The New York Botanical Garden is a museum of plants, an educational institution, and a scientific research organization. Founded in 1891 and now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. http://www.nybg.org/
Soil isn’t just dirt. It’s rich microbial ecosystems integral to the life that grows above. In the Great Plains, these ecosystems have been almost entirely wiped out: as tallgrass prairies were converted to farmland, soil composition changed, too. The microbial relationships that sustained one of Earth’s great biomes were lost to time. Yet a few prairie fragments remain; by taking DNA samples from their soils, researchers reconstructed this vanished underground world.
Citation: “Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States.” By Noah Fierer, Joshua Ladau, Jose C. Clemente, Jonathan W. Leff, Sarah M. Owens, Katherine S. Pollard, Rob Knight, Jack A. Gilbert, Rebecca L. McCulley. Science, Vol. 342 No. 6158, 1 November 2013
Key takeaway here: Biomes or ecosystems can go extinct, just like animal and plant species.
Champagne owes much of its allure to its tiny bubbles. Unlike other wines, champagne undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, during which the yeasts in the wine consume sugars and produce carbon dioxide, which dissolves into the wine. When opened, the carbon dioxide can begin to escape. Bubbles form in the glass around imperfections, either due to intentional etching of the glass or impurities left behind by cleaning. Once formed, trails of bubbles rise to the surface, swelling as more dissolved carbon dioxide is absorbed into each bubble. The bubbles then cluster near the surface of the champagne, occasionally popping and creating a flower-like distortion of the surrounding bubbles. The gases within the bubbles contains higher concentrations of aromatic chemicals than the surrounding wine, and the bursting of each bubble propels tiny droplets of these aromatics upwards, carrying the scent of the champagne to the drinker. For more beautiful champagne photos, I recommend this LuxeryCulture article; for more on the science of champagne, see Chemistry World’s coverage. Happy 2014! (Image credits: G. Liger-Belair et al.)
"Bussmann’s work to develop crops from Plukenetia species seems to go beyond the traditional role of a scientist. But Ina Vandebroek, an ethnobotanist at the New York Botanical Garden, says that it is typical of the field. “Ethnobotanists should also have a social responsibility. Our task is not just to record knowledge and publish it in science papers, but to give something back to the people you are working with.” Crop development can be one way to do that."
Diversity, it seems, really is everything. In this very interesting article from The Economist reporting on a study featuring the work of 50 researchers and published in Science, the researchers have found that if you want more flowers and fruit, you need to increase the diversity of your pollinator population. The researchers looked at a wide range of crops, 41 in total with a diversity of flower shapes and sizes. Those crops pollinated by managed hives of honeybees had smaller fruit and later fruit set, while those pollinated by a diversity of insects including bees, beetles, and butterflies got better yields, up to twice as much! The researchers think that the difference in shapes and sizes of the insects help spread the pollen more effectively and increase cross-pollination. Just another case of monocultures in agriculture being a not-so-good thing. Variety, it seems, is indeed the spice of life, even for plants. ~AR
This is one of those stories that I see somewhere and think “wow, this would be great on the Tumblr!” and then I read it and I want to run home and hide and never eat anything but food I have grown myself ever again. Aspergillus flavus is a mold that thrives in hot, dry weather, just like last year’s epic drought in the U.S. It has rendered huge portions of corn crops unsaleable; just the equivalent of 100 kernels per truckload of corn turns the whole lot into garbage. This is a very real and very scary threat. Read at your own risk. ~AR
Mad science or madly delicious? Perhaps you’ve heard of the fruit salad tree, and thought to yourself, “Someone’s messing with me.”
It’s the real deal, even if that image is Photoshopped to all get-out. Growers have been creating incongruous fruit tree combos for ages now, using grafting techniques to produce trees with, for example, the roots of a lemon and branches that produce both grapefruits and oranges.
The method behind the madness isn’t all that bizarre. Tree grafting has been a common practice in China since at least 2000 BC, and seems to have spread from there. In agriculture, the technique usually involves taking a plant selected for its sturdy and resistant root system (the “rootstock”) and joining it with a plant selected for its fruits, leaves, or branches (the “scion”). Once the vascular systems of the two plants join, you have a result with all the benefits of both contributors; in the case of the fruit salad tree, the practice is taken to something of an extreme.
That’s just a simplified explanation, of course, and there are some limitations. Read on before attempting to splice an oak that doles out watermelons, lest ye be disappointed. —MN
- New York State is the second largest producer of wine after California.
- New York produces the most cottage cheese and sour cream of any of the fifty states.
- The average New York farm is less than 200 acres. The national average is twice that.
- Pumpkins were the 18th-largest commodity in 2010 with sales of $35 million.
And that’s just the start. The next time you run into a farmer, thank them. They do a lot of hard work and have a huge economic impact on our great state. So raise a toast to New York’s farmers the next time you sip a glass of Long Island Meritage or dig into a pot of Greek yogurt! ~AR
Researcher Ann Powell at University of California, Davis, and colleagues have pinpointed the molecular changes responsible for the “uniform ripening” trait of many modern tomatoes. These changes also reduce the fruit’s sugar content. For about 70 years, breeders have selected tomato…
It’s true: prettier doesn’t mean better. Thankfully, there are small farmers and seed distributors keeping the art—and taste—of the tomato alive. It’s all about heirloom varieties! If you’re aiming to find out what this plump red fruit used to offer in terms of taste, look for the unusual, often lumpy or even ugly tomatoes that you might otherwise think a novelty—the Beefsteaks, Brandywines, and Cherokee Purples. They’re harder to find, and almost certainly more expensive, but worth the extra effort. —MN
At 40,000 square feet, the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in Long Island City is the largest of its kind. Anywhere. But the folks behind its growing success have decided that such an enormous space still doesn’t stand up under their ambitions.
To hold onto their title, the Grange has recently decided to expand to a rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, adding more than 45,000 square feet to their current holdings. That’s a heap of vegetables if ever a heap there were.
New exhibition at the National Archives looks at the history of gardening and cooking in America as the country moved from rural and agricultural to urban and consumer. “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” is on view in Washington, D.C. through January 3, 2012.