Saturday, September 26, 2009


"In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity." 
- Albert Einsten

This is a picture I took from one of our camping trips to the Bay Area.   It is a picture of a tree,  an old tree that has gone through all sorts of stresses.  The trunk is hollow, animals already found a home in it.  Sooner or later the tree will die.   But against this gnarled grotesque trunk comes a fresh new growth with lots of promise.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Herbs in My Garden


Herbs are plants that are used to add flavor, color, or spice to food. They are easy to grow and require a relatively small space to grow.   While some herbs are grown for their medicinal value, mine are grown them for their culinary value.  They come in different colors, shapes, and height that they can be ornamental at the same time.  In my garden, I like to plant herbs that I use in my cooking.

Herbs Found in My Garden:
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Peppermint (Mentha piperata)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Flat Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Rosemary, sage and thyme are perennials.  Perennial plants come back year after year. They need to be trimmed from time to time to control their shape or to encourage more branching.

Annual herbs like basil and cilantro complete their life cycle within one season or one year after which replanting is necessary.  Sometimes their life cycle can be delayed by cutting removing the flowers.  This works weel with basil.

Mint is also a perennial plant but here is a word of caution: Mint is invasive and can become a weed.  To prevent it from becoming a problem contain its growth by planting it in a pot or a planter box.

Chives has its own special feature.  It is a perennial and self seeding plant.  Not only does it come back year after year, it also spreads its own seeds.  Unless the flowers are cut off before they mature, chives can also become a weed.


Yesterday I bought some cilantro and parsley seedlings.  There are three seedlings in a pot so what I normally do is to spread the seedlings apart into a bigger pot to allow more room for each plant to grow.   I like to plant them in pots so thatI can move them around.  When it is too hot I move them to a place where they get more shade.  As the cooler months approach I will be moving them so they get more sunlight to compensate for the shorter days.  The California temperatures will gradually decrease and by the time temperatures become limiting to plant growth it will be December.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bartlett Pear

Bartlett Pears still on a tree

Bartlett Pears ripened at room temperature

I thought that the pear tree, Pyrus communis, in my bakyard was Anjou but this year it I concluded that it is Bartlett.  One of the most distingishing characteristics of Bartlett pear is that they change color from green to golden with a hint of red as they ripen.  They have a smooth and juicy texture.  I also found out that the flesh disintegrates easily when being cooked making it a good candidate for making pear-sauce and pear-butter.

One problem I need to deal with next year is pear codling moth, Cydia pomonella.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One Plant Many Names

To demonstrate my point regarding the importance of having a scientific name for all plants, I asked my son to take this picture.  This is a list of the many names of potato throughout the world.   Each region in the world has a common name for the potato, however there is only one scientific name for it throughout the universe - and that is Solanum tuberosum.

My family and I could be seen sporting a T-shirt with this picture on it.  All of us got one for a present from our dear friends, the Vander Zaag family, when we visited their place in Alliston and their potato farms and storage.  They operate a larde scale potato farm that supplies Lays Potato Chips among others.

I give special credit to the Vander Zaags for this catchy and wearable design that puts the concept of scientific nomenclature in perspective..

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's in the Name?

A long time ago, when plants were only found in their original habitat, each plant had one name.  Then there were explorers who went to far away unheard-of lands and they carried back their discoveries to their country.  Among the important commodities that they got were plants.   Then with the commercial airliners people smuggle plants from places that they visit and vive versa.  Although this illegal operation is almost impossible to do now with the Homeland Security and Immigration Department in place, some still try hard to do it because it is part of human nature to acquire and share the good things in life.  Once they are in a foreign land these plants were then given other names. 

The plant that was once called papa originated from the Andes Mountains of Peru.  It has been brought to far away places throughout the world.  In France, this same plant is called pommes de terre, in India it is called aloo, in the Philippines it is patatas, and so on.  You can see how this can be very confusing when we read literature.

Carolus Linnaeus thought of a very good way to solve this problem.  He proposed and started a naming system known as binomial nomenclature.  This eventually became the standard for naming all species.  Binomial nomenclature is like giving first and last names for all species of organisms.  This is the latinized name given to plants also known as scientific name. Let's look at the following name for example:

Scientific Name: Solanum tuberosum L.
Common Name:  Potato

Solanum is the generic (genus) name.  Genus is the name given for a group of plants/organisms with physical characteristics that are similar and permamnent.  It always start with a capital letter.  Solanum describes a group of plants that have the following characteristics:  lightly to heavily toxic; clammy to hairy plants; star to bell shaped flowers with five lobes; and fruit is always a berry.  Examples of plants in this genus are potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes.

             Eggplant: (Solanum melongena L.)  - slightly toxic, clammy leaves, bell-shaped flowers

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) -  hairy, slightly toxic leaves, star-shaped flowers

tuberosum is the specific name (epithet).  Species may be a noun or adjective.  It is written in th elower case. It may be s distingushing characteristic of the flower as in grandiflora (meaning big flowers); a location of discovery as in philippinensis  (from the Philippines) or montpeliensis (from Montpelier); or it may honor a person's name as in Davisii for Mr. Davis.  tuberosum refers to a group of plants that develop tubers.
Both the generic and the specific names are written in italics or enclosed in a parenthesis to indicate that they are based on a foreign language.

The L. stands for Linaeus (Carolus), the person who named this plant.  If Miss Helen Taja were to name a plant she  would have to add the letter T after the generic name so that everyone will know who named it.  Perhaps this is a priceless reward for doing your part in naming all the creatures that God made.  After all this was the first job that man had.  Adam in the garden of Eden was instructed by God to name them all.

"He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field."   - Genesis 2:19b-20a

So what is in the scientific name of a plant?  It is a picture of the distinctive characteristics inherent to the plant being named.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rain in September

It rained last night and today everything looks greener than yesterday.  The rain gauge in my backyard registered 0.25 inches.  This  amount of rain is not substantial enough to reach the root zone.  So don't stop watering yet.  However, it is sufficient to wash off the dust that have accumulated on the leaves allowing the leaves to get high definition radiation from the sun.  It is also enough to cause a dramatic change in the humidity in the immediate surroundings of the plant (microclimate).  An increase in humidity results in a decreased rate of transpiration.  Transpiration is water loss through the leaves.  As a result, more of the water available to the plant (within the root zone) will be used for photosynthesis instead of being transpired.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What is Horticulture

The term horticulture comes from two Latin words namely:  hortus (garden) and colere (to cultivate or tend).  Simply horticulture means "tending a garden" or just gardening. 

As a field of study, horticulture is the science, art, and business of growing and marketing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants.  The crops studied in horticulture are those that require more intense and constant care.  These include but not limited to ornamental plants, cash crops and hobby plants.  Therefore a crop is considered horticultural depending on the purpose that they are grown. For example, wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)  is a low-input crop and is traditionally grown for their grains on big acres of fields - it is considered an agronomic crop.  When wheat is grown as wheatgrass for their wheat juice (like the green stuff you get from Jamba Juice) then it is considered  a horticultural crop. 

Horticulture involves two main types of plants:  Plants that are grown for food are called edibles while plants grown for aesthetics are ornamentals.  There are several number of sciences under these two categories which I will discuss as we deal with them in the future.
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