Question: I have a Brita water pitcher I use for improving the quality of my drinking water. Can I also use this water on my plants?
Answer: Sure, but why would you bother? Plants are actually excellent water filterers in their own right. They take up the impurities that could be harmful to humans and actually use for their own growth.
Brita filters and others of that type are basically composed of loose carbon granules that are very good at removing chlorine from the water and also filter out, to a much lesser degree, heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. Basically, they’re designed to make water taste better, but plants have no sense of taste … that we know of!
The purpose of chlorine in tap water is to provide protection from pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa that could cause diseases in humans. The same pathogens would be filtered out and actually consumed (indirectly) by plants as the water flowed through the soil and their root system.
There are indeed some plants that don’t tolerate hard water , that it, water containing a large quantity of dissolved salts and minerals such as magnesium and calcium (carnivorous plants are the most obvious example), but water pitcher filters don’t soften water to any noticeable degree. You need to water such plants with rain water, dehumidifier water or distilled water.
So, go ahead and use your Brita water pitcher to water your houseplants, but don’t expect that to help them in any obvious way!
Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulciferum). Photo: Hamale Lyman, Wikimedia Commons
I don’t bandy the word “miracle” about unnecessarily, but there is indeed something quite special about the berry of the plant known as miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulciferum). The small egg-shaped red berry is not particularly sweet on its own, though quite edible. It’s what happens afterwards that is surprising. It contains a glycoprotein called miraculin (yes, that really is its name!) that binds to your taste buds. Then, if you eat something sour or bitter, it activates the sweet receptors, resulting in the perception of a sweet taste.
I once brought some berries to a lecture I was giving about unusual houseplants and had a few volunteers try it (I only had 7 ripe berries to share). I had them munch on the fruit, then bite into a slice of lemon … the sweetest lemon they had ever tasted! You should have seen the amazed look on their faces! I could have had them try radishes, pickles, hot pepper sauce, mustard, grapefruit or beer. (To me, beer drunk after chewing on a miracle berry tastes like champagne!)
Those strawberries you paid a fortune for just aren’t sweet enough? Chew on a miracle fruit and they’ll be heavenly! Sneaking a miracle fruit into your pocket would be the ideal trick when you’re invited over for a meal at your mother-in-law’s whose cooking you simply cannot stand. Or have a child chew on a berry (remove the seed first to prevent any risk of choking) before giving them any bitter medicine.
The effect lasts of miraculin about 20 to 30 minutes, the time it takes your saliva to remove the protein.
There is nothing new about the miracle fruit: its effect has been known for centuries. It’s native to West Africa and generations of West Africans have picked and chewed the berries before meals. The Chevalier des Marchais, cartographer and slave ship captain, wrote about it as early as 1724. Various attempts to commercialize it have generally failed, but it is possible to buy miracle berry fruit tablets on the Internet. But, let’s face it, tablets are nothing compared to the real thing!
Miracle fruit is an evergreen shrub about 6 to 15 feet (1.8 to 4.5 m) high outdoors, though rarely more than 5 feet (1.5 m) indoors, with dense elongated smooth green leaves clustered at the ends of its branches. The tiny ¼ inch (6 mm) tubular brown to white flowers appear sporadically in clusters throughout the year and are not too noticeable. The 1-inch (2.5 cm) red berries, though, are quite striking, looking a lot like coffee berries and with a similar size seed inside (which you can discretely spit out), although the two plants are not related. (Coffea arabica is in the Rubiaceae family, miracle fruit in the Sapotaceae one.)
Growing Your Own
Miracle fruit is a tropical shrub. In temperate climates, you’ll need to grow it indoors, at least from fall through spring. It likes an acid soil (mix ½ peat moss into your usual houseplant mix), so won’t do well in the alkaline soils of California, but it positively thrives in the acid ones of Florida.
Growing mine indoors, I struggled at first: it seems to need a lot of humidity and the 40 to 50% relative humidity I usually manage to offer just wasn’t enough. So, I learned to stuff it into a large transparent bag for the winter, using stakes to lift the bag above the leaves. With this personal greenhouse and humidity close to 100% from October to March, it now breezes through the winter, probably thinking itself back home in West Africa.
