Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coffe Night in Canada

What happens to dyslectic agnostic insomniacs? They lie awake at night wondering if there really is a dog!!!

For many people, morning is just not morning without a cup of coffee to start the day. Although probably few people actually contemplate the origins of their black elixir in the half light of early dawn, it may come as a surprise to some that how their daily caffeine fix made its way from equatorial regions to café’s in north central Alberta.

The legend behind the origins of coffee is linked to goat herders in the African country of Ethiopia. Apparently shepherd’s noticed an elevated level of hyperactivity in the livestock following the consumption of coffee leaves and fruit. In fact the word coffee comes from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia where the tale is said to originate.

Although there are ten species of coffee (Caffea) worldwide, there are only two types grown commercially; Robusta (C. canephora) and Arabica (C. Arabica), comprising approximately 30% and 70% of the market respectively.

Robusta plants are not only easier to grow, but they are also resistant to many of the diseases and pests that plague other varieties, making them much cheaper to grow. They also have 50% more caffeine and higher foaming capacity that makes more suitable for specialty coffees. Unfortunately their harsh flavour restricts their use to lower price blends.

Arabica beans produce a smoother coffee with less bitterness but at a premium price. Although Kona coffee from the Hawaiian Islands is one of the most expensive coffees around, it is really just Arabica coffee with a great marketing agency

Monday, February 16, 2009

Getting Corked

What do pirates do with vintners that make cheap wine? Make them walk the plonk!!!

For many couples in north central Alberta, a romantic dinner is accompanied with a favorite bottle of wine. A decade ago in finer establishments, before the vintage was poured, the waiter would bring the cork from the newly opened flask for the clients close inspection. While such outings may offer a touch of nostalgia, it may come as a surprise that nowadays fewer than 40% of all stoppers are made from cork.

The primary reason for the switch from natural to synthetic plugs is due to the $250 million annual loss to the wine commerce due to poor-quality natural corks. According to industry experts, the culprit is trichloroanisole (TCA) which imparts an off-flavour that can be detected in concentrations as small as two parts per trillion. Although just 6% of high quality natural corks are found to be tainted with TCA, when multiplied by the millions of litres of fermented grapes that are produced annually, the damage is staggering.

Unfortunately, the reduction of natural cork usage is actually detrimental to the cork forests. Unlike many other forest products, cork production does not actually harm the tree. The cork grows as the bark on the cork oak tree Quercus suber which is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Cork trees are usually 25 years old before the cork is thick enough to be harvested initially, with additional bark removal occurring every 10 years or so for the entire 200 year life of the tree. With cork sales no longer paying the bills, many groves have replaced with other revenue generating crops.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wave of the Future

Why did the corn plant dial 911? Because she wanted to report a stalker!!!

For many young males in north central Alberta, a wave from a pretty girl is all that is required is all that is required to arouse enough interest to initiate a conversation and perhaps an evening out. In the plant world, pretty flowers use the same approach with similar results.

As surprising as it may seem, competition for a date in the horticultural world is extremely intense with individuals pulling out all the stops in an effort to reproduce. Different species use vibrant colours, exquisite aromas and most amazing of all, seductive movement to entice pollinators to stop by “for a good time”

In a study of sea campion, a common wildflower on the Welsh coast, scientists discovered that mobile flowers are not only visited by more insects but they produce more seeds as well. While the rooted plant cannot actually move from place to place in the soil, the flower heads actually have a large range of motion as they waft in the breeze. Researchers determined that the longer the flower stalk the greater the degree of movement.

But excessive flirtation has it drawbacks. While the wavy flowers with longer stems attracted more insects, it was harder for the bugs to land on the blossoms that exhibited excessive oscillation. To make matters worse, the longer straws tended to break more frequently in extremely windy conditions, thus reducing their reproductive capacity to zero. It appears the sea campion that is most successful at setting seeds are those individuals that exhibit a perfect wobble.

Monday, January 26, 2009

By the Horns

What did the Pharaoh’s wife say when he over paid a merchant? Egypt you!!!

For most of us in north central Alberta, buying an exotic plant is as simple as driving to the nearest garden centre and purchasing whatever is required. In ancient times, that trip took a little more time and energy.

The first recorded botanical voyage occurred some 3500 years ago on the orders of Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt. She sent five ships to gather valuable plants, animals and precious goods from the Land of Punt (Now the countries of Ethiopia and Somali) on the Horn of Africa. This plant hunting expedition returned a couple of months later laden with all kinds of valuable wood and sweet smelling sap from the Boswellia (Frankincense) and commiphora (Myrrh) trees as well as vast quantities of ebony and ivory.

