Thursday, May 22, 2008

Read your fruit

You know those little sticky labels on your fruit, the things you have to remember to peel off or they get annoyingly stuck between your teeth? The ones with a little number on them? Ever wonder what the little number is for?

Those are PLU numbers -- product look-up numbers. They're 4-digit numbers established by the International Federation for Produce Coding, and each number corresponds to a particular kind of fruit. The grocery store codes them into the price scanning system, so all the clerk has to do is type in the number and voila, the system spits out the price-per-pound of your navel oranges or Bosc pears.
Every now and then, however, you may run across a 5-digit number, and that's where things get a little more interesting. If the first digit is a 9, that's a code for organic produce. They get their own special digit because, as we all know, the stuff costs more so the organic Gala apples get a higher price in the system than the grown-with-pesticides Gala apples. If the first digit of the 5-digit number is an 8, what you've got is genetically-modified produce. So if that's an important bit of information to you, now you know.

Many of the 4-digit codes are listed on the Fruit Labels Site, which is a site for people who collect those pesky little stickers as a hobby. Wow, who knew?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gardeners doing their bit for science

So what's up with your garden? Are plants blooming early or late or right on time? What kinds of trends are the gardeners in your area seeing?

Project Bud Burst wants to know!

The deal is, the only way that climatologists botanists and horticulturalists can track the effects of global climate change on the plants of this world is with good, solid data. But the quantity of data needed is so huge that both the time and expense would be astronomical.

That's where gardeners come in. After all, we do sometimes get just a wee bit obsessive as we eagerly anticipate the first blossoms on our prize helebore, or peer intently at the buds on the winter-damaged Cecil Brunner rose and wonder if there's still a bit of life left in it, if maybe its buds will open again this year.

What Project Bud Burst wants is for people everywhere to watch one or more types of plants in their gardens, parks, or nearby wild areas and report on things like first bud burst or first blossom. With a huge database of reports like that gathered from many places over many years, the statisticians can go to work on the data and report any trends they see.

Remember, we're dealing with global climate change. Calling it "global warming" oversimplifies the case. It's a matter of more energy going into the system, and the results can be unexpected. The more data the scientists have, the better they can understand what's going on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How hot was it?

As measured by the household kitty thermometer, it was THIS hot:

Not quite a month ago, it was snowing. This weekend, the temperatures soared into the 90's. All around the garden, plant leaves were hanging limp in spite of moist soils simply because the plants weren't prepared for the sudden heat and couldn't pump water fast enough. By this coming Wednesday, however, temperatures should drop into the 60's. Maybe we'll get a spot of rain to dampen things down again.

Field Trip! Forest Wild Flowers

I have a not-so-attractive sloping, shady strip on the north side of my house, where I've been slowly removing the vinca and mulching it over in preparation for turning it into a shady woodland garden full of native plants. So it was all I could do to restrain myself from sharpening a stick into a digging implement and digging up a whole bunch of the beautiful plants that I saw last Thursday out in the McDonald-Dunn Forest.

I was leading a field trip for a biology lab, where students were to go out with tape measures and plant guides and do some basic vegetative survey. As I trotted up and down the trail, supervising the students at work (okay, mostly work -- one student decided it was a good time to chat with someone on his cell phone), I snapped some pictures of some of the forest plants.

There was, of course, a particularly noxious hazard to contend with: Poison-oak. It was everywhere, both in its "don't mind me, I'm not really here" small shrubby form, and it its enthusiastic vining form, scrambling up tree trunks.

On a prettier note, there's the lovely yellow Wood Violet, also called the Pioneer violet (Viola glabella):
Vanilla leaf (Achlys tryphylla) was in bloom:
Pathfinder (Adenocaulon bicolor) is an interesting specimen. Normally it has these arrow-shaped dark green leaves like this:
but if someone walks through a patch of it, some of the leaves flip over, leaving white arrows pointing the way the person walked:

The leaves of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) are more interesting than its spike of inconspicuous white flowers. This native orchid wasn't in bloom quite yet.
Solomon's seal (Smilacina racemosa) has such terrific foliage that it makes a great woodland plant even when it's not in bloom. The white plume is lovely, too.

Trillium ovatum has white petals when it opens, but the petals turn purple as the flower ages:

And the best of all, spotted at the very end of the trek, tiny and barely noticeable in the foliage: Calypso bulbosa, the pretty little Calypso orchid, barely two inches from the ground to the tips of its petals:

Arbor Day tree plant

Doing a bit of catch-up here. The end of the term has been a bit of a bear, what with projects coming in, exams to write, and grading to be done.

Nevertheless I did get out two weekends ago to assist with a tree-planting project in Monmouth a couple of weekends ago. I'd offered some extra credit for my students if they joined in the fun, too, but alas, while several students showed up, none of them were mine. And college students were outnumbered by eager young Cub Scouts, who set the proper example of public service.

Gentle Woods Park on the edge of town was the destination. In the course of the morning we planted about ten trees, some of them flowering cherries, some native Ash. They'll be watered and cared for by park staff until they're established.

More trees for fixing carbon and providing habitat. Excellent.