BURYING your nose in a bunch of lavender or running your hands along a hedge in full flower is one of life’s pleasures. Whether it’s an old-fashioned rose, a small bunch of freshly picked violets or a pungent herb, the heady smell is a reminder of the joy that nature – and gardening – bring to our lives.
Lilac trees hold a special place in my heart. My mother grew them in Nottingham and she picked the flowers in spring to bring inside so we could enjoy the delicate blooms and revel in their beautiful perfume. Likewise with sweet peas, which she grew in abundance every year.
An Australian friend got quite teary in the 1960s when he came across some gum trees while in the Canary Islands, which shows how evocative a fragrance can be.
No garden is complete without something exuding an aroma, be it a tree, vine, shrub, ground cover or herb – unless, of course, you’re highly allergic. So let’s start from the ground up.
Obvious flowers that have a delicate smell are violets, but they can be a curse when they multiply, unless you go for native violets (Viola hederacea), which aren’t quite so prolific. Dianthus or pinks (smaller relatives of carnations) have a very sweet smell. Lily of the valley has a lovely perfume and flowers on Caulfield Cup Day, but I find them tricky to grow. Then there are the many heavily scented spring-flowering bulbs such as freesias and jonquils. Continue reading
Today the government is releasing new nutrition standards for school meals that spell out dramatic changes, including slashing sodium, limiting calories and offering students a wider variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. These changes will raise the nutrition standards for meals for the first time in more than 15 years.
“When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home,” first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement. She is announcing the new standards today along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack..
Vilsack says this is a historic opportunity “to improve the quality and quantity of the school meal programs.”
The quality of school meals has been hotly debated for years because one-third of children in the USA are overweight or obese. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for all food served in schools. The rules released today apply to school meals; regulations for other foods such those served in à la carte lines, vending machines and stores will come later.
The changes are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat lunch at school every day and almost 11 million who eat breakfast. Continue reading
The first daffodils have crept into flower and the snowdrops have peaked already. If you think winters aren’t what they used to be, you’re not alone.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released a plant hardiness zone map of the nation that shows generally warmer winter low temperatures than the department’s previous map from 1990.
The new map divides the country into 13 zones arranged by minimum winter temperatures, in 10-degree increments. Among the shifts: The District and most of Virginia and Maryland are squarely in the relative balm of Zone 7. Specifically, they fall in the warmer half of Zone 7 where the mercury, on average, doesn’t go below 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Previously recorded in southeastern coastal Virginia, this zone now defines the coastal communities of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.
The colder Zone 6, which once embraced the Piedmont area and included much of Fairfax and Montgomery counties, is now pushed west of the Blue Ridge.
“The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan, of the Agricultural Research Service. Continue reading
Latin is a bit like a zombie: Dead but still clamoring to get into our brains.
In one discipline, however, Latin just got a bit deader.
For at least 400 years, botanists across the globe have relied on Latin as their lingua franca, but the ardor has cooled. Scientists say plants will keep their double-barreled Latin names, but they have decided to drop the requirement that new species be described in the classical language. Instead, they have agreed to allow botanists to use English (other languages need not apply). In their scientific papers, they can still describe a newly found species of plant — or algae or fungi — in Latin if they wish, but most probably won’t.
“The new chatter is in chemicals and molecules,” said Laurence Dorr, one of three Latinists in the Smithsonian Institution’s botany department who would help their colleagues translate. “It was heading toward extinction,” said Warren Wagner, department chair.
The change, effective Jan. 1, is more than just academic. Smithsonian botanists alone might introduce as many as 100 new plant species a year, discovered either on their travels or in the national herbarium, a collection of 5 million dried specimens housed at the Natural History Museum. Globally, scientists discover 2,000 new species per annum. As many as one in five of the world’s plant species have yet to be identified, and not until they are named and known to the scientific community can they can be protected and studied further. Continue reading
More than five years since the deadly white-nose fungus was first detected in a New York cave where bats hibernate, up to 6.7 million of the animals are estimated to have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
The estimate, drawn from surveys by wildlife officials mostly in Northeastern states where the disease thrives, confirmed the worst fears of biologists who have been counting dead bats covered in the powdery fungus in mines and caves every winter and worrying whether the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tri-colored bat will survive.
“We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals,” said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International in Austin.
“The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species,” Bayless said. “Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.”
Bats are a top nocturnal predator, picking off night-flying insects that feed on agricultural crops and forests. Continue reading
Tropical Gardening — Vitamins abound
Sunday, January 15 2:10 am
Lucky we live Hawaii, but we can learn a lot from gardeners on other tropical islands. Right now, we are in the Dominican Republic working with farmers on a project sponsored by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas, or FAVACA.
Voltaire Moise, who is from Haiti, is working on the uses of edible crops while I work on some of the production problems. Like the folks in the Dominican Republic, we in Hawaii can grow almost anything. We have many climates, depending on elevation and whether you are on the rain-swept eastern side or the dryer leeward part of the island.
Below 2,000 feet we grow the tropicals and above we can grow the warm, temperate and even cool season crops. Tropical fruits are the favorite for most, since they are varied and unusual.
Many of these fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and energy.
So instead of popping vitamin pills every day, we should consider fruit. Those vitamin pills on your shelf, besides being pretty expensive items, are not nearly as palatable and eye appealing as fresh fruit — especially when it is grown in your own backyard. Continue reading
MALP Educational MeetingFree to the public
Date: Tuesday January 24, 2012
Place: Maui Community Service Bldg next to CTHAR Extension Services (Map) on the UH Maui campus.
