Friday, 21 December 2012

Digging up lunch

The end of this year is near, so it is time to prepare the garden for the upcoming growing season. Last month was the time of the year to dig up the soil and to remove withered plants. Yes, we were a little late, but luckily the soil wasn't too wet and not yet frozen. 

I prefer to work the ground with a pitchfork instead of a shovel; since the latter makes the work heavier, the ground stays in one hump and there is a bigger change to cut the valuable worms in two. Every scoop of ground I dug up in our garden had at least three earth-worms in it. Even though we love having them mixing and processing our soil throughout the year, it was also fun to see this little robin following me and eating a couple of our worms for lunch. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

On seasonality

After a big break in a hot and sunny country, we returned to cold and wet Holland. Our garden had changed tremendously in these past autumny days. The change of seasons was clearly visible.

South-east Asia knows three seasons, in which two of them merely differ a couple degrees Celsius and some hours to sunset. The sun was great, no complaints, but I think I prefer four seasons like we have in Holland. Even though there are many people that dislike colds and rains, we appreciate and long for the sun and warmth even more when it freezes; and vice versa. Furthermore, the yearly cycle is much more clear. It provides something to hold on: falling leaves announce the time to prepare the garden for cold climate, the food that grows is attached to the nutrients we need that season, spring colours bring us hope for better times, and summer scents bring back (good) memories. If these clear seasonal variations did not occur, we would not give the meanings these different periods bring a moment's thought.
In one way, one could say that the repetition of these seasons is (literally) nothing new under the sun, but this is exactly what's making it comforting in some way, like a stable and balanced line through our lives. I think it is better to conceive this yearly cycle not merely as reiterations, but more as continuity; something that goes on for thousands years and throughout earlier generations. Seasons are a guiding theme through our lives, connecting dots, and stabilizing our lives.

Change of colours, smells, food, ailments, and emotions all pass by every season without much notice if we do not go out and dwell in miss seasonal herself: nature. Having your own garden makes it even easier to follow the obvious and deeper seasonal changes the plants reflect on our own lives. So don't just enjoy the warm periods, make sure you catch every season, to let your body and mind be in tune with our natural guide.

Bright colours turned into brown and grey

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sustainable decoration ideas

A visit to Boom Festival in Portugal does not only result in a great vacation, but also leaves us with plenty of inspiration and information about the earth, permaculture and people. In particular, there were many small ecological gardens developed on the festival terrain which provide beautiful, sustainable and useful ideas to apply on our own garden. We would like to share some with you:

Porch vaults made by rough dead wood. Also note the stonewalls.

Pretty shapes made of stones. In the back are trees decorated with colorful knitting-works.

Bamboo plant trays

More bamboo ideas!

Hanging bottled plants

This one requires a strong tree, but the result is fantastic: a swinging bed!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Autumn leafs

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
                                                             -- Albert Camus

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Pretty in pink

Somehow we have a color pallet in our garden that shifts throughout the months. These are periods in which almost only one color, next to green, predominates in flowers, leaves or fruits. This month our garden's favorite color is pink!

Echinacea purpurea;

 Pink/orange carrot;



And yes... pink beans.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Our daily bread

There are so many ways to make your daily slice of bread a little more attractive. The following ones include some help from your garden. Simple ways are adding herbs to plain spreads and butter, while other spreads are easily created by blending vegetables with spices. Here I will present you some of my favorite ideas - and easy ones too - to make your own sandwich spreads; for daily use or as appetizers:

Butter or cream cheese variations with fresh herbs:
(for vegan ones: use mashed chickpeas/beans/lentils and olive oil as your basis)
Dutch classic: garlic, chives, parsley, lovage;
Mediterranean: garlic, chives, (lemon)thyme, rosemary, lavender;
Sweet and spicy: gingersyrup (or ginger and sweetener), curry powder, red pepper;
Fresh: yoghurt, borage (cucumberherb), lemon balm.

Vegetable spreads:
Mid-eastern: grated carrot (and turnip), yoghurt, cumin powder, raisins;
Perfect couple: mashed roasted pepper, feta cheese;
Non-musty humus variation: chickpeas, lots of lemon juice, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes or olives.

