Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Graft Your Own Tomatoes

Some of you may have seen grafted tomatoes cropping up in garden centers over the past couple of seasons. But what really is the difference between a grafted tomatoes and non-grafted tomatoes? Grafted tomatoes have turned up for many of the same reasons that we graft other plants. Tomato grafting first because practice in the 1960s when grafting was mainly done to make the tomato plants more disease resistant. Now, grafting is done for a number of different reasons. Sometimes growers graft tomatoes so that they are more resistant to abiotic stresses (salinity, drought, flooding) or they choose rootstocks that are better suited to their growing conditions (soil, temperatures, etc). This hardier rootstock is then attached to a scion (aka "the top part") of a variety that the growers want. In some cases, grafting can also cause the tomato plant to be higher yielding, extending it's growing season at the beginning and the end.
One common factor among grafted tomatoes that you'll see when you're shopping around your garden center this spring is that, usually, these plants are more expensive than your normal tomato plants. For some, the cost is worth it for the higher yield and higher tolerance to several factors. But if you want to try your hand at grafting and skipping the higher prices at the register, here's a step-by-step tutorial for grafting your own tomato plants.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hip-Hop Remixes Science

So, just a short post on a few videos I found on Youtube the other day about the organization Science Genius. This isn't totally garden related, but it's so cool that I just had to share.
Science Genius is an organization working with New York schools with communities of students that don't really connect to science all that well. What they do is try to connect science to something they do know well: Hip-Hop and Rap. Just hearing that alone made my science education bells go off and I had to know more. With my current class about how to get kids more interested in plants and horticulture in new and exciting ways, this is an awesome example of that creativity that we need in today's classrooms.
I'll let the videos explain more.

Hip Hop Remixes Science (Science Genius Part 1)

Wu-Tang's GZA drops knowledge at Bronx Compass (Science Genius Part 2)

If you don't think this is one of the coolest things they've come up with so far to teach science, then please enlighten me as to what is.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Suddenly, Tomatoes

I may have gotten in a bit over my head today. After potting up tomatoes for the Student Organic Farm here at my university, there were dozens of extras left over. I maaaay have snagged six seedlings on top of the four seedlings I'm already attempting to germinate at home. And, oh yeah, we grafted some tomatoes earlier in class, so that's two more if both the grafts heal. So that's potentially 12 TOMATO PLANTS worth of fruit that I'll have to find something to do with this summer. Anyone know how to can?
There is a reason, however that I snagged all these seedlings. They're really cool varieties that I just couldn't pass up. The best part? All the plants come from organic seeds.

The new plants that have taken up residence on the kitchen windowsill are:

Sunrise Bumble Bee (OG)
Sunrise Bumblebee: Props to whoever named this one because there's no way you could forget a tomato name like that.

Fox Cherry: This one you can find through Seeds of Change and is a vine variety.

Lemonade: Sadly, it's very difficult to find a picture of this tomato. Google only gives me recipes for tomato lemonade. It'd be helpful if I could remember what company supplies it, but I saw a seed packet once a month or so ago...

Indigo Rose (OG)
Indigo Rose: I'm really excited to grow a deep purple (or black, since that sounds more impressive) tomato. Another exciting part is anthocyanins, the chemical that causes the dark color, are powerful anti-oxidants.

Sun Sugar Tomato
Sun Sugar: This tomato has been named a favorite for sweetness and is an incredibly vigorous producer. 

Striped Roman Tomato Organic
Striped Roman: This one not only looks awesome, but is the best sauce tomato the farm grows.

So, as you can tell, I'm pretty excited about growing all of these varieties. On top of these, if those grafted tomatoes hold up, I'll have Marvel Striped tomatoes to add to the list. I also just started some regular Roma tomatoes and some Amana Orange from seeds I already had. It's going to be a big tomato fest this summer and I can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day Education

Happy Earth Day!
I hope you don't mind if I take a partial step up on my soapbox today. This post is partially brought to you by my Tuesday morning Sustainability Studies lecture. The guest lecturer started out by wishing us happy Earth Day and briefly talked about how Earth Day is really about education. Education about the environment, education on how to keep our planet healthy and education on the importance of conserving the limited natural resources we have.

