Category: Gardening

You are being watched

By Daniel Holz | April 22, 2009 9:42 am

Today is Earth Day. We should probably all be outside celebrating Spring (or Fall, for those upside-down). But if you insist on remaining indoors, glued to a computer screen, here are two things of note:

First, befitting Earth Day, there’s a press release on the discovery of an Earth-sized planet (well, at least double the size, but that’s essentially identical by astronomical standards). The orbital period is 3 days, which means it is way too close to its sun to harbor life. But it’s just a matter of time before we find another Earth. The New York Times article has a direct link to the (unpublished, unrefereed) preprint; I guess your average NYTimes reader is expected to be able to follow an original scientific article?

treeSecond, there’s an interesting blog post by Kevin Kelly on how Nature produces “intelligence” (hat-tip to Mike Warren). The article describes how trees can “see” their environment:

Light reflected from nearby vegetation is richer in far-red wavelengths than unreflected light. Plants can use this information to not only see shade, but to anticipate the likelihood of shading by a competitor in the future. “When a change in the balance of red to far-red radiation is perceived,” says Trewavas, “an integrated adaptive response in phenotype structure [of the plant] results. New branches grow away from the putative competitor, stem growth is increased; the rate of branching diminishes, and such branches assume a more vertical direction: leaf area increases in anticipation of reduced incident flux; and the number of layers of leaf cells containing chlorophyll diminishes.”

And here’s what rock ants (with 100,000 neurons) can do:

To assess the potential of a new nesting site, rock ants will measure the dimensions of the room in total darkness and then calculate – and that is the proper word – the volume and desirability of it. For many millions of years, rock ants have used a mathematical trick that was only discovered by humans in 1733. Rock ants can estimate the volume of a space, even an irregular shaped one, by randomly laying a scent trail across the floor of the space, “recording” the length of that line, and then counting the number of times it encounters that scented line during additional diagonal runs across the floor. The calculated area is inversely proportional to the frequency of intersections times length. In other words, the ants discovered an approximate value for Π derived by intersecting diagonals.

The post then goes on to speculate about the minds we’re building into our technology. It gets a little science-fictiony for my taste, but one interesting site it links to is 20 questions. It’s quite entertaining, and can be eerily accurate. But stop playing the game, and go outside and take a long walk. And remember, the trees are watching.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Gardening, Science and Society

Cute, but Eeeeeeeevil

By Julianne Dalcanton | December 4, 2008 3:12 am

Hey Raccoons!

You suck.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Gardening, Miscellany, Personal

Critter Proof

By JoAnne Hewett | October 1, 2006 4:53 pm

Given the distressing and depressing news emanating from the US Congress the past couple of days, it’s time for a slightly more upbeat post. A success story, if you will. A serious problem that has been solved. Yes folks, it’s come to this:

CV readers may recall the trauma suffered a few weeks ago due to a roof rat invading my tomato crop. Well, the roof rat (and his friends) were easily dealt with (naturally, they are now all dead rats). But the squirrels turned out to be a rather serious problem. One came and quickly told all his/her friends. Seems they considered my tomatoes to be quite tasty. Not any more….they can find another restaurant!

Ha – foiled them critters! (I must admit it is real fun to watch them try to get into the cages!) And, my tomato yield has drastically improved.

For all you squirrel lovers out there – note that no squirrels were actually harmed in the cage building process.


I have declared War

By JoAnne Hewett | August 18, 2006 12:26 am

I woke up this morning to find this:

and it triggered my instinct to kill. I mean, some varmint is eating my food! Can’t get more instinctual than that. Not to mention all the time and investment I have put into nurturing this crop. Not to mention that my very first BIG juicy tomato was just about ripe enough to pick…

After a thorough debate and inspection of the photos, the concensus of the SLAC theory group is squirrels, rats, or birds. Keeping in mind that my tomatoes are in container pots, on my deck, about 30-40 feet off the ground, rabbits were immediately excluded. I have ruled out birds after a detailed investigation of the crime scene this evening. Burton Richter himself (Nobel prize winner and co-discoverer of charm and former director of SLAC) made a point of calling his wife – an expert on such things – in order to determine the origin of the varmit. Mrs. Richter suggested roof rats. Egads!! I certainly hope not – that sounds rather disgusting and I’d rather have squirrels…

Meanwhile, I have put up every defense possible, short of building a cage for the plants. I might do that this weekend, but since the plants are 6 feet tall, it will be a job. I did some web research and devised a fortified multi-strategy defense. I have purchased Shake-Away Critter-Repellent, it is composed mainly of garlic and fox urine so it is organic, and sprinkled it about. I put out boxes of rat poison and traps, as well as one of those ultra-sonic/EM-wave rodent repellent thingies I had in my garage. I also put out 2 bowls of water (several websites said squirrles eat tomatoes for H2O during a drought – which adequately describes summer in California) and a bowl containing the 7 partially eaten tomatoes from the night before, hoping it might be easier for the varmint to finish them off first. I have also left the lights on, on my deck.

