Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World

Link: Plants do some very clever things.

Biologists are just now coming to the conclusion that plants are kind of intelligent, in a green growing thing kind of way:

To make smart choices, plant genes must take in multiple cues from their environment – light, temperature, moisture, gravity, etc. – and assemble them into a meaningful whole. That’s a rudimentary version of the way an animal’s brain integrates various signals from its eyes, ears, fingers and stomachs.

The article cites several examples of intelligent activity. I found this one kind of interesting:

When a plant is blown by the wind, flipped over or its roots are disturbed by an animal, specific genes responsible for keeping the plant stable” and roots growing respond very quickly, often within one minute of the disturbance…

I personally believe in talking to plants — I stand over mine in an intimidating manner and yell, “Grow!!! Grow!!!”. But after reading this article, I think I’ll give that up and just start blowing on them.

Continue reading “Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World”

A closer look

Here’s a closer look at some of my jungle:

Red morning glories screen the roof of the revue theatre next door, and stop the wind from blasting across the deck.


Along the south-east corner of the deck, a nice crop of jalapeno peppers, red peppers and eggplant (not shown), and a bright mixture of nasturtiums. They’re doing extremely well, dying back when the weather get hot, and then perking right back up again when it turns cool.

Speaking of peppers, my neighbour gave me two “Scotch Bonnet” hot peppers plants. His mother brought them over for him from Trinidad, but he thought I could give them a much better home than he could.  After an iffy start (I didn’t plant them immediately and they spent a day exposed to the hot sun in a little plastic bag) they now seem to be established in their new home. My neighbour tells me that Scotch Bonnet peppers are about as hot as peppers can get.

The old rose seedling that I collected from that old pioneer graveyard in Burlington has done very well this year, lots of new growth and no sign of disease. No sign of flowers either, but it’s still a young’un. I’m fretting a bit over what to do with this rose over the winter, because I don’t think it will survive in the container — the roots will freeze solid. I may ask my friend Deb if I can plant it in her backyard this fall, and dig it back up again in the spring.


My Staghorn Fern has loved it’s summer holiday outdoors, and has rewarded me with lots of new growth. It has more than doubled in size over the last couple of months. The fairies are dressed up, I figure the tiara and magic wand look better on her than on me. The racoon likes to knock the magic wand out of the Queen Fairy’s hand almost every night, and the fairies STILL haven’t turned him into a toad. There are two little plants sitting in the water, both gifts from my friends Atilla and Anne. I can’t remember what they’re called (some kind of plant-of-the-year some time back, according to my friends), but after a visit to a nursery I learned that they are bog plants, so I wrapped their roots and a bit of soil in an old nylon stocking and stuck them in. They are much happier now.

IMG_0644Finally, a picture of the racoon fortifications around my orchid stand. I wrapped what’s left of the tattered cover over top of the chicken wire each night. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am finally frustrating the old fatso, because each morning there’s a big dent in the top of the chicken wire where he’s tried in vain to break through.

A kind and liberal spirit should be encouraged

This is a find: Cultivating Canadian gardens: the history of gardening in Canada. Some interesting tidbits from the site:

“The Hurons were particularly adept farmers. By the time the Europeans arrived, they were working large acreages, devoted for the most part to their major crops, the “three sisters”  –  maize (corn, Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and squash (Cucurbita pepo)…”

“When the Europeans arrived, the aboriginal gardeners passed on their knowledge of indigenous plants, including how to render sweet sap from the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) into syrup and sugar. They, in turn, adopted many of the new seeds and fruit trees brought by the immigrants. ”

“The Huron used a slash-and-burn method of agriculture which rapidly depleted the soil, requiring them to move every few years. ”

“When the United Empire Loyalists arrived in Upper Canada, the Hurons introduced them to the Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), a member of the sunflower family. Its roots were eaten as a substitute for potatoes and saw many immigrants through the early, hungry years.”

“As early as the 1670s, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s northern forts planted gardens with seeds sent from England. The greens especially (mustard sprouts, radish and turnip tops, and cabbages) were an important addition to the diet of the men who often suffered from scurvy.”

“The walled garden at the St. Sulpician Seminary on Notre Dame Street in Montreal, dating from the 1680s, is the oldest garden existing in Canada…”

I love this quote from Catherine Parr Traill, 1857:

“If you have more than a sufficiency for yourself do not begrudge a friend a share of your superfluous garden seeds. In a new country like Canada a kind and liberal spirit should be encouraged.”

Amen, sister.

Balcony Garden Update

The eggplant and green peppers are doing well in their planters. Now that the serious summer heat and humidity is here, they’re growing quickly. I’m sure they have doubled in size in the last two weeks.

The Queen of the Night plant (epiphyllum oxypetallum) is a weird looking thing. I keep chopping it back whenever it sends up a stick that never seems to stop growing.
Notice the maidenhair fern that is also growing in the pot. They’re volunteers, and testament to the fact that there’s some kind of symbiotic relationship with plants and soil fungus. I have had no luck keeping maidenhair fern alive in pots with ordinary potting soil; the mother plant has died despite all my efforts. The aged bark mixture that the Queen of the Night is growing in seems to provide exactly the right conditions for the spores of the fern to germinate and grow. I found the babies in the pot this past winter, and decided to leave them alone.

Another inhabitant of this plant is some Spanish Moss. It loves the humidity and is continuing to grow just hanging there on one of the “branches” of the plant.

