Monday, February 21, 2011

Seed Starting

Is your house a bit cold for starting seeds or do you just want to speed up seed germination?  You might try this readers tip from the latest issue of  Fine Gardening magazine.  Take a plastic sweater box and fill it with 200 mini Christmas lights.  Some caveats:  LED lights won't work, they don't give out heat, don't used big incandescent lights without keeping a watchful eye as the heat they generate could melt the plastic.  With all good ideas, improvise with care!  (From April 2011 Fine Gardening magazine)

Gardening Science

Science is fascinating stuff.  Physics and astronomy seem to be the big flashy things we read about.  Giant particle colliders being built and amazing pictures from space are common topics.  While fascinating, every once in awhile cutting edge science is about garden stuff.  What fun!  Some of these really have nothing to do with our day to day garden but are just interesting.  If you are a science geek like I am, (although all the physics articles loose me quickly these days) you need to know about the magazine and website Science News where these articles came from. 

Myth-busting!  I sure everyone has heard you should not to water plants in midday sun.  The idea being that the water droplets on the leaves act as lenses allowing the sun to heat up the leaf surface and burn the leaves.  A graduate student from Hungary decided to test the theory, which had never been scientifically tested before.  He found mostly a myth.  Water droplets tend to flatten on the smooth surface of the leaf and no longer work as a lens.  On leaves with hairs (where the droplet is held above the surface) the droplet does cause some burning but the tests were done in a completely wind free area and they worked to prevent the leaves from moving.  In a natural setting where the leaves bob and weave in the slightest breeze, it is unlikely that the drop stays in place long enough to do any damage.  So don't worry about damaging the leaves from water droplets.  That doesn't mean that you should be watering in the middle of the day and sprinkling the leaves.  There are better ways to water plants in our climate.  Worry about that, don't worry about water droplets.  (Science News Dec 2010-Jan 2011, pg 9)

There has been research on how plants affect their neighbors.  We often think of plants as one big happy family and plant things together willy-nilly.  But plants have the ability to protect their space from competitors.  Walnuts are familiar to most of us.  A chemical they exude prevents other plants from growing underneath their canopy.  Creosote is another example.  Did you know that some plants can detect their siblings and their growth can change depending on whether they are growing next to a sibling vs. a stranger.  Jewelweeds grow more leaves in the presence of strangers (elbowing out strangers) and more roots if next to siblings.  Scientist think this might not be as uncommon as we might think.  (Science News Dec 09, pg 13)

I'm sure we've all seen the pictures of the white spider on the white flower.  The crab spider can change her body color to match the flower.  The question is, does this make the spider a more successful spider than non-camouflaged spiders?  Well maybe no, because insects see in the ultraviolet range where the spider doesn't match the flower color.  The color match also doesn't seem to protect the spider from predators.  It isn't clear yet how the ability to change color helps the spider.  When we marvel over things like this its a good idea not to assume why.  Apparently the why is still to come.  (Science News Dec 5, 09)
Photo from