In the wild, it grows in partial shade. Indoors, where the sun’s strength is seriously diminished, I suggest giving it as much sun as you can while avoiding the extreme heat of noon and early afternoon. It prefers tropical temperatures year-round, so avoid temperatures below 60ºF (15ºC) if you can. Established plants are said to tolerate light frost … but they won’t like it!
Watering is “normal”: allow the soil to dry slightly, then water abundantly. I just use plain municipal tap water, direct from the faucet. To keep the pH down, I fertilize with a soluble acidifying fertilizer (one sold for rhododendrons and conifers) at one eighth of the recommended rate from spring to early fall.
Theoretically, the flowers self-pollinate, but just to make sure, I move a little pollen around with an artist’s brush if the plant is indoors at the time of blooming. While it’s outdoors, I let insects do their job. Under my conditions, I usually get two flushes of fruit per year, but other gardeners report 3 or 4. And I’m not talking about bushels of fruit: more like handfuls. I’ve seen this plant in tropical climates and even there it seems to be a rather sparse bearer.
I once found a few scale insects on my plant (I immediately pruned off the affected branch and thus apparently nipped the infestation in the bud) and suspect mealybugs would also like it. Spider mites too, if the air is too dry.
I’ve never tried multiplying my plant (I only have room for one!), but it is apparently fairly easy to grow from cuttings (use rooting hormone) or fresh seeds. Seed-grown plants, though, are probably many years away from producing berries.
Where to Find It
Sometimes miracle fruit plants show up in garden centers: if so, grab one without delay: it’s a fairly rare occurrence.
It’s always wise to give your lawn mower a thorough cleaning before winter. Photo: http://www.amazon.fr
When you’re done with your lawn mower for the season, even a laidback gardener really ought to take an hour or to give it a thorough cleaning and to prepare it for a winter of idleness. Here’s what to do:
1. Clean the body to remove stuck-on grass clippings and dirt. Wash it with a strong jet of water, then use a scraper or brush to remove what remains. Finish by drying it with a cloth, then lightly coat metal surfaces to prevent rust.
4. To prevent condensation and damage to the carburetor, empty the fuel tank completely. You can siphon the gas off or use a turkey baster. The gasoline you remove can go into the car … or the snow blower. Now, run the mower until the motor quits in order to burn off the remaining gasoline in the tank and fuel lines. Next, refill the tank with fresh gasoline containing a stabilizer (available from hardware stores). Finally, run the engine for a minute or two so the lines refill with stabilized fuel and your tank and lines will be ready for winter.
5. Remove the spark plug and spray a bit of oil into the cylinder. Clean the spark plug with a small metal brush … or replace it. Most lawn mower guides recommend you change the spark plug every 2 or 3 years.
6. If the oil is dirty (black), empty the oil tank and replace the oil with the type of oil recommended by the mower manufacturer. Check with your municipality to find out where to take the used oil for disposal.
7. Many people choose to clean or replace the air filter before winter. Refer to your model’s instruction manual for the recommended frequency for this procedure, as well as how to clean or replace it.
8. Store the mower in a dry place (garage, shed, cellar, etc.) until spring.
Electric and Battery Mowers
These mowers require less maintenance. Especially follow steps 1, 2, 3 and 8.
Finally, for a battery-operated model, bring the battery indoors for the winter, as extreme temperatures may shorten its life.
And there you go! One short hour of effort at the end of the season will help keep your mower in good shape for many years to come!
The following is derived from a press release by thejoyofplants.co.uk and designed to promote indoor gardening. The information may be a bit quirky, but it certainly does make you think. Enjoy!
Plants are essential in our lives. Let’s give them something back!
When you think of plants, you might think of the sansevieria that used to sit on your grandparents’ windowsill, or that spiky cactus in the meeting room. Yet, plants also cover the steppes and tundras, and make our countryside green and picturesque. What about the vegetables that you eat? It’s no accident that we talk about the Plant Kingdom. These green beings we share our planet with provide us with enormous abundance and riches. We could do with thanking them for that more often.
