Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project

great sunflower project
Over the last week or so, I've been working to source good quality seeds and create sunflower growing instructions and graphics for The Great Sunflower Project. This fascinating and ambitious "citizen science" project was founded and is directed by Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn, a conservation biologist and associate professor at San Francisco State University. She is particularly interested in the effects of climate change on bee communities and this project is creating data to help understand what is happening to the bee pollinators in all the different bee species, focusing on urban and semi-urban areas.
Here's how Dr. LeBuhn describes the background of the project for participants:
great sunflower project"We know that pollinators are declining in certain wild and many agricultural landscapes. However, little is known about urban pollinators. Because natural habitats are uncommon in urban landscapes, they may not provide enough resources to support viable pollinator communities. However, if other habitats, such as urban gardens and restored areas, are sufficiently connected to natural habitat, then native populations may thrive.
By finding a way to track and value the goods and services provided by natural ecosystems, we will find a future in which conservation is not a luxury but a guiding principle of daily decision-making throughout the world. The data you collect from your sunflower will be a start. It will provide an insight into how our green spaces in the urban, suburban and rural landscapes are connected as well as shedding light on how to help pollinators. The Great Sunflower Project is the first step."
great sunflower projectThe Project works by sending a sunflower seed packet to all the individual volunteers who sign up on The Great Sunflower Website to get one and agree to collect data on the bees attracted by the flowers. I'm pleased and proud to have been selected to write the packet to ensure growing success and provide the sunflower seeds for The Sunflower Project' s 2009 seed packet. When the these seeds are sown, grow and flower, the volunteers will be observing and reporting on the bees that visit them, using standardized data sheets that are then sent back to the Project for analysis.
Currently, 40,000 American and Canadian volunteers ranging from preschoolers to master gardeners and from rural, suburban and metropolitan locations are participating.
great sunflower projectWith the help of her students Fern Canton and Shannon Messerly, Dr. LeBuhn is looking forward to getting a wide range of data about urban bee populations that would not otherwise be available: "We have grown a ‘virtual’ community of teachers, community gardeners, nature center staff, beekeepers, pollinator enthusiasts, retirees, home schooling groups and parents interested in participating in a project with their children. If everyone plants seeds this year, we will have sunflower samples from the Arctic Circle to the tip of Florida and west to Hawaii and east to Puerto Rico!"

You can see a map with about 25,000 of the locations on the Great Sunflower Project Website http://www.greatsunflower.org/

great sunflower projectLast year, the project had the misfortune to use a sunflower species from another seed company that didn't germinate at all well and was very disappointing. This season, Dr. LeBuhn came to me looking for a sunflower that was produces pollen, has multiple flower heads and was easy to grow and attractive. I settled on a wonderful old-fashioned variety called "Lemon Queen" and have written the packet back expressly for beginning gardeners since many of the folks who are participating in the project haven't had much garden experience. Today I finally sent the packets off to the printer to start things rolling and ordered the seeds to be shipped for filling the packets once they are produced.

great sunflower projectIn addition to personally contributing in building an important database about bees, participants can really learn about both honey bees and lesser-known native species. Besides, it's really fun to be part of a big effort like this! I'd like to encourage everybody to go to their website and sign up to do this project! We will plan to have a great big row of Lemon Queen in our trial gardens this year. This is an interesting and serendipitous way to find a new variety, but if all goes well, we'll probably also add Lemon Queen to Renee's Garden in 2010.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's celebration and salad

new year's costume as photographed by kevin osborn Here is my New Year's portrait -- I expect it needs a little explaination: I belong to a group of 10 friends who have been getting together to celebrate New Year's Eve together at each other's houses for at least the last decade or so.
We have a fine dinner together and then spend the evening pnew year's costume as photographed by kevin osbornlaying everyone's favorite board games and occasionally, even old-fashioned ones like charades. (My favorite!) Our website photographer Karen and her husband Bob are part of the group and instituted a costume theme every year because that gives them an excuse to take pictures of everyone. new year's costume as photographed by kevin osborn

This year the theme was masks and I'm afraid mine was the least elaborate and store-bought at the last minute. My only excuse is that I don't consider myself particularly artistic or crafty -- but I'm fortunate that many of my friends have both of those talents, and their masks were homemade and really fun. Here are a few of my favorites taken by photographer Kevin Osborn.

beautiful red cold weather lettuceAs always, I brought the salad for our meal. Despite the fact that we've had lots of frost with temperatures well below freezing at night, my lettuce beds are in a protected spot and my Blush Batavian lettuces and Escarole look great and are especially crisp. I also have the most incredible deep, deep dark red new lettuce variety that I will be introducing next year. I really want to call it "Blood Lust” - but I think that might be a little over the top. Maybe "Passion" would do. We'll be growing it again in spring, so I'll see what inspires me then.

In a large stainless steel bowl I bought from the restaurant supply, I combined 2 heads of the light green and deep green leaves with 2 heads of the gorgeous deep red ones. Then I put in a hefty handful of finely chopped chives and approx. 2 cups of chopped Italian plain leaf parsley from the garden (the cold weather really makes the parsley sweet , it's SO good for you). From the store, I had a long English cucumber to slice thinly into the bowl and then peeled and cut 2 blood oranges and 2 regular Navel oranges into small 2 inch chunks. Finally, I added about 2 1/2 cups of freshly toasted walnut pieces and sprinkled 2 pomegranates' yields of ruby- colored sweet/ tart pomegranate seeds over the top. This New Year's salad was as colorful as the holiday, tasted seasonally perfect and served 10 big eaters comfortably.

I can recommend my standard homemade vinaigrette to go with it: 3/4 of a cup of good-quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup (not too sweet) good quality balsamic or unseasoned rice vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 smashed garlic clove, a good pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and several good grindings of fresh pepper. This time, I also added approx. 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice and a little orange zest. Cover container and shake well and allow to blend for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. Freshly made vinaigrette is so much better than any kind of bottled dressing that once you try it you won't go back.

gifts for gardeners garden supply catalogLast post, I profiled three of my favorite things to give his garden gifts but I forgot to mention one of my favorite garden supplies catalog companies - Gardeners Supply Company (http://www.gardeners.com/). It’s important to know about if you don't have a good source of seed starting supplies anywhere nearby or aren't sure what's available. They carry a variety of all the critical equipment needed (as well as all kinds of gadgets) for folks who garden from seed. I particularly recommend looking at their indoor seed starting equipment which is often hard to find. They've been in business a good long time and know their stuff. If you ever are in Burlington, Vermont, they have a great retail store there as well.

This company was started by Will Rapp, I think in the mid-80s. When I first was getting started in the catalog business, I called him up out of the blue (he was on a different side of the country and didn't have any idea of who the voice on the other end of the phone was) and asked for his help in how to design and mail catalogs effectively. He was most generous with excellent advice and played an important role in getting me started. I have always been very grateful to him and had a soft spot for his business.

Will has also been instrumental in developing many innovative demonstration projects in ecological farming and gardening in the area next to his business. One of the most fascinating I remember seeing at his location in Burlington was a demonstration of how energy can be derived from methane produced by dairy cows!
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