July 31, 2012

August is eat local month

New Hampshire isn't the only state with abundant harvests in August.   localharvest.org has a great map (among other things) showing all the farms, markets, restaurants and grocery stores that promote locally produced food.

July 27, 2012

Germination: cotyledons and true leaves

Last time I wrote about the radicle end of germination.  These posts certainly make you think back to beginning biology class!  After the radicle appears from the seed and goes down, the hypocotyl goes up.  Embryonic leaves, called cotyledons, appear and start to photosynthesize.  Of course, grasses are different, but I'm not growing any grains so it doesn't matter.  

Cotyledons aren't true leaves, and often they are shaped differently than the true leaves.  Brassica cotyledons are heart shaped.  Spinach's are long and skinny.  They can get very big on some greens, namely tokyo bekana, but I never measure their leaf length, or included them in the harvest weight.  They can be used as microgreens though.

Spinach cotyledons.

True leaves appear shortly after.  They are cute, tender and grow pretty quickly (unless it's really winter).  Can you identify the variety below?

July 25, 2012

Germinating seeds: radicles

This week I wrote a very long email to a friend who is starting a garden - in Namibia!  She and her villagers are beginning gardeners.  At one point she wrote "the swiss chard seeds had little germination root thingys in the package."  Those little thingys are radicles, or embryonic roots, and I have been looking at a lot of them recently.  If they were in soil, and not on petri dishes, they would grow down.

Root hairs also collect water.  Cotyledons are embryonic leaves I'll write about them next.
Right now I'm germinating seeds in growth chambers to see how temperature affects germination rate.  It sounds fancy, but it really isn't.  Growth chambers look like refrigerators with a panel of dials to control temperature, humidity and light.  The only parameter I'm changing is temperature.  Right now the temperature is set at 75 degrees.  Next week I'll start over at 65 degrees and so on down to 35 degrees.

The wires and box are the temperature monitor.

The seeds go in petri dishes with wet filter paper.  Every day I look at each one to see how many seeds have sprouted.  It sounds labor intensive, but isn't.  Yesterday I had everything counted in 15 minutes!  Partly because most of the seeds have sprouted and partly because a huge storm descended on southern New Hampshire and I had left all the windows in my apartment wide open.  I expected a flood when I got home and was relieved at a broken flower pot. 

Seed, radicle and beginning cotyledons under the seed shell on the left.

July 23, 2012

Help needed!

In the coming fall and spring I'll be looking in depth at the growth rate of six greens throughout the season.  The list includes: mizuna, tokyo bekana, tatsoi, spinach, and green romaine lettuce.  I need help picking the sixth variety. Here are the options: 

Scarlet frills: red, curly leaves, from the brassica family,
has a mustard-y flavor that can be a bit spicy when weather is warm.
Red russian kale: Also a brassica, known for being cold weather hardy, 
usually grown for mature leaves (not baby size for salads).

What do you think?  Are there other varieties you think should be on the list?  Leave me a comment (via facebook or the little pencil on the actual post) or send an email.  I can see how many people view the post so I know when you're not replying!  It's for science!

(I will be doing a variety trial of 20 greens once in the fall and once in the spring to look at lesser known varieties like vitamin green and tatsai.)

July 21, 2012

Return from the OFA Short Course

After a true full night of sleep I'm now ready to rejoin the cognitive world and say something about the OFA short course.  True, I got home four days ago, but it's taken that long to recuperate.  I should mention that I spent the days leading up to the convention at a wedding, which greatly contributed to my sleep deprivation.

Lots of new varieties are showcased.  To the untrained eye (mine) they often look pretty similar.
If you have ever been to any kind of huge trade show picture it in your mind.  Then fill all the booths with the all the 'stuff' needed for the annual plant, greenhouse industry: pots, media (soil), the colorful (ugly) plastic wrap that goes on the outside of poinsettias, tags, super fancy machines that vacuum transplant little tiny plants.  Feel overwhelmed?  So did I.  The trade shows I've been to have either been farm related (tractors, seed catalogues and flannel) or public garden related (exotic plants arranged artistically).

The highlight of the trip was seeing Sam Kass speak about the White House vegetable garden.  He's an assistance chef at the White House and works with Mrs. Obama on the Let's Move campaign to help kids eat healthier foods.  Since I read "American Grown" as soon as I could get my hands on it, I knew many of the stories he told.  Like the little girl stuffing herself full of cauliflower without knowing what it was, or the fig tree rescued from the compost pile.  Knowing the garden is a success and has produced tons of food is great, but I liked hearing about their struggles best.  For example, they haven't figured out how to grow pumpkins.  Knowing that Park Service gardeners and White House staff have the same struggles as all us common gardens is a uniting feeling.

Of course I didn't take this picture of Sam Kass and the little fig tree that could.
It's from obamafoodorama.
The biggest disappointment of the trip was walking by Sam Kass later that morning and not saying 'hi' or 'thank you' or even just smiling.  He was talking to someone else, but that's a pretty lame excuse on my part.  I've now thought of what I'd say, so if you're reading this Sam Kass, walk by again please!

July 18, 2012

Dinner on a muggy night

If you are anywhere in the New England area this week, or just in the United States at all this summer, chances are you don't want to do much cooking.  After traveling for a week, and breaking out in a sweat just standing up I was not about to actually cook anything for dinner tonight.  Since I just got back last night from the OFA short course (more on that in the future once I've had a bit more sleep) the vegetable part of my diet has been lacking.