Try to fill Indian cress flowers with some of the creamcheese spreads! The one with ginger and curry makes an excellent combination with this spicy flower! Another idea is to use the spreads as dips for slices of cucumber, pepper, celery, carrots and toast.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Strawberry spinach

This pretty creation proves how our time- and money-oriented society somehow causes victims of diminishing diversity. Not only this strawberry spinach - which was pushed aside by the much easier pickable (through machines) common spinach - but also for example vegetables that are not suitable for transport to other places because of their weak tenability, such as achocha. Wouldn't it all be a little more exciting to alternate your daily plate of greens with little red fruits tasting like spinach beets, or shape up your salad with tiny spiky cucumbers?

Not only the red fruits of strawberry spinach are edible and create crispy and juicy accents in meals, the leaves of this goosefoot species can be eaten as well and taste similar to spinach. They are a good source of vitamins C and A. The last edible part of strawberry spinach are the seeds, which can be cooked or grounded into flower. Next to this, the fruits can be used as a dye. 
Don't be scared off by the following: the seeds were also used as a toxic in Native American societies - put in rivers to stupefy or kill the fish. However, consuming strawberry blite in small portions is not harmful, but before eating it, make sure to visit the pfaf site.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Summer garden on a plate

Growing your own vegetables forces you to be more creative in preparing meals. On the other hand, it may be easier, since nature already decided for you which ingredients to use. Here follows a typical July-ish salad with fresh picked greens (and blues and reds) from our garden.

Cook some fresh string beans. Use the remaining boiled water (which contains valuable vitamins from the beans) to prepare some bulghur or couscous. Add ras-al-hanout, pressed ginger root and fresh garlic.

What is a salad without lettuce? Our favorite is corn salad; throw it in. Then, make the meal complete with some raisins, feta cheese,  lime juice, herbs and anything colorful that grows at the moment. We chose Borage (blue flowers tasting like cucumber) and Indian cress (spicy red/orange flowers). 

Mix it gently and serve. Result: indeed, our garden on a plate.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The cucumber alternative

Let us introduce you to another one of our Andean crops: Achocha. Literally translated from Dutch it is called olive-cucumber; the taste of the fruits is similar to cucumber and they can be picked as small as olives (after this the skin gets tougher and spiky). 

We traded the seeds at a small fair, stuffed it in a pot on the balcony in April, added lots of water, and it just grew! By now we can already pick hands full of olive-cucumbers every day! Oh, and the tiny flowers smell really sweet as well. Contrarily, books and internet sites state that this plant needs a lot of sun and warmth to grow. In Holland the 'summer' just started yesterday; which means that the Achocha grew here within approximately 16 degrees Celsius and almost no sun. 
However, since the funny looking fruits are not very crispy nor juicy, we prefer eating the 'real' cucumber instead. But since cucumbers can only grow in hot temperatures, Achocha is a good alternative for homegrown-cucumber-lovers that do not possess a greenhouse. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The plumtree

De pruimeboom
A Dutch verse

Jantje zag eens pruimen hangen,
O! als eijeren zo groot.
't Scheen, dat Jantje wou gaan plukken,
Schoon zijn vader 't hem verbood.
Hier is, zei hij, noch mijn vader,
Noch de tuinman, die het ziet:
Aan een boom, zo vol geladen,
mist men vijf zes pruimen niet.
Maar ik wil gehoorzaam wezen,
En niet plukken: ik loop heen.
Zou ik, om een hand vol pruimen,
Ongehoorzaam wezen? Neen.
Voord ging Jantje: maar zijn vader,
Die hem stil beluisterd had,
Kwam hem in het loopen tegen,
Voor aan op het middelpad.
Kom mijn Jantje! zei de vader,
Kom mijn kleine hartedief!
Nu zal ik u pruimen plukken;
Nu heeft vader Jantje lief.
Daarop ging Papa aan 't schudden
Jantje raapte schielijk op;
Jantje kreeg zijn hoed vol pruimen,
En liep heen op een galop.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunday dinner

Turnip and carrots straight from the ground.

 And fresh garlic. All made into a creamy risotto.

With pretty rhubarb for dessert!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Thought for food

I have a theory, a philosophy, or perhaps a worldview on vegetables and other edible plants. Lately, the idea of becoming healthy through responsible eating is becoming more trending. Food causes visible consequences for people: think of obesity, changing skin color, and illnesses; but also less obvious ones and untraceable ailments such as headaches, lesser resistance and lack of energy.

