Class the Third

My third MG class was such fun!  I love playing with beans!

Yes, I realize that sounds crazy.  But it’s true.  We played with beans during class, so it was like a win-win situation.

This class, we talked about botany- or plant anatomy.  This included plant reproduction.  I learned some new things, and remembered a few things from my college botany class.  I won’t mention how long ago that was, only that is was a loooong time ago.

There are two big things I took away from this class.  First of all, while I might have known this in college, I had forgotten that there are imperfect flowers.  This means the plant produces male and female flowers; male flowers have the stamen and pollen, female flowers have the pistel and ovaries.  Generally, the male flowers come in first, and the female flowers later in the season.  The female plants will have the fruit behind the flower.

This explains why I had a bunch of flowers on my cucumber plants last year, but didn’t get actual cucumbers until late in the season; cucumbers and squash (including pumpkins) are some of the plants that have imperfect flowers.

This was interesting, but it did not allow me to play with beans.

The next exercise did.

Each of us had been given a few white beans, and the next section taught us about seed anatomy.  Inside each seed is a food source, an immature root, and the first, immature leaves of the plant embryo.  Different seeds have different elements, but they all boil down to these three things.  When the seed germinates, the immature root leaves the seed and becomes the first root, the leaves break through and are the first set of immature leaves on the sprout.

The biggest pick-up from this, that I did NOT know, was that those first leaves, the cotyledon leaves, are not “true” leaves; meaning they will not resemble the leaves of the plant when it matures. Nor are the second set of leaves.  The third set of leaves are the first “true” leaves.

It was interesting to look over the seeds (and I pulled apart 3 beans and several pieces of corn) to identify the different parts.  I found it all fascinating.

Next week, the class I have been looking forward to!  Propagation!

Class the Second

So yes, this is a little late.  I’ve been sick.  And busy.  But today is the day; I am less busy, and no longer sick!

The second class was fascinating.  Best of all, we had flowers at our tables!

Of course, the reason we had flowers were to check their stems, to see if they are monocot or dicot.  Monocot circulatory systems are complex, dispersed throughout the stem; dicot plants have the system arranged in a circle. This is easily distinguished when you observe the stem.  We had lilies and a couple of dyed vegetables, celery and asparagus, to illustrate this.  Celery is a dicot system, asparagus is monocot.  The lilies were monocot.  It was fascinating.

We categorized different plants by their use; this was much more difficult than it sounds.  many trees and plants have many different uses; some are vegetables, some are landscaping, some are ground-cover or houseplants, and some fit several categories.  Ivy, for instance, can be both a house plant and a ground cover.

I also learned more about trees and how their circulatory system works.  For some reason, I had thought bark was there for protection only.  Apparently, this is not true; part of the tree’s circulatory system is IN the bark!  This seems obvious when I think about it, but I generally do not spend much time wondering about the function of tree bark.

We talked about different types of growth issues in trees, and I learned more about how trees grow, how their root system works, and what kinds of things affect their growth. I learned a new term, girdling, which refers to the removal of bark around a tree.  Because the zylem, the structure that brings nutrients from the leaves and branches to the roots, is found in the bark, the tree will be able to leaf the next year, but will die because the tree is unable to transport the nutrients produced in the leaves back to the roots for storage.

I also learned about stem circles.  These are small circles on the stem, that are created by the leaf bud each winter.  These can be used to gauge how old a tree is; you can count each stem circle.  These can also give you an idea of whether the tree was under stress through an unfavorable growing season, etc.  On unfavorable years, the length between stem circles will be quite short.  However, one of the other students at my table pointed out that at a certain point, trees do not grow long stems each year, depending on the age of the tree.

We did not get all the way through the appointed lesson, so we left part of it for Week 3. Coming up, botany!!

Why am I doing this again??

Several years ago, I developed an interest in herbs.  They have an innate practicality that appeals to me, and they are useful and pretty without requiring lots of space.  I was living in an apartment at the time, and I quickly filled it with all sorts of plants; lavender (I especially love French lavender), jasmine, basil, oregano, sage, hyssop.  Everything that sounded even remotely useful (and a few that weren’t) came home with me, and I did my best to keep them alive.  I didn’t know much of anything about plants, so I asked a lot of questions of the nursery workers, and did the best I could to remember to water them as needed.

I had some success.  I had a lot of failure.  But I was hooked.