I have not been eating many of these.  Although I dissected a restaurant salad
and found both mizuna and tatsoi in it!

Not to worry!  Remember the class I went to on super nourishing greens back in the spring?  When everyone else said their favorite dish was the arugula pesto, my favorite was the greens soup.  The pesto was great, but it involved pasta, cheese and basil, which happen to be three of my Favorite Foods of All Time.  Not like this soup, which has not one, but three amazing things about it:

  1. There is no cooking involved.
  2. You get tricked into slurping up four vegetables without realizing it.  Five if you count avocado as a vegetable.
  3. Zucchini is one of those vegetables.  We are just beginning zucchini season here, which means it is a treat and not something you feed to the dog because you have more summer squash than you know what to do with.

If you are my mom you might be thinking "what! avocado?!"  Yes, today I bought my first two avocados ever.  Perhaps this will be the year I discover how wonderful guacamole is because I have an extra one sitting in the fridge now.

(adapted from the Food and Health Forum
if you join their mailing list you get a whole digital cookbook!)

Blend together a cucumber, a whole bunch of kale and a cup of water.  Spinach would be fine too.  I did this with my immersion blender.  Dump in an avocado, juice from a lemon, a capful of soy sauce, a teaspoon of ginger and a pinch of cayenne.  Blend it some more. Then taste it.  Grate in one moderate sized (8 inch) zucchini and fold in a cup of corn.  Chill until served.  People may be put off by how it looks.  They are fools.

* Edit 7/19:  For dinner we had chips and cheese dip which balanced out the cool vegetable-ness.  Bruschetta would also be good on a not-so-muggy day.

July 12, 2012

OFA short course

In a few days I'll be in Columbus, OH for the OFA Short Course.  (OFA is the Association of Horticulture Professionals.  I'm not sure how you get the letters from the name.)  I'll be giving a very short presentation of the research I'm doing.  Unlike the last time I went to an event, this time I will bring my camera.

I found the picture of mizuna seedlings from January while making a handout for my talk.  Aren't they cute!  They make me look forwards to working in the greenhouse this coming winter.

July 9, 2012

Patterns of the mustard family

I continue to be enthralled with the brassica family because it contains so many of our vegetables.  Even if you don't eat vegetables you should be interested in brassicas because you probably a) season meals with black pepper or b) eat canola oil.  The brassica family doesn't only contain vegetables.  Lots of other plants make up Brassicaceae, some of which you've probably heard of or seen growing on the side of the road.

Ever seen drifts of yellow flowers on the side of the highway mid-spring?
They are probably yellow rocket (picture from gobotany.newenglandwild.org)

First though, how to tell if a plant is part of the brassica family?  Look at the flowers.  All flowers in the brassica family (also called the 'mustard' family just to add confusion) have 4 petals and six stamens.  The picture below shows how four of the stamens are tall and a two are short.

Picture from "Botany in a Day: the patterns method of plant identification" by Thomas J Elpel

What other plants are in the brassica family?  A list of all genuses found in New England has been complied by the New England Wildflower Society.  Domesticated varieties included horseradish, watercress, radish, turnip and (my favorites) arugula and mustard.  If you're a gardener you might have alyssum, sweet-alyssum, wallflower or baskets-of gold in your flower garden.

Sweet alyssum from gobotany.newenglandwild.org
Baskets of gold from gobotany.newenglandwild.org 
Lastly, Dyer's Woad (Isatis) is not found in New England, but is a noxious weed in western states.  Woad is used to make blue dye by extracting indigo from it's leaves.  Small amounts of the dye are produced in the UK and France for craft dyer's.

Photo by Steve Dewey, Utah State University, www.forestryimages.org

July 4, 2012

What I learned this week

Last week's facts came from reading published articles.  This weeks facts come from other people who've read published articles.  They seem to be all about eating, which is definitely because it is after seven and I haven't had dinner yet.

lots of broccoli planted too close together
No Baloney compared three crucifers (broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts) to see which give the most bang for your buck.  As you know I'm a big fan of all brassicas even if I only get to grow the leafy kind for my research.  Which was the winner? Broccoli!  They do stress that you shouldn't really choose between the three.  All of them should be part of your diet, but not necessarily during the same meal.

I eat salads naked because I don't like salad dressing.  Apparently I'm missing out because the correct monounsaturated fat-rich salad dressings help release nutrients from the vegetables.  According to Mario Ferruzzi, a Purdueassociate professor of food science, "If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings."  One study isn't enough to make me eat salad dressing all the time but maybe sometimes.

Lastly, broccoli leaves are edible.  It shouldn't be a surprise because they are in the brassica family and related to cabbage and kale.  When planting our garden a few months ago we had more plants than space.  Since I can't bear throwing away plants I stuck them all in anyways.  Now, we are eating the leaves from select plants to thin out the patch.  I treat them like kale, and they taste like - broccoli of course.

July 1, 2012

Update on rooting basil

A few weeks ago I thought the little roots poking out of my basil cuttings were amazing.  Since then the little roots grew (that is of course what roots are supposed to do).

Now look at all those roots! There are even roots on roots!

Yesterday we planted the basils in the garden.  Our windowsill doesn't get enough light for vegetables to grow.   I don't like all the hot, sunny weather that has been beating down on New Hampshire, but the basil and tomatoes do.  At least something is happy!