Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Flower Sprouts and Growing Your Own Clothes using Mycelium

There aren’t many of us who escaped the recent frosts, and thank goodness.  Last year we didn’t really get temperatures below freezing so had a strange year in the garden, there seemed to be a bit of an imbalance, mainly too many slugs. I’ll definitely be getting my cacti plants inside this year; I don’t think I will get away with them not being killed off this winter. 

The polytunnel is looking a bit untidy after the cold snap. Most of the annual plants have given up and microbes are helping them to decay back into the soil very quickly. I do have some microgreens growing in a small cloche. I have peas, kale, broccoli all growing well and all that is needed is to pop in there with a pair of scissors and snip the young stems off then put them in a salad stir fry or scatter them in a sandwich like you would cress. 

 Flower Sprouts

There are some of us out there that will be planting beans, peas and sweet peas, onions and other plants to give them a good start for next year, but that’s just not me. I do try every year to be on the ball and organized but as the garden is so much of a mess now with things dying back I can’t see that far forward until spring to plant anything. Maybe one day I’ll forward plan but it won’t be any time soon. Nature can do the tidying for a few weeks yet.

Flower Sprouts
I have seen a plant that I’m going to try next year. Known as Flower Sprouts here and Kalettes in the US, this is the result of 15 years work (using traditional breeding techniques called genetic engineering) from the British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds. Flower Sprouts are a non-GMO vegetable developed through traditional hybridization and not genetic modification. The vegetable we see is very similar to a brussel sprout that has lost its firmness and opened up or like a small open cabbage. It doesn’t look that different to normal kale left until spring when the new soft shoots appear on the stem, but I’m sure the 15 years of work will have not have been for nothing apart from a marketing ploy. Well I hope anyway.

The inspiration behind the plant came from a desire to create a kale type vegetable which was versatile and easy to prepare. Crossing kale with brussels sprouts was a natural fit since they are both from the Brassica Oleracea species which also includes cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
It’s worth trying even for a novelty value. These plants are new but actually on the market now in Lidl. The seeds will be available everywhere soon I should think.

Grow your own Clothes, and Furniture
As I am on the subject of new innovations there’s a startup company called MycoWorks who aim to turn industrial design on its head by using mycelium, the root-like fibres of mushrooms, for environmentally friendly building materials, furniture, clothing and packaging.

Mycelium can be grown in almost any kind of agriculture waste, including sawdust and pistachio shells. MycoWorks inoculates it with the live culture of the reishi mushroom, which will feed off of anything, unlike other pickier mushrooms. The mushrooms grow together within the material, which can be configured into any shape, forming natural polymers that adhere like glue. The material is then baked to kill the organisms, so that if it ever got wet, mushrooms wouldn’t start sprouting again. You can grow building grade strength bricks similar to concrete strenght or a leather substitute in just two weeks which is stronger than cowhide. Clothing can be grown out of it and you don’t need to do any sewing as the mycelium can attach itself to zips and seams, you can literarally grow the material around anything. I thought hemp was the way to go with the textile, building and furniture industries but I quite fancy growing my own chairs and tables to fit inside a fungi grown house.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Identifying Plants

The app identified the Taraxacum officinale without any bother

I’ve got a plant identification app on my phone to play with. I’ve seen them around before and didn’t really take much notice of them, until this one came along, the interactivity and ability to be added to attract my attention. The database grows daily as new plants are added. The app is called Pl@ntNet and calls themselves an image sharing and retrieval application for the identification of plants.

It is developed by scientists from four French research organisations and the Tela Botanica network, with the financial support of Agropolis fondation. This means that the app isn’t really working as well in non-European countries yet, but I’m sure they will soon as plants are added.

Among other features, this free app helps identifying plant species from photographs, through visual recognition software. Plant species that are well enough illustrated in the botanical reference database can be easily recognized. The plants can be recognized by leaf, flower, fruit or stem and so far has been very successful for me. I’ve identified most flowers in the garden through it and also a few weeds. It has no bother finding nasturtiums and when I took a photo of a tallow dandelion type flower on the lawn it gave me a few options for what it could be, impressively none of them were the dandelion. It could tell the difference in the petal shape. It turns out it was either a Taraxacum officinale or a sonchus, and even with the photos I couldn’t tell the difference. Narrowing it down to two practically identical plants was impressive. You then get the option to confirm the ident was positive and there’s a star rating for accuracy.

The number of species and the number of images used by the application evolve with contributions of end users to the project.

