Friday turf troubles

To no one’s great surprise by now, the white substance in Friday’s photo is mesh:

Like so many “instant” lawns that never really establish, the original grasses in this sod have died, leaving only weeds, debris, and the netting used as a matrix to support bunchgrass production.

(I have a personal grudge against sod netting, having removed the tenacious remains of black plastic netting when we replaced our lawn with alternative groundcoverings.  Like Velvetta and Twinkies, this stuff never dies.)


I’m not from the South, and so I can’t call myself a Southerner like Holly can, but I did spend 6 years in Georgia.  There are lots of things about it which I miss: winters which are more like a Minnesota fall, the almost disgustingly friendly people (OK, there was that one time that I was chased by a guy with an SKS assault rifle — but that was an exception — generally Southerners are the nicest people you could ever want to meet), and, especially, the food.  I love okra, I love grits, I love country fried steak, I love mustard greens, collard greens, fried catfish, sweet tea (which is starting to become popular here) etc. And for those of you thinking well shoot, you can get that at your nearest Cracker Barrel (which I frequent) — IT JUST ISN’T THE SAME.  One of the foods which I miss the most though — one that hasn’t found its way to Minnesota yet — is the boiled peanut.  For those of you who don’t know what a boiled peanut is, it’s a little piece of heaven that has been boiled in a tub of hot salt water for a long time so that, when you break open the peanut’s shell, now the texture of watery cardboard, the seeds inside are soft, warm and, you guessed it, salty.  So, why am I telling you this?  Because I can’t suppress my excitement any longer.  Tom Michaels. a good friend of mine who is a transplant from a Canadian University where he worked on bean breeding, and I recently were talking about boiled peanuts and he told me that he has a peanut variety which will grow here in Minnesota without too much trouble and which is can be used to make hot boiled peanuts.  So I’m in the process of finding excuses to plant this critter — I’m going to plant it between rows of trees, in grass plots, in vegetable gardens — and then I’m gonna harvest them all and make hot boiled peanuts through the entire winter next year!

International Ag Labs – who are they and what do they do?

Last week I posted a short message about this company, asking you to do a little homework.  Bryn, CP, and Karen all have teased out some details that agree with my skepticism on how reliable this company is for soil testing and analysis.  (See last Wednesday’s post and comments if you haven’t read them already.)

To back up a little bit, I received an email from LB last week, along with the attached soil test, analysis and recommendations. LB intends to do some “market gardening” and here are his questions:

1. Is there anything to this perspective? Understanding your soil and rl37 (a “Jack of all trades” product).

2. I “get” that I should not willy nilly spread compost over everything, but what in the attached recommendation (based on the soil analysis) should I follow (Note: Crescendo and Stimulate are no longer offered, but there are lots of other interesting products here.)

3. Have you read any peer reviewed research that supports their “High Brix” market garden approach that uses sugar content and refractive index to supposedly correlate to improved flavor and higher nutrient content in selected vegetables?  I have heard of chefs using this to evaluate certain produce (carrots and tomatoes) in the market but nothing in a peer reviewed journal.”

Take a look at the linked report from IAL (from the second paragraph).  This is a confusing analysis, as it combines traditional ppm measures with pounds/acre.  (My understanding is that you can divide this latter number by 2 to get ppm.)  However, pounds/acre only represents a portion of what’s actually available in the soil.  It’s not an indication of how much, if any, of these nutrients to add.  (If you’ve never seen U. Mass Amherst’s soil testing lab, take a look at their webpage, especially their fact sheets related to soil testing.)

What irks me is the recommendations (which are in the first table in the attached document).  I’m not even sure of the rate – I assume it’s per acre, but who knows? And what is the purpose of all this stuff?

This company is heavily used by many people, including researchers (if you Google the name of the company along with, you’ll find reference to articles and university reports that use their services.

Let’s have some discussion on this.  I’m certainly not an expert on performing soil tests, but I’ve had enough of them done that I have a pretty good idea how to interpret them and their recommendations.

Friday puzzle solved…finally

We’re back to civilization, so I can finally post the answer to the puzzle.  I’ve been without cell service and our only computer access was dial-up at a glacial 37.2 kbps.  Yes, kbps.

Back to our puzzle.  Here’s a larger version of Friday’s photo:

It is bark, as many astute readers pointed out.  As far as I know, it’s a London plane tree (Platanus), but given the promiscuity of the genus, who knows exactly what species or hybrid it is?

Other tree species were suggested by others and I immediately Googled them to see what their bark looked like.  Check out Pinus bungeana (thanks to @Garden Hoe), Parrotia (from Deirdre), Smilax bona-nox (Bryn), Stewartia (one of Deb’s hedged bets), and Corymbia maculata (from Jimbo).

And now, thanks to Ed, I will forever look for pictures hidden in bark.  Someone should make a “Gardener’s Rorshach test” from variegated bark!

What Do Pork Products and Fruit Trees Have in Common?

This is one of those “random thoughts” posts…no professorial musings, plant geek gushings, or interpretations of useful research. And absolutely, positively, in no way, expressed or implied, intended to provoke a veg/carnivore controversy nor promote any particular product.

Just a simple question that occurred to me in the grocery store.

“WHERE is all this apple wood coming from?”

Google “apple wood smoked bacon” and get 689,000 results. Apple wood also frequently appears as “applewood”, orthographical conventions aside. We’ll just refer to it as AWSB for the duration of this post. Wendy’s is promoting their burger with AWSB all over the place. Kraft’s Oscar Mayer division recently released a new AWSB product nation-wide (according to the blog What used to be available only through specialty meat companies and at high-end grocery stores is now available everywhere.

Back to my question. That’s a lot of bacon to smoke.

Apples used to be an important part of the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern commodity mix. Arkansas had its own “Apple Belt”. These markets have experienced a fairly dramatic decline; much of U.S. production has shifted to Washington state. So are some of these out-of-production orchards the source of all this wood?

I may ask this question of some apple experts I know. Linda, I bet you’re up to your pits in pomologists at Washington State – see what they say (and I apologize in advance for the looks you’re going to get). Also – how much apple wood has to be used in the process to officially, legally, be considered AWSB? May have to pester a  food scientist.

Cool tree App for i-Phone users

I’m preparing to give my Woody Plant Physiology students their first opportunity to flaunt their new-found knowledge (aka Exam one) so only time for a short post.

As my fellow Garden Professors are aware, I am among the least tech-savvy people roaming the halls of academia these days and was long ago declared roadkill on the information superhighway.  However, I recently found out about a new App for the i-phone that could lure me back into the 21st century.

Programmer Brett Camper has developed an i-Phone app called ‘Trees Near You’.  The App is based on a street tree inventory for the City of New York and allows users to view maps of over 500,000 street trees.  For each tree users can look up info about individual trees including their size and estimated environmental and economic benefits based on energy savings and storm water retention.   The App also links to Wikipedia pages that provide more info on the tree’s botanical characteristics.  For more info, including a QuickTime movie demo, go to:

While it may be easy to quibble with particular estimates of tree values or a particular bit of info from Wiki, there is no arguing this is pretty cool stuff.  Hopefully other App writers will be inspired and Trees Near You-type Apps will start appearing for other cities.  This is a great educational tool and a great way for urban and community forestry programs to promote the value of trees where we live.