No Life Without Plants
Plants are essential for the Earth’s survival. They release oxygen into the air and provide food for animals. As autotrophic organisms (they convert sunlight into energy via their ability to photosynthesize), plants are the world’s main producers of oxygen, and also the basis for most food chains. In terms of evolution, the existence of animals on land could only occur after plants had gotten there first. Without plants there is no oxygen, no animals and no food. No plants—no life!
Because plants do so much for us, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for them in return? So give them a loving home. Make the effort to get to know these living things. Give them a shower now and then. Move them to a brighter spot. Set them on a humidity tray. Whisper sweet nothings in their leaves. They really do thrive on that—and secretly it will also give you a boost too. They are alive. In fact, they’re life itself. Thanks plants!
Today, in honour of Remembrance Day (Commonwealth countries) and Veteran’s Day (US), here’s a guest blog by Joanne Reed about how one of our favorite home-grown vegetables, the carrot, helped win World War II. Enjoy!
Where does human behavior come from? Behavior comes from our perception of an event or a situation. Where does perception come from? Perception comes from information received, be it from personal experience, newspaper or media. If our behaviors are influenced by information, how can we be sure that what we receive is information or disinformation?
It is possible to control human perception. The best way to do this would be to filter or censor the type of information that the public receives, or by using deceptive tactics such as subterfuge, propaganda or misinformation to make the public believe something that is not true.
The “Carrot Myth”
According to conventional wisdom, eating lots of carrots will magically enhance your vision! While there is a little bit of truth in this, the “Carrot Myth” was engineered by British Intelligence and popularized and reinforced by the British Ministry of Information – the government department responsible for publicity and propaganda – during WWII.
During the 1940 Blitzkrieg , the Luftwaffe often struck and bombarded London under the cover of darkness. In order to make it more difficult for the German planes to hit targets, the British Government issued city-wide blackouts. The Royal Air Force (RAF) were able to repel German fighters in part because of the development of a new secret radar technology. The on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI) was invented and first used by the RAF in 1939 and had the ability to pinpoint enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel. To protect their secret weapon, British Intelligence invented a propaganda campaign that claimed that British pilots could see in the dark because they ate a lot of carrots!
There is no denying the fact that carrots, by virtue of their heavy dose of vitamin A (in the form of Beta Carotene) are very good for the health of your eyes; but this truth was stretched a little by granting carrots the “superpower” of improving your night vision and give you the power to spot enemy planes in the dark! The truth is that eating carrots does not help you see better in the dark any more than eating blueberries will turn you blue. That said, the carrot campaign of subterfuge helped hide a new technology that was critical to the Battle of Britain, a major campaign fought entirely by air forces and the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces, and to the eventual Allied victory.
Information and Disinformation Overload
Today, we are living in a world of information and disinformation overload; data about almost anything is available at the click of a button, we are constantly bombarded by streams of information (and sometimes disinformation), making it very difficult to know what and who to believe.
Hoaxes, hysterias, misinformation and scams have been around a long time. Con men and Ponzi schemes are in every corner of recorded history. You might think that our access to vast oceans of information on the internet would change that, but it hasn’t. In fact, humans are just as gullible and easily led as ever. Skepticism is just as rare as any other time, and most people are willing to believe something they read on the internet, heard second or third hand, without subjecting their curiosities to even the most basic fact-checking.
It is important to remain skeptical. Some people may dismiss you as a cynical, but that’s likely to be the person who’s actively trying to influence you or sell you something. There are no awards for coming to a conclusion the fastest, so take your time, and don’t form an opinion based on emotion. Here are some quick ways to keep yourself in check:
Check your sources
Understand the difference between opinion and fact
Beware of anecdotal evidence
Ask a lot of questions
Question your beliefs
Turn to history for clues
Skepticism is healthy. Be discerning about the information you receive and the medium through which it is transmitted, they are skills worth developing.
