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.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Weed and Feed

What do you get when you complain about a weedy lawn? A dandelion whine!!

As many gardeners in north central Alberta already know, many annual and perennial flowers such as pansies, nasturtiums and marigolds are not only good looking in the garden but pretty tasty on the dinner plate as well. What may come as surprise, is that certain weed species that plague your lawn and flower beds also make a delicious repast.

Despite being the scourge of lawn loving homeowners, the prosaic dandelion has a number of culinary uses and is often used as a medicinal herb. Remarkable as it may seem, dandelions are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and actually contain more iron and calcium than spinach.

Even more shocking is the fact are grown commercially as a leaf vegetable and sold in specialty food stores as dandelion greens. The leaves are close in character to mustard greens and can be eaten raw as a main ingredient in salads or cooked in soups or stews. Since dandelion foliage develop a bitter taste as they get older, usually only the tender young shoots and unopened buds are eaten raw, while older leaves are cooked.

Although everybody has heard about using dandelion flowers to make dandelion wine, the flowers are also used in Belgium to make a type of beer called saison ale, while in some parts of northeastern United States the yellow blossom is the main ingredient in dandelion flower jam. Dandelion roots are ground roasted and served as decaffeinated coffee substitute. Intended to be consumed prior to meals, the dandelion root beverage is believed “stimulate digestive functions and act as a liver tonic”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Older than Dirt

Why don’t ferns get constipated? With fronds like that, who needs enemas!!

As surprising as it seems, some of the plants and trees that we now grow in our yards have been around for millions of years. In fact the first land plant in Canada grew in what is now the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec some 400 million years ago.

Even the prosaic fern has a long and checkered past. Fossil fern fronds are found in Devonian sediments dating back almost 390 million years ago, predating the dinosaurs by more than 165 million years. A trip to the Cape Breton coal fields in Nova Scotia would shed some light on how the ferns flourished over the millennia.

Coal is the only fossil fuel to actually contain fossils. The plethora of fern fossils contained in the Pennsylvanian age coal in the Acadian basin indicates that their range and variety had increased enormously in the following 70 million years. These selfless plants that gave their life so long ago that we may have heat and light in our modern world, tell a story of a warm tropical jungle bordering a salt water ocean that existed not only in Eastern Canada but over much of the northeastern United States as well.

The coal beds of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and eastern British Columbia tell a much different tale. Most of the fossilized vegetation found in the seams of the western Canadian coal beds tells of a time of cooler temperatures and recognizable tree species such as pine birch and willow that were associated with not only fresh water but with dinosaurs as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spiking Your Drink

What was the rancher charged with after his cows walked through the tall grass? Cattle rustling!!

As surprising as it seems, livestock are not the only commodities that are stolen off the range. In deserts of Mexico, it’s the cactus, not the cattle that are being pilfered. The

In fact, the illegal removal of these unique desert sentinels has helped make trafficking in Mexican wildlife the third largest domestic smuggling industry, behind drugs and guns.

As shocking as this appears the illegal trade in cacti is actually fuelled by well meaning individuals wanting to make their homes more eco-friendly.

With burgeoning population growth in the arid portions of the American southwest, many individuals are unwittingly becoming recipients of stolen goods because of their desire to reduce their ecological footprint. Rather than gracing their property with the traditional lawn and shrubs, they are electing to xeriscape, a type of landscape does not require supplemental irrigation.

Since many of these new residences are actually winter homes for snowbirds in Canada and the northeastern United States, their owners often have sufficient money to pay “the big bucks” to obtain rare and unique specimens that have been illegally spirited away from their Mexican homeland. Almost 500 species of Mexican cactus are found no where else in the world.

Adding to the cactus woes are the arduous border restrictions between United States and Mexico that make legal shipments from registered Mexican nurseries so costly and onerous that it can actually be quicker and cheaper for the plants to cross the border illegally. So prolific are these clandestine shipments, that more than one third of Mexico’s 684 indigenous cactus species are now considered endangered

Monday, March 3, 2008

Out Of Africa

What happened to the man who was hit by a cow? Nothing, he was just grazed!!

