Thursday, April 24, 2008

Seed Starting #1 - To My Son in Azerbaijan

Use Small Containers First

Start your seeds in small containers, such as yogurt, cottage cheese containers, or a milk carton, laid on its side (about 5cm deep), with the opposite side cut off (staple closed the end that was opened). Some people use egg cartons (expect to transplant quite quickly from such a small container). Make sure you put one or more holes, about half a centimeter in diameter, in the bottom of all these containers. If the holes are too big soil will fall out.

Egg and milk cartons, almost ready for seeds

Prepare the Containers for Sowing

Put newspapers or plastic on your table. Makes clean up much easier.
Fill pots or flats to the top with your potting mixture and firm the soil and level the surface (a flat-bottomed cup or glass work well for this). Water the soil and allow it to drain thoroughly before sowing the seeds. I like to let it sit in a larger container that has water in it, so that the water soaks up from the bottom. That way you are sure to have the entire soil mass wet. This is important, as the soil can be difficult to get wet. You want there to be about .5cm of space above the soil.

Label your containers. If they becomes mixed up you can send me pics later and I can ID them.

Sowing Seeds

Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the damp soil and cover with a very thin layer of soil. In a egg carton compartment put 2-3 seeds. In a milk carton, put a group of 2 or 3 every couple of inches. Firm the soil. It is important the the seeds have good contact with the soil. The top layer of soil should absorb moisture from the layer below. If possible, continue to water from the bottom. If you must water from a container, use one with a spout or use a thin-lipped glass…something you can control the flow out of. If the water comes out too fast, it will send all the seeds to a corner.

Slip into a plastic bag so you won’t have to water. Leave it open. If you have a heater place your containers near it so they will germinate faster, but be careful, because they will also dry out faster. The top of the fridge is also a warm spot. Some types of seeds will germinate in approximately one week, though some will be faster and others slower. Once germination occurs remove the bag and move them to a sunny spot indoors.

To My Son in Azerbaijan - How to Start Seeds

I have a son living and working in Baku in Azerbaijan. Where is that you ask? On the west side of the Caspian Sea, between Russia and Iran. Baku is on approximately the same latitude as Northern California, Istanbul and Naples.

Central Asia, with Azerbaijan in orange, to the left of center
Map is from the U of Texas website

He wants to grow herbs on his south-facing balcony, so I have sent him packages of basil, thyme, rosemary, Greek oregano (this is the white-flowered one and is so much better than the purple-flowered plant), along with some marigold seeds. He is ready with some containers and potting soil that he has been able to find in Baku.

He is 24 yr and has never grown anything before so I figure he needs lots of help. So I have prepared detailed instructions for him. I would love to hear from those of you who might have tips to add to my posts.

He has a blog that he has had for a few years, from when he was in India, Cairo and now Baku. There is lots of wonderful reading there! I hope he will show pics of his plants as they progress.

Monday, April 21, 2008

!!!! Arctic Air !!!!

We have been breaking records all over British Columbia for the past few days. The previous weekend we had the first nice weather, and now we are back to winter. Vancouver and Victoria woke up to snow on Saturday. Actually, in our little town of Grand Forks, we got off pretty easy. To the west of us, in the Okanagan Valley, it was much colder and they had lots of snow on Saturday. The snowfall this morning was our only accumulation of the weekend.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some Plants That Survive the Dry of Morocco

All the pics below were taken in the area of Tafraoute, which is a few hundred kilometers south of Marrakech.

Above was the first of these plants that I saw that had flowers. The rest of them didn't even have any greenery. They were just a bundle of crocked stems with thorns.

I was hiking up a small mountain and encountered many clumps of both of these plants. From a distance the mountain looked devoid of vegetation, but there was actually quite a bit once one was up close.

A foundation planting. It is about 30" tall.

Cacti are particularly good as garbage catchers, something which is needed in Morocco.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fragile Ecosystem and Desertification

Wikipedia: "Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting primarily from human activities and influenced by climatic variations. Current desertification is taking place much faster worldwide than historically and usually arises from the demands of increased populations that settle on the land in order to grow crops and graze animals."

What we saw in Morocco is that the western edge of the Sahara is moving westwards, swallowing up surrounding land by depositing sand. As gardeners know, it is very difficult to grow things in sand. A reduction in productive arable land means people and animals may go hungry. Since 93% of Morocco is arid, the government is working on stopping the encroachment, but 55,000 acres of arable land is disappearing per year. Can mere humans possibly stop it, not only in Morocco, but in many other countries?

At the end of the 19th Century Morocco had over 15 million date palms. Now there are only 4.5 million. This reduction means a huge drop in income for a large part of the local population.

According to Wikipedia: "It has been determined that the primary reasons for desertification are overgrazing, over cultivation, incorrect irigation methods, deforestation, overdrafting of groundwater, increased soil salinity, and global climate change."

I must admit that when our guide told us about the problem of the expanding desert and showed us sandy areas far from major sand dunes of the Sahara, I was puzzled. It was like there was a sand magnet under the ground.

While I have not found an explanation for pockets of sand (I suppose the wind is the main culprit), it seems that (Wiki) "Desertification does not occur in linear, easily mappable patterns. Deserts advance erratically, forming patches on their borders. Areas far from natural deserts can degrade quickly to barren soil, rock, or sand through poor land management. The presence of a nearby desert has no direct relationship to desertification. Unfortunately, an area undergoing desertification is brought to public attention only after the process is well under way. Often little data are available to indicate the previous state of the ecosystem or the rate of degradation."

You frequently hear the phrase fragile ecosystem. After reading the info on Wikipedia and having seen the edge of the desert in Morocco, I understand it much better. There is nothing like nature's classroom and travelling to broaden our understanding of everything and everyone else.