Archive for February 2012

Red Growth

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a lot of interesting things have been happening here at The Indoor Garden(er) with my new plants.

But of course, I got busy--I've been taking photos, but only this evening have I been able to start processing them. I received this Breynia disticha 'Roseo-Picta' from a blogger friend who helped me rebuild my USDA-incinerated garden. It has been blooming for months, now, but it sends out new branches a lot less frequently. The new leaves are very red--as they age, they get about silver-dollar sized and turn mostly green with hints of red. Perhaps when I place it outside this summer, it'll get redder!

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Stealing More From The Mouths Of Babes

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

This time, Environmental Science & Technology has an article chiming in on ethanol biofuel production, but in a less optimistic voice than the previous story I blogged about (which was along the tone of “Oh, look, a new source of biofuel that doesn’t steal food from Americans.”).

This ES&T; article takes a look at what it would take with current technology to meet the goals set by the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 to increase ethanol biofuel production by a huge amount by 2022. The researchers looking at this determined that 80% of current farmland would need to be devoted to ethanol crop production using current technologies, or 60% of livestock rangeland—even a combination of the two would have an intense impact on the food production capability of US farmers.

Of course, the crops that would be planted still wouldn’t be the ones we would use to feed ourselves at the dinner table anyway (as is commonly intimated by so many, which gets me right irked)—but the competition for arable land will necessitate some rethinking of this ethanol biofuel production goal, perhaps, or alternative sources such as the algae mentioned in the Nature piece I blogged about before.

I can’t help but root for efforts like the bicycle-operated urban community supported agriculture getup in Portland, Oregon. It sounds a little backward, but city-dwellers are now generating a sizable haul of food to fill the gaps in inner-city food deserts and gain access to sustainably grown local produce, or just to proactively reconnect to the food system. Perhaps a more active approach to utilizing space inside cities to farm could help ease this conflict with farmland use to generate biofuels and food to feed the country.

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My Garden Feels Complete

Now that I have a Pandanus, small though it is, I feel like my indoor garden is complete. Thus was the reason behind the tweet two weeks ago.

It's small, yet, but I'm going to let it get established over the next few months and then allow it to go play outside for the summer. It'll shoot right up! I love the red colouration on the edges of the leaves--with spines! The old Pandanus veitchii didn't have spines, which made me sad (although it ended up being a beautiful plant--before I moved back to the states and the USDA confiscated it and burned it).

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A Clap-Your-Hands-And-Jump-Up-And-Down-While-Screaming-"Yippee!" Moment

Perhaps that enthusiastic response is disproportionate to what's happening with one of my plants. But for me, I'd say not.

Back in September and October, I started helping a friend clean out her office orchid case. And, of course, in the process of removing the orchids and remounting them, I ended up walking away with a couple that had been duplicates or clumps that fell from the main group.

So, after a couple "helping" sessions, I ended up with Phalaenopsis 'Venus' (equestris 'Kiekie Monster' x lindenii 'Alpha') (1 and 1a), Restrepia brachypus 'Hartford' (2 -- Tag says striata, but The Plant List says "no."), Dracula lotax (3 -- formerly Masdevallia), Masdevallia bucculenta (4), Bulbophyllum membranaceum (5 -- the tag has "Bulbophyllum mebranaceum (comberi), so I don't know whether this is actually a cross between the two species or if the two species are considered to be one and the same--The Plant List says they are separate species.), Bulbophyllum stenobulbon (6 -- "mini Vietnam" is information included on the tag--I don't think it's a cultivar name or anything, perhaps just indicating that it is a mini orchid from Vietnam), Acianthera prolifera (7 -- formerly Pleurothallis), and a putative Masdevallia mejiana (8).

I had intended on introducing these additions months ago (I even had a draft post with pictures of each one), but I never got around to it, horrible plant blogger that I am. Most of these orchids are cold-weather-growers, so they're in their prime in my chilly basement apartment. They're mounted on tree fern sections (most of them, anyway) with bits of long-fibre sphagnum to keep them moist. When they were in the office case, they were misted twice a day (I think). Since I don't have a mister, I soak them once daily. They dry out pretty darn fast and would probably benefit from a higher humidity environment--but with my space, I haven't been able to offer them a location in one of the humidity trays where they would be moist without fear of rotting (although they survived well in there for the two weeks I was in South Carolina over the holidays, they had a few issues with standing water that pooled around them).