It doesn't allow the identification of ornamental plants really and it works even better when the pictures submitted are focused on one organ. Pictures of tree leaves on uniform background provide the most relevant results.

I think that the app will be well used by me as I spot other plants and I’m sure there are other equally good ones out there that’ll do the job as well, especially the ones that are interactive with an ever growing database of identifications.

On the subject of identifying plants. There are a lot of plants that are in the garden highlighting the soil type and condition; most of them are classed as weeds

Garden soil conditions and weeds go hand in hand, so we can take advantage of the clues given for soil types and use the weeds to identify potential problems. Large populations of weed growth can signal poor soil conditions as well as soil type. 

Soil Types and Weeds
Using weeds as indicators of soil conditions can be helpful when fixing problem areas in the landscape.

Poor soil can include anything from moist, poorly drained soil to dry, sandy soil. It may also include heavy clay soil and hard compacted soil. Even fertile soils have their share of weeds. And some weeds will take up residence just about anywhere, such as dandelions, making it more difficult to determine soil conditions without closer examination. Let’s look at some of the most common weeds as indicators of soil conditions: 

Wet/moist soil weeds
Moss Joe-pye weed, Spotted spurge, Knotweed, Chickweed, Crabgrass, Ground ivy, Violets Sedge.
Dry/sandy soil weeds
Sorrel, Thistle, Speedwell, Garlic mustard, Sandbur, Yarrow, Nettle, Carpetweed, Pigweed,
Heavy clay soil weeds
Plantain, Nettle, Quack grass, Hard
Compacted soil weeds
Chickweed, Goosegrass, Knotweed, Mustard, Morning glory, Dandelion, Nettle, Plantain.
Poor/low fertility soil weeds
Yarrow, Oxeye daisy, Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), Mullein, Ragweed, Fennel, Thistle, Plantain, Mugwort ,Dandelion, Crabgrass, Clover,
 Fertile/well-drained soil weeds
Foxtail, Chicory, Horehound, Dandelion, Purslane, Lambsquarters.
Acidic soil weeds
Oxeye daisy, wild strawberries, Plantain, Knotweed, Sorrel, Moss.
Alkaline soil weeds Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), Chickweed, Spotted spurge, Chicory.

And the best thing is that now we have apps for identifying the weeds we can not only going out about them but also see just why it is that particular types are trying to take over the garden. It’ll be a case of doing a bit of research to see how we can amend the ground making the environment happier to help the plants we do want to grow. 

Technology eh. Isn’t it great?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Growing Ginger and Sweet Potatoes

I have finally given up on my Luffas this year. The vigorous climbing plants produced a lot of leaves and took over half of the polytunnel but have now succumbed to mould so there’s no saving them. I had one finger sized luffa but that’s gone all soft and squidgy too. The earwigs have the upper hand this year, arrogantly looking at me with their pincers raised and ready for action. Next year I’ll get one step ahead of them.  Every year I like to try something new, sometimes I get a crop, sometimes I don’t. Next year I will be growing two plants that I am sure the wiggies won’t find as they are both root crops. My first is ginger.

Growing Ginger
Ginger root is available from a lot of shops and I will be taking a few pieces that have small growing tips or nodes on them. It’s advisable to get organic roots that haven’t been sprayed to stop them sprouting so if I can’t find any I might need to buy root specially produced from a grower as the results might be better. Whichever I get it’ll just be a case of planting them in shallow pots (the roots grow sideways) and either having them in the house on the windowsill or in the tunnel. They like it warm, frost free, away from strong winds  and not too sunny so the early ones will be fine on my windowsill for now and it’ll be an excuse for me to tell people to close the back door when they come in.

 Sweet pototoes

My next new crop might need a bit more attention put on it.  For years now I have been wanting to grow sweet potatoes but thought they were too fragile to grow in Ireland. I really don’t think they are and I am sure I can get a bucket full for next year. 

How to grow sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes grow in popularity every year. They are a delicious addition to the kitchen garden and not too difficult to grow.  There are actually a lot of varieties to choose from but the supermarkets tend to give us the same ones.  I’m going to be growing mine from shop bought ones again, carefully choosing ones that have been grown without chemicals and hopefully without growth inhibitors.
Sweet potatoes are traditionally grown in warmer climates but I’m not going to let the deter me although if they don’t work I’ll be buying thet hardier types from the growers.

