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