Anyway, so they require a tiny bit of daily attention and could probably benefit from a less dry environment, but on the whole, they're doing well--and all of them are alive after almost five months, so I'm crossing my fingers they'll keep chugging along. The Masdevallia bucculenta and Dracula lotax have seen better days, I'm sure, but the Restrepia brachypus has been growing crazy! And that's who this post is about.

Because look what it's doing! Flowers! Holy heck!

I noticed these yesterday afternoon while I was giving them their daily dunking. Since about a month after I received the plant, they and the Acianthera prolifera have also been sending out new leaves--from the flowering points on the old leaves. They both flower from the base of the leaf blade. And they started growing new leaves and plantlets out of the where the leaf blades and petioles meet. Which I think is just ubersupercool.

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What Should I Do?

I posted on Freecycle the other day, looking for an aquarium/vivarium/what-have-you for some of my humidity-loving plants (various gesneriads, some tropicals, orchids, the usual).

I got a bite almost immediately, and went to pick up the 10-gallon tank I was told would be waiting on the fellow's porch. Metroing down toting along my heavy-duty blue IKEA bag to carry the little thing, I was a little confuzzled--and very excited--to see something twice the size I was expecting.

So, now I have a problem. It won't fit on my plant shelves, which I just rearranged to utilize the fourth growing shelf and have space for seed starting. I have a couple of options for this glass case (30" x 12" x 12"), all of which depends upon me getting some sort of extra light source and somewhere to put the thing. But I'd like your input, just because I'm trying to figure out ways to make this a multipurpose case, which'll invite all sorts of trouble.

What should I do with my new glass case?


Post Of Desperate Interest To You

Or, PODITY, pronounced poe-ditty. As in "Basing product marketing ditties for television commercials on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe will appeal to only a fraction of the target audience--if any at all. So, it's probably a bad idea. Unless we're marketing suicide machines? No? Yes, then it's a bad idea. Next!"

Or perhaps it's a cutesy name for the po-po? I could see a frequent customer of the men and women in uniform building a special relationship with them and calling them "po-ditty" when they are getting arrested. (I have recently been watching a lot of Reno 911. My bad.)

So, why is this a PODITY? It's a blatant misnomer. It's not remotely important to you and probably only nominally interesting.

But since I finally got around to utilizing Storify the other week, and I've been so inconsistent on the blog since forever, and Twitter has stolen a lot of content that could have become blog posts... I'm going to Storify tweets related to The Indoor Garden(er) every week or so so I can share what's going on with my non-Twitter folks. Plus, y'know, there are a lot of really interesting things going on. At least, interesting to me. Perhaps not desperately so... But, okay, c'mon, I just like saying "po-ditty."

And, after writing that, I looked it up on Urban Dictionary and decided that this is, in fact, the most appropriate word possible to describe these posts. Po ditty: one who lacks appreciation from others, noun. I don't want those tweets to be unappreciated, so I have to share them! (I love rationalizing things I'm going to do anyway.)

This is what happened at The Indoor Garden(er) on Twitter since the seed exchange almost two weeks ago. (I'm being very selective with these tweets and only choosing ones that directly apply to plants I have, will have, or have had or other garden-specific things, rather than interactions with people about gardening or tips and such. Otherwise, it would just be way too much for me or you to handle. You may have noticed, but I'm a little chatty.)

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A Piece Of News

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Yesterday, my first freelance news article went up on Chemical & Engineering News’s Latest News feed, in its Analytical SCENE and Biological SCENE feeds, which focus on American Chemical Society-published peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.

I wrote “Bitter Beer Compounds Stimulate Stomach Acids,” based on an article in today’s issue of the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry by nutritionist Veronika Somoza of the University of Vienna and colleagues. The basics: although many components of beer, such as organic acids and the all-important ethanol, have been identified as stimulators of gastric acid release, which can lead to health problems from acid reflux to cancer, no one has looked at the bitter acids derived from hops, compounds which provide many beers with distinct flavouring. So, Somoza and her colleagues did, finding that even though the bitter acids exist in low concentrations in beer, they pack a whollop of gastric acid secretion stimulation abilities. Figuring out which hops varieties have a better bitter acid profile and altering production processes may help brewers develop a more gut-friendly brew—I think the challenge will be retaining the great flavour profile while reducing gastric acid secretion stimulation.