In Holland, companies exist that offer weekly bags of organic vegetables from local farmers - fresh from the land. When I tried this for a couple of weeks, I really felt physically energetic and I had less colds and flues than usual (even in winter). First I thought it had to do with the lack of chemical insecticides that were used on the vegetables, but when I dove a little deeper into this matter, I came up with the idea that it largely depended on which vegetables I ate at that time. I will explain this below.

Nature has a certain schedule of events, think of a repeating climate, a breeding time for animals, and every species has its own recurring and timed cycle of growing. I am a person that likes reasonings and meanings behind things, and therefore I believe that these natural schemes exist for a reason. Next to timing, the place is important as well. 
Insects know exactly when and where to lay eggs. For example, a butterfly named Alcon Blue lays her eggs on Gentian flowers. She ensures to time this perfectly so the larvae come out at the same time the specific plant flowers. It is this exact flower that provides the best nutrients for the Alcon blue caterpillars to be able to grow into mature butterflies. 
I believe this is similar for humans and the plants they eat: vegetables ripen during the time when the eater needs this plant's nutrients the most, to grow and become healthy. 
Eating the plants at the time they ripened in your living area, means that this fruit has grown in and from the exact atmosphere, soil composition and climate conditions where you live in as well. I believe that the plants use and store these seasonal and local conditions, and transform them in nutrients that are needed at that exact time by the ones that eat the plants. 
There are medicinal herbs that grow in the season when you need them the most (think of our post on Lungwort); young nettles in march help against spring fatigues; nuts ripen in autumn, from which you can use the fat to built up resistance for the coming cold winter; et cetera.
It works as follows: plants create phytonutrients to protect themselves against certain climatic conditions or pollution. For example, UV-rays trigger biochemical processes in plants to create phytonutrients that help the plant to resist these radiations. People and other animals that eat these plants, and its nutrient composition, will be protected as well. If the plant is eaten by a person from the same living area, the plant's nutrients are perfectly matched with the eater to be able to stand firm in these shared conditions. 

To conclude: I believe that the growth, flowering and ripening of local edible plants is inherently timed to and matched with its regional eater's needs.

For now, our prescription for a healthy summer: eat lots and lots of strawberries from your garden!

So not merely for its lesser environmental impact, the support of local farmers, the better taste and the cheaper price, but also because of this aforementioned principle, I encourage you to eat seasonal vegetables from your own region. In addition, vegetables that are artificially grown outside 'their season', or picked unripe to travel great distances, lose some important vitamins and minerals. Here are some links to start with, but these do not provide a clear chart for very local seasonal foods. You have to find out for yourself by visiting some neighboring farms. Or start your own of course.

The information on phytonutrients was based on information from the following link: "does seasonality affect nutrient content?".

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Women's apothecary

That time of the month. Something that keeps women in touch with natural cyles, but it never comes convenient. Every woman reacts differently to her period: with change of moods, migraine and in most times it includes stomach- and lower back ache. Contraceptive pills can reduce pains and regulate menstruation, but it is artificial and distorts the environment and body with synthetic hormones. 
To soften menstruation complaints in a natural way, there are herbs specially for women. One of those can be found in every (grand)parent's garden: Lady's Mantle. It is an easy growing perennial plant with beautifully shaped soft leaves (indeed, as a mantle). The raindrops that assemble on the leaves were part of alchemist's brews for the quest of the philosopher's stone. Already in the early modern period, Lady's Mantle was used in several female treatments for fertility, childbirth, menstruation and uterus complaints.

This is the blend I drink for my monthly stomach cramps and accompanying nausea: it includes Lady's Mantle (dried or fresh leaves picked during and after flowering) for its sedative quality on female organs and reduction of menstruation pain; and ginger which helps against nausea, painful menstruations - and it tastes good. Just take one or two leaves of Lady's Mantle and some slices of ginger and add hot water to make a nice tea.
As stated above, every woman's body reacts differently, so try several herbs to find out what you need. Here are some other herbs that diminish menstruation complaints: Silverweed, Yarrow, Shepherd's purs, chamomile flowers and lavender. Click on the wikipedia links to see pictures of the plants; I am sure you will recognize these plants as very common 'weeds' in gardens, fields and forests, so supply yourself with this natural apothecary.