Since I've recently been teaching Horticulture in 3rd and 4th grade classrooms, my mind immediately jumped to the importance of educating kids, in particular, about this topic. If we're educating our kids to love gardens, isn't it a natural step to educate them to love the planet as well? "The kids are our future" is a cheesy saying, but that doesn't make it less true. Helping them to understand that the Earth's abundance is not infinite is something that should be one of our top priorities. I don't have kids, and probably won't for a while, so it's hard for me to definitively say how you should go about doing this or even tell you that you should be doing this in the first place. But I have seen the differences between the kids who have been taught to not be wasteful and those who don't have it as a priority at all and the difference is striking. Kids who are taught that the Earth needs to be cared for and protected tend to be more empathetic and curious about the natural world than kids who have not been educated on these things. And by "kids" I mean college students. It's often easy to tell which of my peers were brought up in houses where they were told to turn off the lights when they left a room and to recycle their plastic bottles. I know I don't need to be telling any of you that what you teach your kids influences how they live their lives once they leave the nest.
So to make this a rant a little bit more interesting, I've took the time to list some good topics to go over with kids (or adults!) this Earth Day that could really be beneficial. They also are just great practices for families to have so that you can teach by example!

Conserve Water
This is a biggie. Water is something that is becoming a big problem in many places, especially those prone to drought. There are many things you can do to help conserve water but a few you can do on a daily basis are:
1. Taking shorter showers. Seriously. You hear this one all the time but there's a good reason for that. An article from Boston University puts this in an easy to understand format. The average shower uses about 5 gallons of water per minute. If you shorten your shower time by just TWO MINUTES you can save 10 gallons of water every time you take a shower. That's 300 gallons per month per person!
Garden Connection: Does your shower/bath spout drip or even gush water right after you turn the shower off?Have a bucket near the side of the tub to put under the spout right after you step out of the shower to catch all that water, then use it to water your plants!
2. Dishes. We use a lot of water to do our dishes but, thankfully, there are multiple ways to conserve water while doing this chore.
-Dishwashers use less water than washing by hand. If you have one, use it. I'm assuming that wasn't too hard. Now that you've got that basic first part down, load that sucker up so it's full before you run it. Less loads means less water. If you have food that is caked on to pots and pans, soak them instead of running them under water for you put them in the dishwasher.
-If you don't own a dishwasher, don't let the water run constantly while washing the dishes. Fill up the sink and use that water instead.
3. Fill up a pitcher with water and drink you water from that. This way, every drop goes into your glass and you don't stand there running (wasting) water until it's cold enough.
For more ideas, I highly recommend this site.

Cut Back on Waste
Household waste is another huge problem. The United States generates 230 MILLION TONS of "trash" every year. That means that the average person is producing 4.6 pounds of waste EVERY DAY. How crazy is that??? Luckily, there are lots of ways to reduce and many fun and crafty was to reuse things in creative and functional ways.
1. Stay away from excess packaging. Do you really need that shrink-wrapped package of bell peppers when there are fresh, un-packaged ones right next to it? Didn't think so.
2. Reuse! Can that plastic container or egg carton be used to start seeds in? Darn right it can.
Kid Tip: Keep these containers and reusable items with the craft supplies. They can become beautiful works of art or just useful containers for all those glitter pens.
3.Compost! Us gardeners love this one. This might take a bit of research, but it saves you TONS of waste every week. If you don't have the space for a compost pile or bin, vermicomposting (composting with worms!) might be a good option. Find out how on this website.
Kid Tip: Many kids find worms fascinating, so vermicomposting can be a fun option for learning activities.
4. Watch this awesome TED Talk on how to only use 1 paper towel to dry your hands. Americans use 13 billion paper towels a day! Cut down on how much you use.