Of course, seeing as how the researchers are all based in Austria and Germany, the home of some of most awesome beer in the world, I couldn’t not ask Prof. Dr. Somoza what her and her team’s favourite brew was—they tested local dark, wheat, lager, pilsener, and alcohol-free beers for their study. Prof. Dr. Somoza laughed when the question came up, declaring that her team is diverse, from different regions in Germany and Austria—“They all like beer!”

As a bonus, another one of my JACS Spotlights also went up online (again, for the full piece, you have to log in—and perhaps have extra credentials). This one is about an article looking at demethylases to get a handle on different structures and chemistries that can support demethylation reactions for epigenetic and post-translational control.

I wrote the demethylase Spotlight almost a month ago—I just turned another one in on Monday, so I’m sure it’ll be up in a few weeks, too!

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Here Are Some More Flowers

For my own Valentine, who is gimpy after hurtling himself and his bike over the hood of a car and breaking his foot last Wednesday, I took what little material I had available to me on my plant shelf and created a simple centerpiece for our coffee/dining-room-in-the-living-room table, where we had our romantic take-out dinner of vegetarian General Tso's "Chicken" and steamed vegetable dumplings while watching some of the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

If you notice a region of horrible image editing to remove various bicycle equipment from the background, well, I'm sorry--I'm not as good with Gimp as I am with Photoshop.

It's in a wine glass with a tad of water. The bulk of the arrangement are cuttings of Plectranthus 'Mona Lavendar,' with its cheerful splay of striking flower spikes above the riot of dark green and purple leaves. Interspersed among Mona's foliage are zig-zaggy branches of Pedilanthus tithymaloides (or for-really Euphorbia tithymaloides, according to the The Plant List search I just did) with nice green mid-leaf regions accented by a light, limey-green colour that contrasts well with the lavender of Mona's flowers and dark purple of the bottom of her leaves. Primulina tamiana flowers tie everything together, hidden at the bottom (it would have been nicer to have a few stalks of these in the arrangement, but I had limited inflorescences, and I wanted to leave most of them on to produce more seedpods).

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Here Are Some Flowers

I wanted to say "Happy Valentine's Day, Here Are Some Flowers," but not everyone has a Valentine, and I prefer to celebrate Pink Triangle Day on 14 February.

So, whether you're celebrating Communist Martyr's Day, Valentine's Day, Pink Triangle Day, or you've been transported in time from ancient Rome and you are feasting during Lupercalia (in school, we were always really late celebrating Saturnalia, so we always had kind of a joint Nalia party, like President's Day), then here are some flowers to you from me.

Breynia disticha 'Roseo-Picta' has been blooming, it seems, for weeks--but it's not exactly noticeable. Each of those blossoms is just a fraction of a centimeter long!

I love Plectranthus, the entire genus. This particular one is 'Mona Lavender,' a lovely landscape and container plant that I've seen in many yards and at the US Botanic Garden. And I don't wonder why: it's constantly in bloom with huge spikes of tiny, architecturally interesting, colourful flowers that complement the purple shading under the dark green leaves very well.

Primulina 'Rachel' (formerly Chirita 'Rachel') has a coy flower--pinkish-lavender with yellow ridges leading insects into its tube to pollinate it, I'm sure.

I can't say this is the best photo I've ever taken of Primulina tamiana (formerly Chirita tamiana). Since I acquired it in September, it has quickly become one of my favourite plants--it blooms every few weeks, it seems, and sends up multiple spikes at one time, each with four flowers on it that open at different times. They are self-fertile--so you can get a ton of seed from them!

These Sinningia pusilla have a nice colour variation, wouldn't you say? Many are pure white or various shades of lavender--but these are soft lavender with stripes!

Not quite open, but a nice photo of tiny Saintpaulia 'Optimara Little Ottawa.' I can't wait to see what it looks like when it opens!


Testing My Will

When one attends a seed exchange, or any plant sale, it's hard to keep in control. You start wanting everything in sight--it's like eating at a buffet, but for your plant obsession.

After the Washington Gardener seed exchange last weekend, I wandered around the glass house at Green Spring Gardens with the beau, who had biked out there to surprise me. There was an awesome collection of succulents, bromeliads, and tropicals, as well as a nice showing of gesneriads with Streptocarpus predominating. (Those photos will appear in a post on Petal Tones, the blog of the chapter of the Gesneriad Society I belong to, sometime this week.)