What are sweet potatoes?
Despite its name the sweet potato is not a potato at all. This tasty root vegetable is a member of the Ipomoea family; the same genus as the popular flowering climber ‘Morning Glory’. You will certainly notice the family resemblance from their pretty trumpet shaped flowers and vigorous spreading growth habit. The leaves and tips of young shoots can be cooked as a spinach substitute so they are pretty versatile.

Sweet potato slips
Sweet potatoes are grown slightly differently to our regular spuds. Unlike normal potatoes, sweet ones are grown from ‘slips’. These are the long shoots that have been removed from ‘chitted’ sweet potato tubers. ‘Slips’ either have no roots or very little ones. The roots will grow once the ‘slip’ has been planted. When you buy from growers you will get the bare rooted slips wrapped up in paper. They will be very limp but perk up again after being in water overnight. You could even start rooting them in the water too, which is what I am planning to do.

Sweet potato plants are not hardy so I will grow them on in the windowsill or tunnel for a few weeks until they are established. Warm, humid conditions will quickly encourage the slips to produce roots so I will be better to be patient and leave the growing until the frost have gone next spring. They can be planted out in containers to grow on in the tunnel.

The long stems need plenty of space as they have a vigorous growth habit. In milder areas or sheltered spots in the garden they are well worth trying outdoors, planted through a sheet of black polythene to warm the soil and suppress weed growth. They could be covered with fleece or plastic cloches - you’ll be amazed the difference that this will make to the temperature.

The plants prefer an acid or neutral soil so we are ideally suited here for growing them.  They will go well with my other plants I plan to grow in the future, tea and tobacco.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Myth Busting Again

 Tomatoes lose their flavour on the fridge.

I’ve been myth busting again this week. Not content with clarifying that the amount of lobes a pepper has decides its gender, that copper slug traps are useless, Epsom salts doesn’t stop blossom end rot, there’s no such thing as killer ladybirds and the moon is always the same size in the sky in any one night. I have found another thing for me to get my teeth into. It’s the myth that houseplants purify the air. It apparently comes from a misinterpreted NASA study about plants.

Reported Facts
These are what are generally reported as facts.
1) Plants clean 90% of chemicals in 24 hours
2) Use 1 plant per 100 sq feet of home for most effective air purification
3) The best 10, 15, 17 or 20 plants are listed by name

It is all wrong.

The NASA study showed that plants remove a small amount of certain chemicals from the air. A 1500 sq ft home would need around 400 large plants to remove most of the tested chemicals, enough to turn the house into a jungle.

Reports that list the best plants for the job are probably not valid lists. The microbes in the soil of the pot are more efficient at removing chemicals than the plants themselves.

It all boils down to journalists cherry picking the data that suits their story. Most have probably just reported what previous reporters other bloggers said, just like any other news story then?
Maybe the actual health values are just the plants themselves. Sitting there motionless in their posts as the busy world goes by could be just the focus wee need for a few minutes (or seconds) reflection on the day. Also I think tending the plants can be restful and meditative – as long as we are not having to pick up shriveled leaves from behind the sofa.

Tomatoes in the fridge
Do you keep eggs in the fridge or out in the kitchen? Some folk say that eggs last longer at room temperature and like in our house, the poor eggs get moved from the worktops to the fridge depending on who believes what.  But have you ever thought that keeping tomatoes in the fridge might not be a good idea either? Maybe it’s both eggs and tomatoes that should stay at room temperature. Here’s why:

Chilling a tomato in the fridge will keep it looking fresh for a longer period of time than if you left it on the counter, but it will also drain all that earthy, slightly grassy, distinctive tomato taste right out of the fruit. 

Scientists and foodies have known for some time that cooling tomatoes is detrimental to their flavour, but they were not exactly sure why — until now.

According to new a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, when a tomato’s environment drops below 68 degrees, the genes responsible for making it taste like a tomato get turned off.

The tomato gets cold and tells itself to stop making aroma compounds and the change is irreversible as the chemical changes have taken place.

Tomatoes taste the way they do because of a combination of sugars, acids and a collection of chemicals that scientists call volatile compounds or aroma compounds. Aroma compounds are what you smell, and they make up the wonderful part of the flavour.

 The sugars and acids are what you taste on the tongue, but there would be no excitement to the flavour without the aroma compounds. Now that this is known it probably won’t be long until a variety is developed to cope with both live in and out of the fridge and be hardy enough to cope in all temperatures. Maybe we aren’t too far away from frost hardy ones too.

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