Time: Pupus will be served at 6:30 pm and the talk will begin at 7:00.
On January 24th MALP is proud to host guest speakers: William Merwin and Leland Miyano as they share with us their vast combined knowledge about palms. Their talk will include information on Hawaii’s palms, palm growth habits and conservation efforts.
William Merwin, who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and is the recent US Poet Laureate, has lived and gardened on Maui for over 30 years. Most of his focus has been on cultivating palms from around the world. He has gathered approximately 800 different species of palms, creating a truly unique palm jungle within the rainforest of Maui’s north shore. His enduring gardening passion along with his legacy of being a successful poet will be preserved with the recently created “The Merwin Conservancy“.
Leland Miyano, a good friend of Merwin, is an artist, landscape designer and author from Oahu. Leland has years of experience working with native palms throughout Hawaii and has worked extensively with many highly respected people in the field of horticulture and design. Leland’s numerous books include: Hawaii’s Beautiful Tree’s and Hawaii, A Floral Paradise. Leland’s own 1-acre garden in Kahalu’u is renown for its design and features numerous palms.
You might have missed this while you were busy taking the kids to school and preparing for the holidays, but last fall, two U.S. food labeling programs suffered serious legal setbacks that threaten to confuse consumers and thwart the intentions of the “dolphin-safe” tuna and “country-of-origin” labels.
The details are complicated, but in September and November, two dispute panels for the World Trade Organization in Switzerland sided in part with Mexico and Canada on complaints against the voluntary dolphin-safe label and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Mexico argued that U.S. dolphin-safe standards are misleading and discriminate against the controversial fishing techniques that Mexico employs to catch tuna. Canada argued that the COOL program discriminates against imported cattle and hogs.
Reactions to the WTO rulings have ranged from tranquil to concerned to downright outraged. Major U.S. tuna producers say they won’t change their dolphin-safe sourcing standards even if they have to change their labels. Pork and beef producers worry that Mexico and Canada might apply tariffs to U.S. meat imports if the U.S. government doesn’t comply with the WTO rulings on COOL, a regulation the meat industry has had mixed feelings about since its implementation in early 2009.
And some nonprofit groups are frustrated that the United States finds itself in this position at all. They’ve long predicted that America’s binding membership in the WTO could lead to this: sacrificing important U.S. environmental and public-safety laws in the name of free international trade.
“There has been widespread concern,” wrote the nonpartisan advocacy group Public Citizen after the dolphin-safe ruling in September, that the WTO could “second guess the U.S. Congress, courts or public by elevating the goal of maximizing trade flows over consumer and environmental protection.” Continue reading
Biofuels have become a victim of own success, it appears: for the first time in a decade global production has dropped. Production in 2011 dropped a touch from 1.822m barrels a day in 2010 to 1.819m in 2011, according to IEA statistics (p30) highlighted by the Financial Times.
The key reason has been the rising cost of the feedstock for most biofuels, corn, sugar and vegetable oil. And the main reason for the rising food prices is, many argue, the huge quantity consumed by biofuels. It’s a big business. The global biofuels business would, if a nation, rank 16th in the world for oil production, just above the UK and Libya and a bit below Norway and Nigeria, all major oil producers. In the US, 40% of the corn crop now gets diverted into fuel tanks, giving the US 50% of global biofuel production.
On top of the peaking of production, the US has just phased out some fat subsidies and tariffs protecting the domestic biofuel industry from international competition. So is the biofuels boom over?
In a word, no. The key driving factor is the price of ordinary oil. In the medium and long term, crude prices seem very likely to remain high and vulnerable to shocks, such as the current Iranian situation. “Once oil is over $70 a barrel, conventional and new generation biofuels become cost competitive, certainly with tar sands and shale, and with oil from much of the Middle East and Brazil’s new offshore fields,” said Jeremy Woods, at Imperial College, when I spoke to him in March. Today, Brent crude is at $113. The IEA predicts a 20% rise in biofuel production to 2.2m b/d by 2015, although that is a slower rise than in the past.
This brings us to the environmental crux. “The less biofuel you have the more gasoline you need,” Amrita Sen, oil analyst at Barclays Capital in London, told the FT. Continue reading
In an effort to sustain commercial and recreational fishing for the next several decades, the United States this year will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species it manages, from Alaskan pollock to Caribbean queen conch.
Although the policy has attracted scant attention outside the community of those who fish in America and the officials who regulate them, it marks an important shift in a pursuit that has helped define the country since its founding.
Unlike most recent environmental policy debates, which have divided neatly along party lines, this one is about a policy that was forged under President George W. Bush and finalized with President Obama’s backing.
“It’s something that’s arguably first in the world,” said Eric Schwaab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the country.”
Five years ago, Bush signed a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which dates to the mid-1970s and governs all fishing in U.S. waters. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined environmental groups, some fishing interests and scientists to insert language in the law requiring each fishery to have annual catch limits in place by the end of 2011 to end overfishing.
Although NOAA didn’t meet the law’s Dec. 31 deadline — it has finalized 40 of the 46 fishery management plans that cover all federally managed stocks — officials said they are confident that they will have annual catch limits in place by the time the 2012 fishing year begins for all species. (The timing varies depending on the fish, with some seasons starting May 1 or later.) Some fish, such as mahi-mahi and the prize game fish wahoo in the southeast Atlantic, will have catch limits for the first time. Continue reading