It was hard to stop myself from saying "me want!" every time my eyes moved to look at a different plant. The glass house wasn't large--it was probably only twice the size of my bedroom. I snapped a few photos of some plants I liked most.

I have a big heart-on for Cryptanthus, but I haven't seen variegated ones like this and the one below in person before.

I've always wanted a Monstera--now I know exactly which one I want!

I'm a sucker for Cyperus. I need to get me a pond to grow some in!


Schlumbergera's At It Again

It seems that the other half of the pot of Schlumbergera I got on sale a year ago for $1 decided to blossom. It looks as if it's the same variety as the other half, which flowered in November. It's not quite Christmas, definitely not Thanksgiving, but it's not Easter yet, either. Could this be a Valentine's Cactus? Maybe I've found a new common name to muddy up the works!

Alright, let's not get carried away. It has the same pale peachy petal colouring with the intense pink stigma.

While getting the hydroton and sphagnum for some repotting and terraria projects the other night, I looked up--and saw this towering over me. It's a stretch, but I think Schlumbergera could be a candidate as a cyclanthophobia-inducing flower.



When the USDA stopped by my place and confiscated all of the plants I brought back to the country after moving them to Saudi Arabia, I was devastated.

But, thankfully, there was a Gesneriad Society chapter show that I helped out at and purchased plants from, and many friends were quite willing to provide me with cuttings or plants from their collections to get me started again.

But even so, my zeal for gardening withered away with the loss of every single plant I've tended for the past three years. I'm slowly learning to love these new plants, but it's not the same.

Yesterday, however, during the first-ever fertilization/repotting/care-taking event since I moved back to the states, I discovered that a lot of the plants I have are doing quite interesting things. The first of which is this Callisia fragrans, which has some red variegation--and an offshoot from one of the larger cuttings.

I'll be posting a couple other things over the next week, so keep your eye out for fun plant happenings!


Two More Pieces Published

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

The other two JACS Spotlights I wrote in December are now up on the web—I need to be more alert in looking for them! I have only one more Spotlight in the works to keep an eye out for (although hopefully more on the way).

One focuses on an article that details the mechanism of antituberculosis compounds. It was also accepted on the first write, which is always a rewarding experience! The other is about an intense strutural and chemical characterization of a multiple antibiotic resistance regulator protein from Streptococcus pneumoniae. This one was my first assignment and one that, because it seemed more familiar to me, was more difficult to write at a general level. But with only a few painless edits, it turned out swell!

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The Genetics Of Greenhouse Gases

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Over on the USDA’s blog, researchers from a previous internship group of mine (the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Systems Laboratory) posted about a long-term farming system study that is looking at the genetics of microbial denitrification, which releases nitrous oxide, an immensely potent greenhouse gas. They are saying that crop species, time of year, and type of management system (“conventional” or organic) all significantly impact the quantity and diversity of microbial genes responsible for denitrification. They’re now looking at which of these factors plays the largest role and what folks can do to reduce microbe-produced greenhouse gas emissions.

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A Seedy Haul

After the seed swap yesterday (and the copious miles biked), I was exhausted and starving. I hadn't really eaten before starting my mostly uphill trek, and at the exchange, even though I brought half of the baked goods, I didn't feel right nomming down on everything there. I ended up having one of everything (more, still, than I felt comfortable taking because of the number of people), but I might have passed out otherwise.

With that setup, here's the list of seed packets I staggered home with (and I thought I was being reasonable in picking so few seeds to take home?):

Key: Bold items were picked up in the three individual rounds of the seed exchange. Underlined items were picked up during the free-for-all. Items acquired through after-exchange exchanging are both bold and underlined. Unaltered items were included in the goodie bag from registration.

Items are alphabetized by their genus and then by their English name. The item presentation is "English name/description (Genus species) [Seed company if known]."