One of the most ubiquitous landscape features gracing homes in north central Alberta is the prosaic piece of sod commonly called the lawn. Despite the disproportionate amounts of water, fertilizer and herbicide that are consumed in the grass propagation process and the time devoted to periodic clippings, turf grass adorns just about every household in the area.

Despite its modern popularity, the presence of lawns has been a fact of domestic life since antiquity. Chinese homes had lawns over five thousand years ago and there is even evidence that the Mayan and Aztec civilizations in Central and South America surrounded their temples with manicured grass.

Anthropologists suggest that the need for grass surrounding the abode may have been genetically encoded several million years ago when human descendants originated in the grasslands of East Africa. Since the savanna was “home” for the vast amount of human history, it is likely that the need for lawn has been hard wired into the psyche of the modern human.

In the middle ages, castles were not only surrounded by moats, but also by broad expanses of grass so that enemy forces could be identified at distances great enough that defenses could be mustered to repel an assault. To prevent sneak attacks, the grass was kept short by grazing livestock.

As the need to fend off invaders diminished with the advancement of society, the short grass surrounding these large estates was used to create games such as lawn bowling, croquet and tennis as diversions for the aristocratic elite.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Simply Stunning

Where did Simple Simon get the number 3.14 from? He met a pi man going to the fair !!

Horticultural simplicity refers to the practice of limiting the number of competing textures, colours and sizes within each separate landscape theme and is often expressed by the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Sweetheart.

As strange as it seems, with so many trees, shrubs, and perennials to choose from, keeping it simple is a lot harder than it sounds. The big idea is to pick a theme and then choose two or three colours, textures or sizes, which are repeated throughout the landscape. A classic example of simplicity is found in the traditional English rose gardens, where the dominant feature is roses, with little else to complicate matters, except for an occasional fountain or park bench.

Even when a theme is selected, it is of utmost importance to group together plants which exhibit the similar characteristics. Randomly distributing masses of different shades and shapes can produce “botanical vomit”, a displeasing situation that can actually detract from the peace and tranquility that most gardens seek to create. The rule of thumb is that groups of different flowers should only be planted adjacent to one another is when their respective bloom periods do not overlap.

It if a more complex landscape is required, or more than one theme is desired in the same area, then it is necessary to create “rooms” where the individual gardens are separated by vegetative partitions that use hedges or vines to create the “walls”. Connecting two disparate gardens requires a “doorway” such as an arbour or two vertical pillars in order to visually prepare the viewer when moving from one contrasting motif to the next.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Town In Sakatchewan

February 18, 2008

Why do street hockey players have trouble focusing in later life? They have to reset their goals every time a car goes by!!

The goal of a landscape design is to establish a collection of horticultural and architectural elements that personifies the character of the homeowner and his family. Some of the principles utilized to create superior landscapes include unity, simplicity, and balance.

Landscape unity refers to the relationship of a house to its surrounding yard and can be broadly divided into two different motifs; formal and informal. Formal is best described as those designs that exhibit straight lines and right angles in all aspects of the construction. Most urban houses have horizontal parallel siding, right angle corners and square or rectangular windows. A log cabin or a stone house are both examples of informal construction because the lines created by the rock and the logs are irregular in nature.

In the horticultural world, uniform rows of trees in shelterbelt could be considered formal while random positioning of trees in a natural forest is a good example of an informal planting.

Mixing motifs can lead to as much disaster in a landscape as they can in interior design. Situating single or groups of informal boulders in front of a formal house looks as odd as combining Victorian chairs with a brass and glass table in the dining room. The positioning of dissimilar elements can actually make a yard look worse than doing nothing at all.

Unity can be achieved to creating harmony between the house and the landscape by using element styles in the yard such as height, size, texture and colour that closely matches that of the building.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Putting the Fun In Fundamentals

February 11, 2008

Why did students at the horticultural school coat the administrators with glue? They want to stick to their principals!!