You can also purchase Joanne’s book ‘This is Your Quest’ online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble. The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Nobles (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Or check out her Amazon Author Page here.
Lichens are composite organisms often found growing on rocks and trees. Some species are commonly found in gardens, especially on well-established trees, and the advice to the home gardener has always been to ignore them: they’re harmless to plants and also add a bit of interest as well as (to a very minor degree) helping to fertilize the plants they settle on.
Lichens aren’t plants, though, but “composite organisms.” They were long thought to be simple combinations of one algae and one fungus. By joining their forces in symbiosis, each organism helping the other, the new composite organism develops properties different from those of its component organisms.
Most algae, for example, cannot live outside an aquatic environment, but, sheltered within the cells of a fungus, they can now carry out their photosynthesis on a tree trunk, branch or rock. And the carbohydrates they produce feed the fungus … and some of the nitrogen they capture from the air drips down to the plant roots below. Everybody’s happy!
This symbiotic one algae/one fungi relationship has been known since the 1800s, but it turns out it’s more complicated than that. Scientists are finding lichens often have a third partner or a fourth or even a fifth!
There are often two fungi involved: an ascomycete fungus and a basidiomycete yeast. And in some cases, there is a second basidiomycete involved in the partnership. And other lichens have been found where there is one fungus and two algae species … and sometimes three. With some 17,000 identified lichen species in the world (and probably at least as many unidentified ones), the possibilities seem almost endless!
I suppose symbiosis is rather like cooking: you need just the right ingredients to make things turn out!
Peppers don’t really have a sex, in spite of a persistant myth that claims the contrary. Photo: http://www.amazon.com
Question: My grocer told me that you can tell male and female peppers apart by the number of lobes it has, but I don’t remember his explanation. What’s the difference between the two? And how are the different sexes used?
Answer: In fact, there is no such thing as a male or female pepper. It’s a garden myth like so many others. It’s really unfortunate that your grocer has been sharing this misinformation with his clients. Don’t hesitate to show him this blog.
The story behind this belief is that the typical bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) has 4 lobes (4 bumps at the base of the fruit and 4 compartments if you cut it open), but there are some varieties with only 3 lobes. And according to the myth, the pepper with 4 lobes would be a female and its taste would be sweeter, making it more interesting for eating raw, as in salads and sandwiches. The 3-lobed pepper would be male, with a more intense taste, and would be better suited to cooking.
Obviously, that’s simply not true and it’s easy to prove otherwise. Just cut the fruit open and look inside.
Are there seeds in the fruit? Of course! However, and if there are seeds, the fruit is essentially “pregnant.” So, the fruit can’t be male, can it? A male fruit (if such a thing existed) would have no seeds at all.
In fact, you can’t really talk about sex when it comes to a fruit. It’s just not sexual, nor more so than would be a finger or a toe on a human. And any botanist reading this would already have cringed when I suggested a fruit might be pregnant! Actually, the flower at the origin of pepper fruit was in fact bisexual: male and female. By extension, if you absolutely want to give a sex to a fruit, a bell pepper too would be bisexual.
What About the Number of Lobes?
In fact, bell peppers, other sweet peppers and hot peppers* (all simply forms of the highly variable species Capsicum annuum) may have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 lobes, even more. The number is largely determined by the genetics of the plant. The typical bell pepper, rather cubic in shape, has 4 lobes, but sometimes 3 or 5. There are 3-lobed sweet pepper lines (sweet Hungarian or banana peppers, for example, which do tend to be stronger in taste than the average bell), but they are less well known. The shape of the fruit has no direct effect on the taste and the fruit produced can used raw or cooked, regardless of the number of lobes.
*Hot peppers are hot because they contain more capsaicin, a chemical compound that irritates the taste buds, than sweet peppers, which may have little or none at all.
Each pepper strain (‘Olympus’, ‘California Wonder’, ‘Gourmet’, etc.) has its own taste. Obviously, some are sweeter than others. So, when you buy seeds or plants for your vegetable garden, read its description to see if the promised taste is one likely to suit you.