Monday, 4 June 2012

A positive drop

Here I present you a complaint-free description of the present weather conditions in the Netherlands. It is actually perfectly fruitful (except for harvesting vitamin D or growing a tan on your skin). First we had a lot of sun and some warmth, and at every zenith of drought, it started to rain. Our crops are growing tremendously. And especially, this weather makes it easy to sow right into open land. In only a few days, the seeds and beans become little plants. 
Our garden is now covered with hints of purple, yellow, and héáps of green. The ground is warm, the air smells humid. The strawberries are filling themselves with rain to become fattened with juiciness. The last parts of rhubarb emerge rapidly out of the earth. The turnips swell, the peas lengthen and the lettuce and cabbages grow faster than the snails can eat. 
You have our vote, Dutch weather.

(pictures are coming soon; unfortunately our camera is one of those that doesn't like rain)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Balcony gardening

If you do not have the luxury of a few square meters of soil, there are plenty of possibilities to grow vegetables on your balcony. Some crops like the warmth and shelter even more than the cold earth. Other advances are: the ability to guide your plants closely; having them near the kitchen (a fresher meal is not possible); and normally mice, rabbits and most insects will not reach your plants (be aware of pets, though).
Next to the presumed pots on the ground, you can hang pots on the wall, on the railing and grow climbers against the wall and above the windows by using racks. Without a lot of space, working in layers is a good option.

This picture shows the different possibilities described above. We recently turned over our balcony, so the plants do not cover the whole wall yet. When growing vegetables on your balcony, you have to take in mind that big crops are not possible because there is not enough space to create adequate roots. In the superficial balcony boxes (on the right side in the picture) you can grow vegetables such as spinach, radishes, lettuce, rocket, and all kinds of kitchen- and tea herbs (chamomile, mint, marigold). 
In bigger pots you can even grow the more 'exotic' or warmer crops such as eggplant, paprika, tomato and pepper. Protected by wind, and with the extra warmth from the walls, you can easily create a tropical atmosphere for them.

Having four pieces of wall on our balcony, we took advantage of it by placing all kinds of racks for climbing plants. The good thing is that most climbers have beautiful flowers as well, think of peas, kiwi, runner beans, Indian cress and caigua. Those last three are all doing great on our balcony.
Furthermore you can keep plenty of herbs, flowers and small crops in vertical rows of bags on the wall, or cover your wall with small hanging pots (also called 'vertical gardening'). It saves so much space!
On the most difficult reachable places you can construct a hanging basket. A perfect edible hanging plant is strawberry. You can hang the plant higher up; the strawberries will hang down the sides of the basket. 
No more excuses for too little space for vegetables on your one square meter balcony!

How to start your own vegetable garden

Often we hear: "oh, how I would like to grow my own fruits and vegetables, but I do not know how and where to start." For those, we would like to give a simple step-by-step outline and tips to start your own vegetable garden.
As for all first times: don't make it too complex or too big. You will loose your overview. And especially with growing plants, this can be discouraging.

February would be an adequate time to begin with the following steps:
Step 1. Firstly, think of the vegetables you like to eat, and which plants would you like to grow? Don't take crops that are too exotic for the climate. Also, don't buy too many (different) seeds for the first time. We would recommended (for a temperate climate): radish, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, onions, leek, pumpkins and zuchinni. These are relatively easy to grow.

Step 2. It is important that you make a plan before you just throw in the seeds. If you buy seeds in packages, there is a calender at the back which tells you when to sow and when the crops are ready to be harvested. If not, there well be tons of sowing calenders for your climate on the internet. 
Decide if you want to breed the seeds earlier indoors, or you want to place them immediately in the soil. If your garden is also inhabited by rabbits, or if the garden is not immediately near your house, we recommend that you sprout the seeds in little pots in your window sill. Here you are able to keep a close eye on the seeds and water them if needed.

Step 3. Place the seed packages before you and make a list including the following: vegetable name; the planting season(s) (indoors and outdoors); followed by the harvesting season. Also include other notes from the package, for example the space that is needed between the plants. Next to that, make a little drawing of which plants you place where in the (square) vegetable garden. Then write in your diary, or make a note on your phone, when you have to sow the particular vegetables.

