Friday, August 24, 2012

Indoor plants and their effect on cleaner air

NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA)  collaborated in a joint study based on fifteen indoor plants.   Dr. Bill Wolverton, a former research scientist of NASA,  lead a team of researchers for two years testing house plants and their effect on removing indoor pollutants from homes and offices.

The three main pollutants present in homes and offices are the following:

  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Trichloroethylene
Where do these pollutants originate?  Our furnishings, office equipment and building materials.

  • Benzene found in gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics and rubber as well as in the manufacturing of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals and dyes.
  • Formaldehyde found in particle board, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), in consumer products treated with UF resins such as grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels.  These UF resins are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants and adhesive binders in floor coverings, carpet backings and permanent-press clothes.  In addition, formaldehyde is also in heating and cooking fuels like natural gas, kerosene and cigarette smoke.
Different plants help remove different pollutants.  Here is a listing of what each of the plants do:

  • English Ivy, Dracaena marginata "Janet Craig", Dracaena "Warneckei", Chrysanthemum, Gerbera Daisy and Peace lilies removes benzene.  Peace lilies also remove carbon monoxide from the air.
  • Philodendron, Spider plant, Golden Pothos, Bamboo palm, Corn plant, Chrysanthemum and Mother-in-law's tongue removes formaldehyde.
  • Gerbera Daisy, Chrysanthemum, Peace lily, Dracaena "Warneckei" and Dracaena marginata
Decorate your offices and homes with plants.  Now, I know what you are thinking, that you would probably kill the plant with forgetting to water it or not enough light.  Well, you are in luck. 

Low-light level--  Corn plant, Pothos, Bamboo Palm, Mother-in-law's tongue and Chinese Evergreens.  All these plants need for low-level light is a north-facing window or less than 50 foot candles.  This translates into two feet from a north-facing window from April to September or if using a south-facing window six to ten feet back from the window or one foot to the side April to September.

Medium-light level-- Dracaena, Philodendron, Peace lily all take 500 to 1,000 foot candles or two feet of a north-facing window from April to September and two to six feet back or one foot to the side of an east or west-facing window.

High-light level-- Spider plant, Chrysanthemum and Gerbera Daisy all take over a 1,000 foot candles or two feet from a south-facing window from October to March and two feet from an east or west-facing window all year.

Watering requirements for these plants is fairly easy.   Wait for the soil to become dry before watering again.  However, there are two exceptions to this general rule.  Philodendron likes to be  moist, but well drained.   You should reduce the water in winter with a Philodendron.  Chrysanthemum likes to be watered regularly and kept evenly moist. 

Fertilization requirements for these plants vary depending on light levels and their genetic make-up.    

Chrysanthemums need fertilization if there are no blooms on the plant.  Fertilize once every other week until blooms develop. 
Philodendrons are heavy feeders.  Fertilizing at half strength and feeding on a regular schedule will keep them healthy.
Spider plants need fertilizer every two months in high light and every three months in medium light.
Corn plants only need fertilization in spring and through the summer once or twice a month and then no fertilizer during the winter months.
Pothos require the same fertilization schedule as corn plants.
Dracaena plants require fertilization in spring and summer once or twice a month and then once a month in the fall and no fertilizer during the winter months.
Bamboo palms require fertilization in spring and continue through the fall.  Do this once a month and no fertilization in the winter.
Mother-in-law's tongue requires fertilization in spring through the fall and then no fertilization in the winter.
Peace lilies need a regular monthly fertilization throughout the year.  Brown spots on the leaves is an indication of over-fertilization.
Gerber daisies need a fertilization of every other week.  They can last up to six months indoors.
Chinese evergreens need a regular fertilization once a month from spring through fall and then no winter fertilization.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vegetable gardening in September and October

Tasks for September:

Harvesting!  Most vegetables are at their best for a short period of time.  This means the vegetables are palatable and have nutrition.  
  • Peas, corn, beans and cucumbers are at their best for a short time.Harvest peas when the pods are full.  Beans are harvested when the pods are tender.  This means do not let the beans get too large.  Corn should be in the milk stage.  Cucumbers are best when harvested at a small size. 
  • With radishes, beets, carrots and turnips, they should be picked also at a small size. 
  • Parsnip can be left in the ground for winter. 
  • If you have cauliflower, tie the leaves over top as soon as the head starts to form. 
  •  As for broccoli, as soon as the head is compact it is time to harvest.  Remember, light frosts improve the taste of your broccoli. 
  • If your summer squash is still growing, harvest when it is small and tender. If your endless Zucchini is still producing pick when the fruit is 6-8 inches long.  With winter squash and pumpkins, apply the thumb nail test before picking.  If your thumb nail can puncture the skin, your winter squash or pumpkins are not ready.
  • Don't forget how nutritious and delicious beet and turnip greens are.  
 A critical tip while harvesting your vegetables:

  • Cutting and bruising your vegetables will cause decay to occur faster.
  • Lettuce, radishes, tender carrots and greens can be crisped by plunging them into cold water immediately after harvesting.
Tasks for October:

Understanding storage conditions for your vegetables will keep your harvested vegetables from spoiling.   Store vegetables in a dark place.  Check frequently for spoilage.  Using a basement storage area or room and/or an outdoor storage cellar.

  • Harvest and store your root crops in October.
  • Clean the garden of any refuse such as leaves and stems.
  • Harvest and store pumpkins after the frost nips the vines and before the pumpkins are frosted.
  • Mulch your parsnips by placing a few inches of dirt or leaves over the row.
  • Onions can be stored in netted bags or on trays in outbuildings that do not get to freezing temperatures.

Critical tips for storing your vegetables:

  •  Keep a storage chart handy for vegetables and fruits.  Refer to a local Extension Service, they should have access to a chart for temperature and relative humidity requirements.
  • Correct temperatures for proper storage will lengthen the storage for your vegetables.  Purchase and outdoor thermostat for the storage area.
  • Correct humidity will maintain freshness and help prevent some of the shriveling.  Purchase a simple humidity gauge for the storage area.
Requirements for storage area:

  • Chose a place with at least one window for ventilation and with the ability to block out the light.
  • A basement with a furnace is good for ripening green tomatoes at 65 degrees, but not ideal for vegetable storage.
  • Store apples and pears in a separate area from vegetables since they release a large amount of ethylene gas.   Secondly, fruits absorb odors from vegetables such as potatoes and turnips.
Both fruits and vegetables can be stored on shelves or in wooden crates or boxes.  If you have flooring that will allow you to place an inch or two deep of sand, this will help you keep the humidity up.  You can moisten the sand on a regular basis.  A number of fruits and vegetables need 90 to 95% humidity.  Some fruits and vegetables that need this high humidity are as follows:

Apples, Apricots, Blackberries, Blueberries, Peaches, Peas, Sweet Peppers, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Corn, Cucumber to name a few.

Other Alternative Storage Methods:

A second refrigerator, an unheated garage are other areas to consider for storage.  In ground storage can take many forms including burying a metal or plastic garbage can with straw and plastic bags around the produce for insulation purposes and odor absorption.

This is all another type of food preservation to enjoy the "fruits" of your labors throughout the year and save on the grocery bill.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pear Tree - Pyrus calleryana 'Cleveland Select'

This tree is best used in restricted sites because of its narrow shape.  This is a more improved cultivar over the Bradford pear.  This cultivar is less prone to structural issues of poor branch unions. The very best thing about Cleveland pear trees they need little maintenance, but they do grow quickly. However, unlike their Bradford pear tree predecessors, they seem to be able to handle snowstorms and high winds.  

This Cleveland Select is a somewhat drought tolerant tree.  For the most part, they have deep roots, but they can also be somewhat laterally spreading.   It is frost hardy and disease resistant.  It prefers fertile and well drained sites.  It can tolerate  both acidic and akaline soil conditions with an occasional flooding.  Pyrus calleryana is in the Rosaceae Family.  They are hardy to zone 5. 

Cleveland pear trees grow to a height of 30 feet.  They will grow about four feet per year.  However, on the eastern plains, they may do that in a very wet growing season.  They have an oval shape and are an excellent shade tree from spring through fall.  For fall color, they have a nice red coloration.  In the spring the tree comes to life with white blossoms. 

As an added benefit, these trees tolerate urban conditions and adapt to coastal conditions.  Give this new cultivar Cleveland Select a try.