Here’s a pic of one of the two flower buds on the Queen of the Night (the location is shown with a yellow arrow in the larger picture). It’s about an inch long. In the next 4 to 5 weeks it will continue to lengthen, curve up, and then one night in the wee hours, a spectacular fragant flower will pop open. It’s quite an event.

For anyone who’s ever wondered what sweet potatos (or yams — I can’t tell the difference) look like, here you go. I had no idea what to expect. A couple of months ago I had a tuber on the counter that started to bud, so I thought “what the heck”, cut out the eyes, and threw them in one of my big containers. It seems to be a vine. It’ll be interested to watch as it grows — I’ve never seen a sweet potato plant before. I wonder if it’s growing more yummy yams for me underground.
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A new balcony and a pesky raccoon

Catch up time, it’s been a while since I last posted.

Lots of news. Over the weekend our fantastic landlord and his uncle finished off the roof on the deck. When I first heard of the roof idea, I wasn’t too pleased — I imagined that would be the end of growing vegetables, since the sun would be cut off. Fortunately, “Uncle” is an avid gardener too. They put up clear plexiglass panels, and as Uncle explained, the light will come through, but the worst of the UV rays and any frost would be warded off (not to mention the rain). I was completely won over as I barbequed chicken on the deck tonight, and listened to the rain pelt the roof over my head. Such a comforting sound, and air smelled clean and sweet (well, except for the smoke from my chicken leg flambe).

Uncle shared more of his hard-won garden wisdom. Together we inspected my fledgling vegetable crop, and in very broken English, he explained that rather than cut off the entire head of lettuce for a salad, I could simply pick off the leaves as I needed them. The plant will continue to grow. Why didn’t I think of that?? He also explained how to propagate rose bushes, and made it sound very easy. He told me to break (not cut) a good sized branch, plunge 3/4 of it into soil, and by spring the new plant would be rooted and budding. Easier said than done, I think.

I may be giving it a try, in any event. On Sunday we took a hike up Walker’s Line, and dropped into a very old graveyard near the trail head. In years past the blooms on a magnificent old rose have always caught my eye…double pink blooms and very fragant, and huge. Over the years the bush, which was probably originally planted on a grave, has taken over an entire section of the graveyard and has reseeded freely in a neighbouring meadow. I figured if I could find the original grave marker, I would learn approximately how old the rose really was. It took some courage, more than a few scratches, and some determined rooting to find it — an old white stone marker buried deep in the rose bush, dated 1895. I dug up a couple of seedlings and hope that I can get them to grow on my deck garden, at least for a while.

Yesterday was a warm day, and with the deck finally finished (and a whopping hydro bill waiting to be paid), I decided it was time to move all my orchids and indoor plants outside, and turn off the 1000W grow light and humidifier. It took hours of work to arrange everything to my liking, and to clean up the mess left over in the grow room. By late evening I was very satisfied with my efforts, and dragged Laird outside to admire the new decor.

Alas, I’m off to a bad start. Mr. Racoon paid an inspection visit last night, and apparently didn’t like what he saw. He knocked pots off shelves, dug plants out of pots and flung them around the deck, tromped carelessly in my big planters, and washed something disgusting in my fairy fountain. He managed to get into the garbage cans, and showed his displeasure at not being able to get into the worm bins by knocking everything around it to the ground. The bugger. I can’t wait until the vegetables start coming out. It could be war.

The only consolation is that I wasn’t singled out. This morning, as I grumbled in my nightie and started picking up after the bastard, I heard my neighbour on the deck below doing the same thing.

Now, it’s turned cold again and the high later this week will only be 10C. I don’t know if my orchids will stand up to all the stress. They’re going to have to — I’m not dragging them all back inside two days after taking them out! If they die I may switch to cactus plants. That’ll even the score with that raccoon.

Seeds of Diversity

Today some interesting mail arrived for a change — which means, it was neither junk nor a bill. It was my membership package for Seeds of Diversity, a non-profit group made up of gardeners who save and trade heritage or endangered varieties of of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Inside was a thick catalogue called the “Seed Exchange Directory”, listing member contact information and the varieties of seed each member has available. All you have to do is send someone who has the seeds you want a self-addressed envelope and $1 for each type of seed. Some member will even accept Canadian Tire money. The deal is that you have to save some of the seeds from your own harvest, and offer them in the directory next year.

Knowing this, I spent $8 for another booklet, also enclosed, entitled “How to Save Your Own Vegetable Seeds”. It may sound straightforward in principle to save seed, but I’ve never actually tried to collect it from carrot or lettuce or spinach. I don’t think I even know what the flowers look like!! Actually, the booklet is quite interesting. It shows you how to pollinate your own vegetables, and how to prevent accidental cross-pollination so that you can keep the varieties pure. Of course, I don’t suppose I’ll have any accidental cross-pollination of vegetables on my second storey deck in the middle of downtown Toronto. Unless an intrepid bumblebee makes the trek straight from the community garden in High Park to my door. Doubt it. Even I can’t make that trip without stopping to smell the flowers a couple of times along the way.

In keeping with my active fantasy life (or more optimistically, to prepare me for the future), I also ordered (and received) a booklet called “Selling Heritage Crops”. You never know….maybe I could set up a fruit and vegetable stand in front of the movie theatre next door.

The January 2003 edition of the Seeds of Diversity magazine was also enclosed. Plenty of reading material for a warm Saturday afternoon on the deck, while I wait for my seeds to grow.