Step 4. Then it is time to prepare the soil. Choose a sunny spot and set out a few square meters. If the soil is very sandy: add a little dark/black soil. If the earth is very though and moist: add a little sand. Remove weeds and dig the soil a spade length deep. Make sure the soil is mixed well (so that the upper part is mixed well with deeper soil). You can also mix in some dung or compost.

Step 5. When it is time to sow the seeds, make little holes in the ground. Just place the seeds a few centimeters under the ground (approximately one time the size of the seed; so the bigger the seed, the deeper it goes) and cover them with earth. You can place a name tag with it, or separate the beds with sticks. Make sure the seeds have plenty of water. 

Now there is only a little watering and weeding needed. It is worth the work and patience to see your food growing! 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Sunday, 6 May 2012

What to do with... rhubarb?

Rhubarb has a bad name for some people; and for others it may be nostalgic. Both these people associate it with this stringy compote substance, with too much - or too little - sugar. To be honest, my father was the only one in my family who ate rhubarb occasionally; I never tried it.

When we took over the allotment, we accepted a huge rhubarb plant with it. First it looked horrific - 'is that bulb from outer space?' - but when it grew into pretty red stems and large leafs, it was actually the first thing that 'greened' our garden. We had to try it though, and the taste was amazing! Somewhere between grapefruit and passionfruit; I can't believe it's made out of Dutch clay! 
However, licking the rhubarb stems, we soon found out that a sweetener was definitively needed to continue eating it. And yes, cooking was the only thing I knew, but it sure did not enhance the vegetable (or is it fruit?). So, I made a pie out of it: a kind of applepie, but then I replaced half of the apples with chopped rhubarb.

Now that the second spring of our garden has approached, it is time to harvest our sour friend again. Throughout the year I collected ideas and recipes for it. Next to more mainstream rhubarb crumble or pies, these are my favourites (and they are easy to make too!):

Rhubarb - apple sorbet - cook 200 milliliters organic apple juice with 150 grams of sugar. Add vanilla and 700 grams of chopped rhubarb and cook for 15 minutes. Mash it and put it in the freezer for about four hours. Don't forget to stir every half hour. 

Rhubarb cheesecake - make a dough, crumble cookies or mix chocolate with cornflakes for the base. Mix Mascarpone or cream cheese with stiff whipped cream, sugar and a bit of vanilla. Chop the rhubarb in small pieces and bake it in the oven with sugar until it's soft. Drain it, and when cold, top it on the cheesecake.
(Salad dressing - from the drained fluid above, you can make a nice vinaigrette for salads, with goat cheese for example)

Rhubarb - rosewater syrup - or Sharbat-e reevas, a traditional Middle Eastern drink.  To make the rhubarb syrup: add 400 grams of sugar to 500 grams of rhubarb and leave it for about 1,5 hours.  Pour 250 milliliters of water with it and let it cook for 20 minutes. Filter it and boil it down with lemon juice. For this sharbat, add two spoons of rosewater or rose petals. To serve the drink, mix one part syrup with three parts water and some ice.

Rhubarb cake - add pieces of rhubarb on top of your favorite home-made cake before you shove it in the oven.

Rhubarb vodka - chop two or three dry rhubarb stems, cover it with 25 grams of sugar en put it in a glass jar. Add 700 milliliters vodka and close the jar well. You can also add spices, lemon or ginger for an even more original twist. Sieve the drink after two or three weeks. Add ice and enjoy the spring afternoons. 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Newspaper breeding pots

Because the seeds - or by now little plants - are growing very fast in our breeding box, the roots become strangled. It makes it difficult to separate the seedlings at the time of planting them in the garden. If you are early enough, it is possible to put each plant separately in another little pot to grow bigger without overgrowing the others. We found an easy, fun and sustainable trick for this last step: folding your own pots! 
Firstly, it is a way of recycling old newspapers and secondly, you can put the seedling together with its pot in the ground to prevent damaging its frail roots. There is one negative side: the paper does not last long; it does not stand the abundance of water the plants need.

On this site you can find a step-by-step description and a video that will teach you how to fold these little pots. We also find it a useful little bin for green kitchen waste. For this one you have to make it bigger, though. Take a large piece of newspaper (no tabloid), or place three news paper pages on each other and fold it just once instead of thrice (in the beginning). After watching the video two or three times you will be able to fold the pots yourself!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

An introduction to plant botany Part 2

The binomial system
In the previous post we saw that every species has it's own unique name. These names are in Latin because (a dead language) so they won't change overtime due to changes in the language. Local names for plants may also differ between places, or the same name may be used for several different plants. Because nobody actively uses Latin anymore, these names are more or less guaranteed to remain the same.

