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.