This one is just obvious.
1. Check your city's recycling policies to see what can and can't be recycled, then go to town!
2. The most commonly recycled plastics are 1 and 2. Check plastic containers before you buy to make sure the plastic is recyclable.
3. As a general rule, check recyclable products before you buy them to make sure that they line up with your community's recycling . Just because the package says "recyclable" doesn't mean it's recyclable in your area.

I hope that my suggestions made up for making you sit through my Earth Day rant. But I really hope that you and many others make a resolution to live greener in the next year. Goodness knows our Earth really needs it.
For more ideas on how to re-purpose items, reduce waste and find out more about living sustainably, follow my Sustainability Board, Craft Board and Garden Tips boards on Pinterest. If you have any good Earth Day tips to share, post them below! I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The SEPOS Orchid Show

Now that I've concluded my posts on my trip to London, I'll do one post on a trip I went to just last week. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with the University of Minnesota Hockey Pep Band to the NCAA Frozen Four in Philadelphia. For this of you who aren't hockey people, this is the end to the National Championship Tournament and determines the National Champion for the year. The best thing about the trip is that was totally sponsored by the University of Minnesota, meaning I didn't have to pay a dime. Our job was to play at pep events and the games and we got to stay for 6 whole days. We won the semi-final with and AMAZING game ending buzzer-beater goal (I'll add a link if you want to watch it at the end of the post) but, sadly, lost in the final game.

BUT that's not what I'm going to be writing about. The 5th day in Philly I got to go to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society (SEPOS) Show at the Museum of Natural History. I was blown away with the sheer number of orchids and the elaborate displays set up by the participants. If you're into orchids, this is the post for you. I've also included a few fun facts I learned at one of the panels about caring for Phalanenopis orchids (aka moth orchids). Keep reading to find out a few.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How To See London in One Week

I figured that I would wrap up my London posts with a final post on how you can make the most out of a trip to London. I only spent around a week (well, more like 9 days) in London but I saw SO much stuff. Once you orient yourself in the city, getting around is easy and quick, making seeing a lot of sights simple. If you look at the list and think "There's no way to do all that in a week", trust me. I did most of it in 4 or 5 days because 4 of my 8 days there were partially taken up by teaching in classrooms. Keep reading to find a few of my sight-seeing recommendations that you can fit into a week-long trip.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visiting Kew Gardens

After our first day of teaching, our group journeyed a few tube stops further to visit Kew Gardens. This Royal Horticulture Society Garden is AMAZING. We only had time for two of the glass houses, the palm house and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and only a small fraction of the garden. It's just so big! And the highlight was the private tour we got to take of the science division (no pictures of that, sadly) and their MASSIVE herbarium. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teaching Days

The primary goal of our trip to England was to teach lessons at four different schools. The first was Brandelhow Primary School. I got to co-teach in a 3rd-year classroom where we did a lesson about apples. We read a story and had kids act out the different parts and showed kids the star in the center of an apple. We also had them taste apples. We're not allowed to take pictures with the kids for obvious reasons, but I've included a few pictures of their schoolyard garden.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Free Day 1: Exploring London

Our first full day was a free day that we filled with some of the most popular sights in London. My feet hurt from walking but we saw the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, The National Gallery, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. I also had my first fish and chips meal of the trip along with hard apple cider. I'm not legally able to drink in the states so that was super fun for me. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

England Post #1: Wisley Gardens

Hello everyone!
I've been back from my trip to England for a few weeks already, but I took so many pictures that it took me that long to find time to go through all of them. So this is the first of a long series of photo posts where I'll share most of what I saw while over in England. This trip was for a class titled "Successful School Gardens" and there were several days in which we went into schools to teach children about gardening topics and the importance of horticulture. We did, however, have several free days and a few group outings to famous gardens around London.
This first post is all my pictures from our first destination: Wisley Gardens. We literally got off the plane and got on a bus to go to Wisley and it had to be the best cure for jet lag EVER. The day was warm and sunny and felt just that much better since we had come from below freezing weather to mid-60s weather. Or whatever that is in Celsius...
So enjoy the pictures! I'll have much more for you soon!