Short of building a cage (or sleeping on the deck with a BB gun) it’s the best I can do….we shall see what has transpired in the morning. If my tomatoes are further eaten by the morning, hell will hath no fury….

Update: It is now Friday. Last night around 1 AM I went out to check on the plants. Sure enough a large juicy (but green) tomato was sitting at the base of the pots. Then there was a rustling noise and a reasonably large RAT (Eeuw!) scurried out of the container pots and ran away. I caught the varmint red-handed! I involuntarily jumped back and screamed (wonder what my neighbors think now), but had no weapon on me so just watched the critter scurry away. (Actually, I don’t have weapons save for a baseball bat or two.) So much for the ultra-sound thingie. I unplugged it and turned on a radio instead for the rest of the night. LaRose Richter gets the prize for the correct hypothesis. Today I took action – the rat control people are coming first thing tomorrow morning, the container with my best plants is now sitting in the middle of my kitchen for the night, and I have about 10 zillion traps surrounding the plants left outdoors….

Update^2: 1:30 AM Saturday. No rat like a dead rat. Yep, my tom-cat snapper trap got’em! Gotta have the right tools for the job.


Jacaranda Time!

By cjohnson | May 24, 2006 4:55 pm

It is one of my favourite times of the year in Los Angeles. It rained a few days ago and so the air is clear, the sky is blue, and the sunlight is now clear and crisp on everything it touches. On days like this I cycle right past the bus stop and go all the way into work on the bike. There are flowers in gardens everywhere. (There are also wild flowers along the sides of the freeways, for drivers who care to look.) There are flowering trees all over the city.

In particular, there are several long stretches of many blocks all over LA that almost convince you that the city was going completely purple. This is because of the spectacular Jacaranda tree:

jacaranda tree

Learn more about this lovely tree here. I learned that the horticulturalist Kate Sessions (1857-1940) is responsible for importing and popularising the Jacaranda in Southern California. Learn more about her here and here.



Mother's Day

By cjohnson | May 14, 2006 4:58 pm

Today you go outside and find that several of your roses are blooming splendidly, just in time for Mother’s Day. You decide to post a photograph of one of them on the blog, to send good wishes to all mothers everywhere (even where it is not officially Mother’s Day):

mother's day rose

Happy Mother’s Day!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Gardening, Personal


By cjohnson | May 13, 2006 9:14 pm

true jasmine vs star jasmineThe Jasmine hedge is in full flower now, and the smell is gorgeous. It is trachelospermum jasminoides (“Star Jasmine”), really. Not a true Jasmine at all, but very reminiscent of Jasmine. I have a true Jasmine vine nearby and there are several similarities. Lots of lovely small scented flowers, looking like stars. See the comparison shot. (On the left is an actual Jasmine. Our friend is on the right.)

Here’s the hedge in full bloom:


You know, I was thinking…

If I ever have a daughter, perhaps I will call her Jasmine. With the agreement of the mother, of course.

Yes…. Jasmine.

Such a lovely name. Such a lovely scent.

Such a lovely flower.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Gardening, Personal

Red and Green

By cjohnson | May 6, 2006 12:18 am

Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or Schlumbergera gaertneri …. Easter Cactus:

easter cactus




Persistence of Blossoms

By cjohnson | April 22, 2006 3:09 pm

This lovely crop of white cyclamen flowers is typical of this plant. It faithfully does this every year, with little encourangement:


Quite a pleasure. I think I should plant some directly into the soil one day.



Stony Ground

By cjohnson | April 9, 2006 2:31 am

tomato in steps Time for a gardening picture, methinks. Well, this is so odd I thought I’d share. A while ago I spotted a weed growing out of the steps out at the front of the house. This happens a lot, which is fine. What does not often happen (in fact, it has never happened before) is that I reached to pull it out and noticed that it is an unusual weed, but familiar-looking. I touched it, and immediately could detect a distincitve smell – it is a tomato plant. A tomato plant!

Well, of course, I could not bear to do anything to it, and left it there thinking it would eventually run its course and die. Well, I had a look the other day and it is getting really big and healthy! Thing is, I’ve no idea how it got there. I’ve never had tomato plants or seeds out at the front. How come it just started growing there spontaneously? Bizarre. You’re welcome to make up your own explanations at this point. I can’t think of a plausible one.

Since it continues to do so well, I decided I would transplant it to the back garden where I actually do have tomato plants, but now it is stuck in the steps, and I cannot pull it up. It is well and truly stuck. Surely it can’t grow any more without damaging its stem…. I’ve no idea what is going to happen.



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

See More

Collapse bottom bar