Not content to simply import the fragrant resin, the Queen ordered the ships back to pick up living specimens of the trees and bring them back to be planted at the arboretum at the Temple of Karnack near the modern day city of Luxor. Like all enthusiastic gardeners that experience success with a new variety, the queen celebrated the 31 surviving transplants by engraving inscriptions of her triumphs on the temple walls.

Unfortunately, the engravings of this premiere botanical event are all that remains of this bold experiment due to the incursions of her stepson and successor Thutmose III. Apparently this new ruler was a few inches short of a foot, as he sought to destroy her memory by destroying all of her gardens and defacing all of her monuments

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sink or Swim

Why should you never store tree fruit in the lavatory? Because two pear can’t beat a flush!!!

Although many people in north central Alberta enjoy the bounty of their gardens throughout the long cold winter months by storing produce in cold rooms, it may come as surprise to some that some fruits have a short shelf life because of their inability to move oxygen throughout the pulp.

Even though a fruit is picked, it still requires a continuous supply of air for respiration to produce the sugars and energy necessary to maintain good health. If air cannot pass through the fruit, the cells become oxygen starved and die causing them to turn brown and rot. The difference in air movement through the fruit is the primary reason that apples have a much longer storage life than pears.

Apple flesh has a much larger pore space in the cell tissue than pears. That’s why it is possible to bob for apples, because they float. Bobbing for pears is no longer carried out because of the large number of people drowning while attempting to bite the pears at the bottom of the bucket because pears do not float.

The additional air filled voids in apples not only gives them a lower density than pears but the irregular cavities in apples are more conducive to gas exchange as well. The micro channels network found in pears are extremely inefficient for transferring the air from the atmosphere to the centre of the fruit causing cells at the core to become quickly “out of breath”. To counteract this phenomenon, pears must be stored in enclosures with an elevated oxygen level.

Shroom With A View

Why did the girl go to a movie with a mushroom? Because she liked a fungi on a date!!!

For many people in north central Alberta the only thoughts of mushrooms these days would be enjoying them in a bowl of soup. But right now is the best time to start planning a mushroom garden for next year.

As surprising as it seems, growing mushrooms is not only fun and easy, but it is a type of gardening that can be continued throughout the winter because mushrooms thrive in cool low light conditions.

The first order of business when starting a mushroom garden is to gather and prepare a substrate on which the mushrooms can grow. For some species such as oyster mushrooms, straw or compost is ideal but the substrate needs to be pasteurized before the mushroom spawn is added. The simplest way of pasteurizing straw is to put an entire bale in a metal 45 gallon drum filled with water heated over 70ºC (145ºF) and let simmer for 10 minutes while the best way of eliminating bacteria from compost is with steam.

If the pasteurization process is not your cup of tea, then you may want to try shiitake mushrooms because they grow best on freshly cut, rot free poplar logs while wood chips are ideal for the cultivation of wine cap, agaricus or shaggy mane mushrooms.

Lastly for those that want absolutely no muss or fuss what-so-ever, tabletop kits are available with the substrate already selected, prepared and inoculated for you. All you have to do is provide a cool dark place and enjoy the harvest.

Gardening questions? Contact Bruno at

Sunday, April 20, 2008

John Cougar Camp

Why do melons always get married in a church? Because they can’t elope!!

Cantaloupe is an orange fleshed variety of muskmelon that can be eaten by itself or mixed with other fruit and served as a salad topped with yogurt, ice cream or custard. Native to the Middle Eastern country of Armenia, cantaloupes were originally cultivated in the early eighteenth century at Tivoli, Italy at the summer residence of the Pope.

Although the cantaloupe is prized for its sweet taste, it also has a number of chemicals that benefit the cardiovascular and immune system. These compounds, known to chemists as polyphenol antioxidants, regulate the production of nitric acid, which in turn are instrumental in protecting the linings of blood vessels and preventing heart attacks.

Growing cantaloupes is not as simple a matter of putting the seed in the ground after the long weekend in May since a warm soil temperature is absolutely critical for the seeds to germinate. The best bet for starting these rascals is to plant the seed in Jiffy pots no earlier than April 15 and maintain the temperature at 18°-24°C for 5-7 days. The emerging plants should be kept indoors in a warm sunny location until all risk of frost is past and then transplanted into warm sandy ground.

Good pollination is essential not only for the number of fruit, but for the sweetness as well. The muskmelon was so named because of the sweet musky smell that is emitted at the stem end of a ripened melon. The rule of thumb is the greater the smell, the sweeter the fruit. An odourless stem end likely means the flesh will be tasteless as well.