The purpose of a landscape design is to blend the art of combining colours and textures with the science of plant propagation to achieve an aesthetically pleasing exterior that is an accurate reflection of the character of the homeowner and his family. A proper design is always built around the residents, not the residence.

Since the actual house is inanimate, it could care less what trees and shrubs surround it. The people who live in the house on the other hand, are extremely concerned about the specifics of the design because the landscape often represents the first impression that many visitors will have. Having a landscape architect compose a design based on the size of the lot and the shape of the house is like a doctor writing a prescription based on the fashion of your clothes and the style of your hair.

The first principle in designing a landscape should always involve discovering the specifics of the people who live in the house. Unlike gunfighters, a savvy designer always asks questions first, and draws later. It is absolutely imperative to ask and discuss a long list of questions regarding favorite colours and fragrances, allergies, pets, children, ages, work schedules, frequency and style of entertainment, amount of maintenance and a whole host more before even a single line is put on the plan.

By completing this rigorous questioning, the landscape designer is then able to offer ideas pertaining to the wants and needs of landlord that will maximized his or her enjoyment of the property for years to come.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Lineman for the County

What happened when the tree touched the power line? It was a shocking experience!!

While many people establish shelterbelts to increase crop yield, reduce home heating costs and to provide habitat for birds and mammals, it is important to consider the proximity of overhead power lines before planting the first tree.

Since most rural overhead lines are not insulated, any conductive material that touches the wire will cause a short circuit from the line to the ground resulting in a brief intense discharge of power that can fatal to bystanders in the vicinity. While most of the electric company awareness campaign is directed at farmers moving tall farm machinery such as augers and implements, it is actually trees planted too close the power lines that cause most electrical disruptions. As surprising as it make seems, trees that grow into power lines cause more than 70,000 hours of outage per year

Although some high voltage wires can be as much as 50 feet above the ground, most rural service is carried on poles that rarely exceed 25 feet in height, making them easily reachable by most trees grown in north central Alberta, such as poplar spruce and pine.

To make matters worse, on rainy or extremely humid days, the tree does not actually have to touch the line to initiate electrical transfer. During conditions of high relative humidity, the electricity can actually arc over a distance of several feet from the line to the conductor in a similar fashion as an arc welder.

Therefore it is imperative that there is a minimum of four feet of daylight between the ultimate height of planted and the overhead line

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

White Lightning

January 29, 2008

Why did the father operate his illegal distillery while his boys baled alfalfa? He wanted to make shine while the son’s hay!!!

Although making moonshine in a backyard distillery has lost a lot of its popularity due the proliferation of reasonably priced, safer and legal commercially prepared equivalents such as Everclear, at one time many farmers and ranchers would supplement their meager farm income by cooking up a batch of ‘shine’.

Moonshining was a natural for those in farming sector because of the simplicity of the distilling process, the ready availability of key ingredient and the inaccessibility of many of the homesteads made detection by the local constabulary almost impossible.

Because the initial fermentation process required little more than water, yeast and a carbohydrate source such as grain, potatoes or fruit, it was possible for just about anybody to get started. The fermenting mixture, called the mash, could only reach a maximum alcohol content of 15% before the becoming toxic to the yeast, and shutting down further alcohol production.

The secret to the distillation process was maintaining the temperature of the mash at around 85°. Since the ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, boils at around 80°C, compared to water, which boils at 100°C, the ethanol vapor could be collected and returned to a liquid by passing through a condensation chamber, while the water remained with the mash.

Surprising as it may seem, this is almost the exact same process that is being used to manufacture ethanol used in motor vehicles as a method of reducing carbon emissions. Maybe one day the backyard still will come into prominence once again, this time to fight global warming.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Food For Thought

January 22, 2008

Why did the tree buy suspenders? It was too big for his shelterbelt!!!