 Fig 1. C.Linnaeus. 

Linnaeus introduced the binomial system, in which the first part of the name identifies the genus and the second part identifies the species within that genus. For humans it´s:  

genus                   species
Homo                   sapiens

The genus of maple trees is Acer. This genus has a lot of species, including:
Acer saccharum = Sugar maple

Acer rubrum = Black maple
Acer pseudoplatanus = Sycamore maple

Divisions in the plant kingdom
The plant kingdom consists of several divisions, the most “simple” plants are in the moss (Bryophyta), hornwort (Anthocerotophyta) and liverwort (Marchantiophyta) divisions. The plants in these divisions are all non-vascular plants, they lack veins and vessels that move water and nutrients internally. All the plants in this division use spores to reproduce.  

In the clubmosses (Lycopodiophyta) and ferns and horsetails (Pteridophyta) divisions we find plants that are still spore producing plants but do have an vascular system.

Plants in the conifer (Pinophyta), cycad (Cycadophyta), gentum(Gnetophyta) and gingko (Ginkgophyta) divisions use seeds instead of spores for reproduction. The plants in these divisions are called “naked-seed plants”. They are called this way because the egg cells need to be exposed to the air and need pollen to land directly on the surface for fertilization.

Plants that have stamens, pistils and produce seeds that mature in an enclosed ovary, are in the last division of the plant kingdom: that of the flowering plants (Magnoliophyta). Another name for this division you might run into is Angiospermae. This division contains the most plants of all, around 250.000 species. We’ll cover flower characteristics in the next plant botany part.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mail from the Andes

Packages from the postman are always exciting, but this one was even more special, even though it was a little smaller and lighter than we expected.

You have propably no idea what it is; it is not a very common crop in regions outside Peru and Bolivia. It is called yacón, or Bolivian sunroot or Peruvian ground apple, but its official name is Polymnia sonchifolia. It is a relative of topinambours and sunflowers, and will therefore also grow into a lengthy plant with yellow flowers. The leafs contain inulin, which can serve to replace sugar and fat.
Actually, the reason why we ordered this plant is situated underground. Yacón is grown for its sweet juicy roots. They are crispy and have an interesting flavour somewhere between pear and melon. The only bad thing is that we have to wait until the end of the year to try this one out for ourselves!

P.s. if you would like some yacón roots for your garden as well, e-mail us, so we can send you the order information. It is only possible for Belgium and Dutch addresses though. Or you can also wait until our harvest is ready.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Create your garden army

As we saw in our blog about ladybugs, insects are indispensable in gardens. Here is another powerful insect: earwigs. Even though they give me the creeps, they are perfect to defend your apples, pears and other fruits from nasty pests. Earwigs feed on plant lice, larvae and even caterpillars. Here is an easy creation to attract earwigs in fruit trees and other places where you need them the most (which is in my case, faaar away from the places I like to sit).

The only stuff you need is an old pot, rope, scissors and straw. Earwigs adore being hidden in very tiny places. There is even a word for it: thigmotropism
Now take a hand of straw; bind it once with the rope and tie the ends together on top. Safe a piece of rope to be able to hang your earwig-hiding-place. Then put the end of the cord through the hole on the bottom of the pot and you are ready to hang it in a fruit tree! 

Make sure to tie it on a solid branch, the first one you encounter from the bottom up. And... done!

Mind the cat part 2

She attacks and kills plants within seconds... invisibly...

Goodmorning ladies!

Have you seen them yet? The ladybugs are awake! They are one of the earliest to stumble around the garden, or first inside the house, for his is where they prefer to hibernate. Three weeks ago we were blown away when we opened the door of our gardenhouse: dozens of ladybugs, everywhere we looked! 

It is necessary to take them outside if there is no clear, possible opening. Indeed, we had a tough job, putting outside 30 or so stubborn ladybirds. 