Bunching onion (Allium fistulosum)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) [Landreth]
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Sedano da Taglio leaf celery (Apium graveolens) []
Columbine mix (Aquilegia vulgaris) []
Columbine mix (Aquilegia vulgaris) []
Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa)
Rapa da Broccoletti broccoli raab (Brassica rapa) []
Long Yellow Hungarian Wax pepper (Capsicum annuum)
California Wonder Orange sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) [Botanical Interests]
Pimiento pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Alaska shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum x superbum*) []
Clematis (Clematis glaucophylla)
Larkspur (Consolida ajacis)
Wisconsin SMR 58 Pickling cucumber (Cucumis sativus) [Plant Hart's Seeds]
Boston Marrow squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Small Sugar Pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) [Plant Hart's Seeds]
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon sp.)
Habranthus rain lily (Habranthus tubispathus+)
Witch Cottage woad (Isatis tinctoria)
Garden Babies Butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa) [Renee's Garden]
Lettuce Mix (Lactuca sativa)
Lily (Lilium formosanum)
Salad Leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum) [Renee's Garden]
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Toscano basil (Ocimum basilicum) []
Double red poppy (Papaver paeoniflorum?) []
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) [Thompson & Morgan]
Tendergreen bush bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) []
Sugar Ann snap peas (Pisum sativum) [Plant Hart's Seeds]
Miyashige White daikon radish (Raphanus sativus) [Botanical Interests]
Dr. Carolyn tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) []
Fourth of July hybrid tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) [Burpee]
Large Red Cherry tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) []
Rio Grande tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) []
Rutgers tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) []
Yucca (Yucca sp.)
Zephyranthes rain lily (Zephyranthes drummondii)

* The Plant List says that this is the accepted name for Shasta daisies, not Leucanthemum x superbum as written pretty much everywhere else.
+ The Plant List says that this is the accepted name, instead of Habranthus texanus written on the little orange envelope.

Can you tell I intend on making my own kimchi from veggies grown in my own garden, wherever that might be? A gardener I met at the exchange may have space he would like to share with me--I look forward to chatting with him about it!

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Seed Exchange In Story Form

Today, I biked out to Virginia for the annual Washington Gardener seed exchange. I would have gone to the one in Maryland last weekend, but I was selling my home-cooked goodies at the DC Grey Market (quite successfully, but I haven't posted about that yet!).

I live-tweeted a lot of the exchange--the presentations were engaging and informative! There were a lot of gardeners at the event who had their phones out, typing away (though none as furiously as I was!). Below is a Storify timeline (slightly adapted to make responses easier to figure out) of the tweets that led up to, that occurred during, and that happened after the seed exchange today. Not everything is there in its entirety, but pretty much.


On The Death Of Bees

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Colony collapse disorder has been a big deal for years, and lots of culprits have come out of the woodworks. Earlier this week, a friend and fellow DC food blogger over at FoodNewsie posted about a parasitic fly that attacks honeybees. Having done a large research project during university about parasitic wasps and flies whose sexual reproduction is controlled by a microbial infection (Wolbachia), it doesn’t surprise me that honeybees have a parasite that can kill them off. The fact that it hasn’t really been noticed until we started looking for bee death kind of indicates to me that it might not be a leading factor in the disappearance of all the bees—but of course, I’m sure it plays a role in California, where it’s been found.

Photo: Erik Hooymans

In the same issue of PLoS ONE that the article FoodNewsie was talking about is an article about potential bee exposure routes to neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings on corn and soybean. These insecticides are put around cropseed to protect them before and after they’re planted. But, when they’re sown using huge drilling machines, the insecticidal coating gets chipped and pulverized—larger particles fall to the ground, and dust-sized particles are pumped into the air to be dispersed by the wind. Italian researchers also recently found the drilling machines to be a leading cause of colony collapse disorder around agricultural fields, even with seed that has been coated with thicker, sturdier coatings to prevent chipping and pulverization. Despite the attempt to keep the insecticide on the seed (or at least out of the air and killing bees), the thicker seed coating seems to chip more, releasing about the same fine particulate matter into the air and more larger chunks onto the soil.

The more research being done about colony collapse, the more complicated it seems. The picture is muddled with Bee HIV, mites, parasitic flies, corn-sowing season, pesticide application—and, perhaps, even more unknown causes of bee death. It may be an additive thing—bees with the HIV-like immune-system virus may be more susceptible to mites, for instance, or more prone to die of lower doses of incidental insecticides near fields. And regional influences clearly play a role—if you’re near farmland during corn-sowing season, well, watch out, bees! But perhaps city bees have more issues to watch out for—a windshield, for example. It’s definitely going to take some time to suss out the true culprit, but it’s starting to look more like a joint bee-eradication effort than any one serial bee killer.

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