Although most farmers, ranchers and acreage owners plant shelterbelts to reduce home heating costs, increase crop yields and augment livestock efficiency, an additional benefit is food and habitat for wildlife.

The majority of shelterbelts are planted in straight lines along field margins and road allowances to facilitate the movement of agricultural machinery. While such a configuration allows minimal impediments for tractors pulling massive implements, straight rows of trees can literally be murder to birds and animals that nest or den in these trees.

Surprising as it may seem, some studies indicate that straight line shelterbelt that are isolated from natural groves can develop into a predator trap. Linear rows of trees can be worked very effectively by carnivorous animals traveling in packs such as coyotes and domestic dogs. Occasionally the entire local populations can fall prey to these foraging predators. Therefore it is suggested that at the corners of the field where access of large equipment is prohibitive anyway, that right angled pieces of farmland be sacrificed for trees, shrubs and other types of natural cover. Generally speaking the more space put into trees at these intersections the better it is for the flora and fauna.

Creating a sheltered nook in the corners of the field does more than discourage predation, the expanded sheltered area may become suitable to species that require a minimum territory to colonize. Regardless of what size is planted as animal habitat, food and water must be in close proximity before any wildlife will consider making your gift to nature as a permanent home.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

January 8, 2008, Eating In

Who was the first ecclesiastical participant in the show “Fear Factor”? Martin Luther – he had a diet of worms!!!

As most people in north central Alberta already know, cold winter temperatures can drastically slow down the composting process to a standstill. Adding fresh kitchen scraps to the compost bin on frosty January days will become an effort in futility as the bits of vegetative waste freeze before biological decomposition can become initiated. Rather than storing the stagnating trash in lined containers for composting in the spring, many green gurus are giving vermicomposting a try.

Vermicomposting is simply the two-bit technical term that scientists give to the special procedure of using worms to help brake down organic materials. In this practice, special worms called red wigglers are added to the compost where they dine on the decaying vegetation. The worm poop, called castings are excellent for enriching the soil of indoor houseplants, as well as the more traditional outdoor gardens and flowerbeds

The red wigglers are especially suited to thrive in the warm moist conditions the compost pile provides. Substituting common garden earthworms will simply kill the earthworms, and leave the compost to decompose in a more traditional manner.

One of the biggest advantages to vermicomposting is that the entire operation is completely functional indoors. In fact the red wigglers would perish if they are exposed to sub zero conditions. Surprising as it may seem, the vermicompost itself does not produce noxious odors nor do the worms try to escape when the opportunity is presented, making this type of composting ideal for apartment dwellers and those who want to continue composting all year long.

January 15, 2008, Worm’s Eye View

Why do Red Wigglers sleep in? They hate getting out of a worm bed!!!

Vermicomposting is a composting method that uses Red Wiggler worms to facilitate the breakdown and decomposition of kitchen scraps and other organic household detritus. Since the worms perish in sub zero condition, the whole composting operation must be carried out indoors. The key to producing ordour free compost is to provide the worms with a happy home and nothing says “Home, Sweet Home” better to a worm than a plastic storage box.

Plastic storage containers are ideal for a number of reasons. They come with lids, are waterproof, are inexpensive to buy and come in a number of sizes to match each individual’s composting needs. The composter’s rule of thumb is you need one cubic foot of storage space for each 1 pound of food waste produced in a week.

Worm bedding is another important consideration in creating contented caterpillars. The bedding can consist of shredded newspaper, cardboard, peat moss, straw, leaves or a combination of the aforementioned material. The Red wigglers like it moist without being waterlogged, so it is usually necessary to add water to the mixture until it has the consistency of a damp dishrag. The worms do their best work at room temperatures providing the room is somewhere between 15 and 25 degrees celcious.

The food source is also important. Worms will crawl over a metre of broken glass to chow down on vegetable peels, fruit rinds, tea bags, coffee grounds, bread, cooked pasta and rice. Avoid composting spicy foods such as hot peppers and animal products such as meat fish and dairy products.