Here is a nice story about these pretty ladies. The name 'ladybug' is similar throughout European languages and is derived from (our lady) Mary. She was often depicted wearing a red cloak with seven black dots, which would represent Mary's seven joys and seven sorrows. Names in other languages also refer to Christian religion, but also to fertility. Also think of the Dutch name: 'lieveheersbeestje', where the name of this little animal is preceded by 'dear lord'. So far, thank you, Wikipedia. 
With this information, ladybirds seem quite spiritual little insects to me; they refer to something holy, fertile, revered. It fits perfectly with their greatest ability: they eat plant lice, mites, thrips and all kinds of insects that harm our vegetables and can devastate whole harvests. Imagine that in times when people really depended on their crops and when pesticides did not exist, it was a real godsend when ladybugs showed up and controlled nasty pests. 

To attract these respected insects, make sure you have a nice warm place where ladybugs can overwinter. Also, create little shelters (of bricks, stones or earthware) with twigs and hollow straws in which they can hide. 
By the way, did you know that ladybirds are protected by royal law in Belgium? It mentions the interdiction to kill, torment or capture ladybugs. Thus, welcome our ladies with respect, and you will reap your rewards*.

*(hmm.. this proverb is actually more fitting in Dutch, where it says 'you will reap the fruits').

Monday, 2 April 2012

An introduction to plant botany Part 1

A short history of taxonomy or classification of (plant) life 
To gain a better understanding of our surroundings we categorize everything according to specific characteristics. With plants, we also have been doing this for centuries. A very influential work, Enquiry into plants, was written by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus sometime in the third century BC. The system that has been in use in modern times has been introduced by Linneaus. He changed both the way we named plants and families (the nomenclature) and the governing property that determined which plants are related to each other. He was the first to determine plants by their sexual organs, his system did not however regard evolutionary relationships between species. Charles Darwin’s The origin of species paved the way for a phylogenetic approach to the taxonomy of all living beings.

Darwin divergence
The only image in Origin of species shows the idea of convergence.

The most radical idea published by Darwin was that of divergence. This idea states that over time a given species split into different species with a lot of shared characteristics, but also some distinct ones. This process has been going on since the first form of life on earth and it is one of the main reasons why there is such a massive variety of life on earth. But at the same time it also shows that species that are clearly different have a shared ancestor. Think for example of the bone structures between whales and humans (both mammals) or the difference between tulips and oaks, but the shared characteristic of having chlorophyll in their cells. 
Long enough back in history there was an ancestor from which mammals and fungi split.

A phylogenetic tree.

Early classification systems just had two kingdoms: plants (Plantae) and animals (Animalia) and at this time a kingdom was the highest taxonomic rank. Ernst Haeckel added a third kingdom for one-celled life: protist (Protista). Over time the fungi (Fungi) kingdom was split from the plant kingdom and several bacterial kingdoms (Eubacteria and Archeabacteria) were added. Recent research showed that the plants, animal and fungi kingdom shared the same cell structure as the protists. For this reason, Carl Woesse proposed a new and higher rank: the domain. The domain contains the Archea, Bacteria and Eukayra. The domain Eukayra contains the kingdoms Plantae, Animalia, Fungi and Protista.

The current hierarchy of classification for all life on earth is as follows:
           Class (-eae, opsida)
               Order (-ales)
                    Family (-aceae)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Bamboo and peas

We established a climbing construction in our vegetable bed. It is very easy to make: take two bamboo (or other) canes, put them in the ground, cross them, bind a stick between them and tie it with a piece of rope to make it more solid. It already looks quite allotment-ish now. The only thing to check is the height and the distance between the sticks. We planted peas near them which grow around 1.5 meters high, so the bamboo canes should be long enough. Last year we planted string beans near the same sticks: they were too short, and strangled the other plants and tried to reach the gutters of the house (which was two meters away).
An appropriate distance between the sticks does not only serve the breadth development of the plant, but is also to be able to work the ground underneath. There, we have sown radishes and carrots (peas and carrots, classic combination isn't it?). Before the peas will block most of the sunlight, the radishes are already harvested by us. The thin stems of the peas and an extra distance between the sticks hopefully will let some sunbeams through for the cultivation of more vegetables. Another way is to let the peas climb against a vertical rack, fence or cords.

The peas are coming up already. Interesting fact: it is the only plant that already develops leafs underneath the ground before it shows itself to the sun. The plant also makes pretty flowers, so we are looking forward to a rich, wildly overgrown climbing construction.