Monday, April 27, 2009

FYI: Carbon Containment

Growing grasses helps prevent the build up of gasses.

Glomalin, a substance excreted by soil fungi, holds soil particles together, helps distribute water and nutrients to roots, and stores 27 % of the soil's carbon.

Growing cover crops increases the glomalin content in the soil. High-phosphorus fertilizers and excessive tilling deplete it. USDA microbiologist Kristine Nichols has found that warm-season grasses like switchgrass produce more glomalin then cool-season or annual grasses.Switchgrass, under review for biofuel production, stores large amounts of carbon deep in the soil, preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere. *

*Organic Gardening Magazine

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Soil Testing

Is it really important to test your soil? I hear this question often.
A soil test will help you to determine the 'plant available' nutrients in your soil, the soil pH, and the toxicity levels (if any) in your soil.
Soil testing is the process by which elements are chemically removed from the soil and measured for their 'plant available' content within that sample. These nutrients are phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc, their quantity in the sample determines what kind and how much fertilizer is recommended.

Testing your soil will also help you to measure the soil pH, which will determine whether your soil is alkaline or acidic. This is important to your plants because at various soil pH levels, nutrients become more or less 'available'.

Finally, soil testing can help you determine whether youe soil is contaminated or contains potentially toxic materials. This is essential if your are going to plant food crops in your garden, since plants will absorb these toxins that you will eventually ingest.

Brooklyn College has an affordable soil testing service which is offered as part of the College's commitment to community. Listed below are the tests available from Brooklyn College, what they measure and their cost.

Toxic Metals - $20
Samples are analyzed for 5 toxic metals:
Lead (Pb)
Chromium (Cr)
Arsenic (As)
Cadmium (Cd)
Mercury (Hg)

Standard Nutrients - $12
Samples are analyzed for major and micro nutrients including:
Calcium (Ca)
Magnesium (Mg)
Phosphorus (P)
Potassium (K)
Manganese (Mn)
Copper (Cu)
Zinc (Zn)
Iron (Fe)

Soil pH - $5

Soluble Salts - $5

Organic Matter Content - $8

Soil Texture Analysis - $12

Visit the Brooklyn College website:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Narcissus...a thing of beauty?

from Echo and Narcissus, John Williams Waterhouse

The tale of Narcissus and Echo varies from the Hellenic to the Roman to the Pausanias' version, but they all share in common the fact that Narcissus was consumed with his own beauty. It has been told, that Narcissus spurned all his suitors, including Echo, and eventually fell in love with his reflection in a pool. Realizing he could not act upon this love, he perished and where his body laid the Narcissus flower grew. It is said to this day that the Narcissus continues to gaze upon his reflection in the water...

It is no wonder why the Narcissus, or Daffodil as it is commonly called, is still such a beloved and popular flower today. Their bright golden flowers are one of the first signs of spring. If you have noticed as you make your way around the city, there are pockets of bright, cheery daffodils from Harlem all the way down to Battery City.

All daffodil species are native to the Mediterranean region, including Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. While there are around 60 species that easily hybridize, they have produced hundreds of cultivated varieties available today. For more information on Daffodils and their classifications, I suggest Daffodils for American Gardens, Brent and Becky Heath, Elliott and Clark Publishing, 1995; which is available at the HSNY Library.

I have chosen a handful of narcissi mainly for their intoxicating fragrance, but also because of their smaller size, which makes them perfect for containers as well as borders in smaller urban gardens. The smaller size of these daffodils makes them much less noticable than their top heavy cousins, as they begin to fade and die. They will quickly be hidden by the growth of surrounding vegatation as summer nears.

Narcissus canaliculatus
Little tazetta-type, sweetly fragrant flowers per stem; white petals and golden cups which prefer to be bake in the warm summer sun; forces like a Paper White; performs in the garden best in zones 6-10; 4"-6"; early-midseason.

Narcissus albus plenus odoratus
An old favorite Heirloom that has been moved to this division from division 13; lovely, all white, fragrant, gardenia-like double which performs best in cooler climates; 12"-14"; zones 3-7; very late spring

Narcissus 'Baby Moon'
Jonquilla; a golden yellow, multiflowered clone of species N. jonquilla, with grasslike foliage and nickel to quarter sized, sweetly scented flowers; variable in height; late spring; 4"-8".

Narcissus 'Grand Soleil d'Or'
Beautifully formed, golden yellow petals with an orange cup; takes longer to force than others and often produces fewer flowers, but its wonderful, delicate, sweet fragrance makes up for it! 12"-14".

Narcissus 'Kendron' American bred by Willis Wheeler and one that we sent to Holland many years ago to be increased; several vivid orange cups 'bleed' their color into the rich bronzy yellow, perfectly formed petals of this lusciously fragrant flower; 12"-15"; mid spring; 12/14cm bulbs.

Happy Spring everyone!

For more information on Daffodil varieties and where to order them please visit...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Exotic Plant?

Dear George,
I came across your site whilst searching for some information about this plant (I hope you can open the attachment). I can't find a similar picture on the internet, and the lady who sold it to me (in a rather upmarket shop in town) yesterday didn't know the exact name (but muttered it could be from a family beginning with Ga...?). I gave it as a present to our local priest today, who really appreciated it and said it's going in their Easter garden, but I would like to let him know what it is..

I was told it doesn't like direct sunlight, only partial shade, but no tips as to watering / feeding. Because the leaves are cactus-like I would assume it doesn't want too much water. A lady I bumped into at the supermarket, after asking me where I got it from, suggested it might like to draw its own (lukewarm) water from a saucer.

I don't know anything about plants, and I've never come across this particular specimen during my travels. Could it be from Thailand? And, most importantly, is it safe to have around?

Any help would be really appreciated.

Thank you for your time and best wishes

Alessia, London (UK)


Greetings from across the pond.....

What you have is a Bromeliad, the botanical name is Aechmea ‘Blue tango’. This is a man-made cultivar, which means it doesn’t exist in nature.
Here is some culture on these plants…..

Their native soil is Middle and South America. They thrive in the lowlands of the tropical forests and even in some higher regions (up to 4000 m) of Sierra Madre and the Andes.

They thrive in different climate zones: tropical and monsoon climate of the rainforests, subtropical savannah climate with dry period either during summer or winter, subtropical steppe climate and subtropical highland savannah climate.

It is important to know the climate zone of origin of certain bromeliad, as you will be able to offer your plant convenient conditions.

Bromeliads are epiphytes. They do not drain the host tree, they are simply attached to the rough bark of the trunk or branches. They grow high in the tree crowns to bath in the shaded light. Some thrive even on the ground. They gather rainwater with all necessary nutrients in their specially shaped leaf rosettes. Some sorts that thrive in wet regions regulate the quantity of water with special sucking scales on the rosette leaves that open or close according to the needs. Sorts from the dry regions do not have distinctive rosettes, instead their surface is covered in scales that prevent vaporization.

Bromeliads flower only once in a lifetime. After the flowering the parent plant slowly dies, but new sprouts that appear around it continue the life.. We can transplant these sprouts in their own flowerpots filled with special soil mixture for bromeliaed. Bromeliads should flower in 2-3 years provided with appropriate temperature, humidity and enough light. We recommend buying the plant that is close to its flowering period.*

I hope this helps you and enjoy your lovely bromeliad.