use tree-powered equipment self-monitor the health of forests. Another possibility is that they could use forest-powered equipment to detect forest fires in progress and catch them early on. That could save a lot of good acreage.

“Normal electronics are not going to run on the types of voltages and currents that we get out of a tree,” one of the researchers said. “As new generations of technology come online, I think it’s warranted to look back at what’s doable or what’s not doable in terms of a power source.”

In the most baseline of conclusions, this at least shows us that energy is available all over, in every living thing. The question is, how to make it useful.

800 Year Old Apple The Healthiest

It’s called the Pendragon apple, and it’s been grown in England since the 12th century.

“Of all the organic varieties, Pendragon was the best apple variety and contained seven of the eight kinds of healthy components at the highest levels,” said pharmacist Michael Wakeman, who, like most of the people quoted on the internet, does not get specific enough and it annoys me. At least, the sound bites all sound too general. What are the components, man?

ApplesHere’s a little more information I found. The apples were tested for a range of plant compounds which have been linked to reducing cholesterol, inflammation and blood sugar levels. They also had anti-cancer properties, which we’re always for.

And here’s something interesting. The fact that they (organic apples I mean) aren’t grown with pesticides, means that they have to naturally develop more immunity to bugs and pests. Those compounds that the apples naturally develop to protect themselves are the very ones that are the healthy ones. This is theoretical, but it sounds logical, and could prove to be correct with a little more research. We’ll keep you updated.

His findings come just weeks after the Food Standards Agency found little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods.

“This research confirms that while some measures of organic versus non-organic food benefits might appear equivocal, more sophisticated analysis of compounds which are newly recognized as being of importance to good health do show a significant difference.” Until the next study comes out of course.

My opinion is that this is less of an issue of personal health than it is an issue of planetary health. It just seems right that plants should be protecting themselves instead of being pesticided to death, and the planet doesn’t seem to like when people do that too much.

The Pendragon is not available to buy in supermarkets and had to be obtained by the researchers from a private orchard that specializes in conserving old varieties of fruit.

The anti-cancer compounds the apples were tested for are called phenols, which evidence shows may fight the development of lung cancer.

A Picture of an Organic Farm in North Dakota

organic-wheat-500x375They are Duane and Chantra Boehm, and they have a small organic farm.

For people new to this blog, the term “organic” means farmers avoid pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Everything they put in, they grow. The farm becomes an inner nature cycle instead of having input form outside sources.

Of course, they have to fight the same things conventional farmers have to fight. Weeds, pests, lack of nutrients in the soil. They have ways of doing that, of course. “We use tillage and crop rotations to control weeds and crop rotations for soil building and fertilizer,” Duane Boehm said.

They also use crop residues for fertilizer and “green manure” crops such as alfalfa. The nutrients they need for the crops, they grow with other crops. The Boehms are certified as organic growers by the Organic Crop Improvement Association, but they don’t even have a computer. They keep records the old fashion way, and file them away. “We keep track of when we plant every field, what seeds and inputs are used, cultivation practices, whatever,” Duane said. Records are critical to maintaining certification.

However, their farm is not certified chemical-free. “The main thing, is we’re not certifying our product is chemical free,” Duane said. “We certify to how we grow it. In the real world, there’s no way I can prove my product hasn’t been exposed to airplane and wind drift. We certify to our practices.” Those practices are minimizing soil inputs. The only ones he uses, he says, are seeds, and diesel fuel to run the farm equipment.

To help prevent wind drift from pesticides, a 30-foot buffer encircles the farm, and the neighbors don’t mind at all.

On the average, Boehm said his yields probably are less than his conventional farming neighbors, but the Boehm make more money off the grain because of its status. That, and there’s not much overhead costs when you don’t use fertilizer or other inputs.

The Boehms market their products directly to the flour mill after cleaning it, and demand appears to be growing. Some is even shipped overseas.

They agree organic farming is more hands-on and more labor intensive, but, “The bottom line is the integrity of the product. We’d rather not say we’re producing crops. We produce food.”