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.