For several years after the last of those plants died, I did not have any plants.  The few that I had didn’t last long; I really was not in a place mentally or physically where I could care for them.  However, I was still interested, and took a Victory Gardening class at my church in 2011, just before I moved to Chicago.  This engaged my curiosity even more, and I slowly moved back into container gardening in Illinois, with a new French lavender, orchids, and habanero and cayenne pepper plants growing in my window.

When I came back to Idaho, I brought my plants with me, and continued to expand what I grew, but I stuck mostly with herbs. I had developed an interest in herbal medicine, so I bought several medicinal plants.  I made a few discoveries:

-Calendula is a weed.

-Chamomile is a weed.

-Mint is a weed.

-Lemongrass will cut your fingers.

-French lavender will die of shock.

As I experimented, I realized there was more I didn’t know than what I did.  I started to “get the hang of” different plants.  I managed to get an orchid to re-bloom. Jade and aloe vera took up spots in my bedroom window.   I kept learning.

I enjoyed the coneflowers, and rubbed my fingers through the lavender as often as I could.  I made sure to smell the jasmine when it bloomed in June, and picked a handful of raspberries off of the vine I had growing in a large pot.

Medicinal plants came home and joined the others.  My interest in herbalism grew, as did my intention to study natural medicine.  I’ve put off applying to formal training for financial reasons, so I am doing my best to learn complimentary disciplines in the meantime.  Over the last several months, I’ve taken classes in herbal medicine, learning to prepare tinctures and teas, and homeopathic medicine.  I’ve been studying the importance of food as medicine and the need to successfully grow my own food.

What has become most apparent as I have experimented, is my utter lack of knowledge. Last year’s cucumber plants attest my ability to unsuccessfully grow food. I have calendula and chamomile reseeding each season, but I don’t know how to harvest it, and my attempts at harvesting and drying it were a disaster.  How DO you grow coneflowers?  Mine always die.  Is that plant on the greenbelt really plantain?  I don’t know.

Since I learn best in a classroom, it made sense to try something like the Master Gardener program, so here I am.  An apprentice.

It’s scary and a bit daunting, but I am looking forward to the challenge, and learning what I don’t know.


Class the First

My first class was yesterday morning.

I got lost trying to find the Extension Office, so I was a few minutes late and got to do the lovely “Late Walk” that is so embarrassing to introverts like myself.

Aside from that, I had a great time!

The first class established expectations and course requirements.  We talked about what gardening is, the learning process and our internal assumptions (“mind filters”), and went through the schedule and the syllabus.  The learning theory information was excellent; it broke adult learning theory down into simple language and illustrated how we block our education using mind filters, which edit the information we gather into different forms that we can assimilate or ignore, depending on which filter we apply.  It was well-done, and I plan to adapt these ideas for my own students.  A deeper understanding of the learning process is helpful for students in any learning setting, but particularly in a career setting when they take classes they might not agree are useful in the future.

Did I mention I teach history?  Many of my students don’t get why it’s important.

But back to the gardening.

Often times the best learning is that which opens your eyes to what you already know, but hadn’t put together.  I had two instances of that yesterday.

First, did you know that geraniums can’t be grown in Florida year-round?  They are considered a cold-weather flower, and can only be grown outside from January through March.  In California, they are a year-round perennial, and of course, here in Idaho, we grow them outside during the summer time.  We all know that different climates affect how and when plants grow, but sometimes it takes an illustration like this to piece the information together.

The second was about tree roots.  I don’t recall exactly how we got off on the subject, but when it came up, the general consensus was that tree roots went deep into the earth.  Wrong.  Tree roots stay near the top of the soil; below 24 inches, there is no oxygen in the soil, and the roots are looking for oxygen.  For some unknown reason, I believed roots were quite deep, depending on the particular tree in question, and that was the answer I was prepared to give.  When the instructor told us this was wrong, I didn’t believe him until I remembered all the picture I’ve seen of uprooted trees after wind-storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  All of their roots are no more than about two feet below the surface.  The root span was quite wide, 6-20 feet depending on the tree; but the roots themselves only went down to about the two-foot mark.

I sat and giggled the rest of class thinking about it.

I have a feeling I am going to get more than I bargained for out of this little venture.  Aside from the volunteer work (which I was expecting), there is the promise of identifying bugs for people at the plant clinic (which I was NOT expecting).  That’s creepy, and to a entomophobe such as myself, not a comforting prospect.

Our instructor also assured us we would not be discussing the Krebs Cycle; disappointing, since I understand that from Biochemistry a few years ago, and need the review.   I expect the composting and propagating classes will make up for this lack.

Next up, homework!