Saturday, June 28, 2014

Children's Urban Gardening - Making do with small spaces

Urban Children's Herb & Vegetable Garden
I had the opportunity to visit Creative Little Minds, a bilingual day care on Chicago's Northside. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the owner, Gloria, is incorporating gardening into the regular activities for everyone. This is with very little space in a city block. Here's the integration of Urban Gardening, Community Gardening, Children's Gardening and education all in one.   

Maybe these are some best practices:
1) Select clear garden spot with easy access for kids.  There is no threat to other garden plants or outdoor furniture or breakable objects. I think the use of the fence and walkway on the side of the house (pictured right) is a great idea. Although I wondered if there was enough sun for mature plants. 

2) Plants, pots, and tools are all placed within easy reach and at their level. I can imagine that it is easy for kids to inspect their plant growth every day.  The planters on the fence are at multiple heights - based on each child's abilities.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Piedra Blanca Eco-Park - Medellin

Medellin, Colombia
I've made several trips to Colombia over my lifetime and I am always happy to explore the vast diversity of the country.  I recently had the pleasure of exploring Medellin which is located in a valley of the Andes Mountains.  This create great vistas of the mountains as well as lush environment surrounding the city (and rain!)
One day my friends suggested an adventure out of the city to Piedras Blancas and Parque Arvi, a nature preserve located some 50 miles from the city center.  To get there we took the Medellin Metro to one of the MetroCables.  You cannot imagine how clean and well maintained these facilities are. The Colombians are very conscientious of maintaining these public transportation services. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Harvesting Herbs for perfect flavor

Do you want to know when to harvest herbs from you garden? Here are tips I've garnered over the years. 

First off - is the herb something that you grow for the leaves, flowers, or seeds. That matters. For example, when harvesting (the evil) mint, pick the leaves you need. For thyme or rosemary you may take a whole sprig for putting with a roast. In other cases, like garlic, wait until the plant practically dies away and dig up the bulb. 

Tips for harvesting leafy herbs:

  • When: Harvest as soon as the plant is established and frequently to encourage plants to produce new leaf growth. (Chicago would say early and often!). I like to cut herbs in mid-to late morning when they are no longer moist from dew and after I've figured out dinner plans in early evening ;)   In the heat of the day, if it's really hot, plants may droop a bit and harvesting at that time may harm the plant.  Especially with the hot summer's we've had lately.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Make Your Own Herb Flavored Oil, Butter & Vinegar

I harvested my first crop of spring chives which is quickly followed by a flurry of kitchen activity making compound butters, flavored oil & vinegar and drying chopped chives.   The compound butter in particular makes a fun gift for foodies, it's easy to make, and comes in handy for quick / delicious meal preparation.  Below I've captured my thoughts on using fresh herbs in this way featuring chive blossom vinegar.
Spring Chive harvest - Using all parts to make Compound
butter and flavored vinegar

Compound or Herbal Butters

A great method for using fresh herbs is to make them into flavored butter. 

I've tried two techniques - 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fern Spore Patterns - Sori, sporangia arrangement

I call them spores but that's not right. Scientists would use the word sorus (pl. sori) which is a cluster of sporangia, which produce and contain spores in ferns and fungi. Spores of ferns are very small (perhaps 50 microns in diameter) so we don't see the spores per se - we see the sori (clusters). Sori form a yellowish or brownish mass on the edge or underside of a fertile frond.  Different ferns have different sorus patterns, the shape, arrangement, and location of sori are used in the identification of fern taxa.  It's also just darn fun to see all the different pattern - which I share here.
Sori may present themselves as a circular or linear form. The sori circles or lines may be arranged in neat rows, parallel or oblique to each other, or  be random. Their location may be at the edge of the frond or set away on the frond blade (flat portion) usually on the bottom side. Sometimes the sori is wrapped in a protective layer which impacts its color and texture.