Genetic Engineering, Veal, and Rennin

Today I thought I’d go just a little off topic. Lots of people out there are really upset about the idea of putting genes into plants, like putting genes for Round-Up resistance into soybeans, or genes for caterpillar resistance into corn. And, I do agree, this is a pretty powerful technology that needs to be used carefully – probably more carefully than it’s being used right now with plants.

But the funny thing is, one of the places where transgenic creatures really dominate the market is in a place that is almost never considered. Today 80-90% of cheese made in the United States is produced using bacteria genetically engineered to produce rennin. What is rennin you ask? Renin is the stuff normally found in a cow’s stomach which causes milk to curdle – and cheese to be created. For those of you interested in looking into this further look up rennet which is the substance in a cow’s stomach which naturally contains rennin.

After looking around a bit I really can’t find that many people upset about the use of genetically engineered microbes to produce rennin.  Actually, some people who are quite sensitive to environmental concerns may prefer it.  Historically rennin comes from dead young cows – it’s a byproduct of veal production (kind of a nasty industry if you ask me).  Rennin that comes from genetically altered bacteria has nothing to do with dead cows and so vegetarians often find cheese produced with genetically engineered rennin to be more appropriate.

California Flower, Food and Garden Show

I’m giving two talks at the California Flower, Food and Garden Show in Sacramento today and tomorrow: details are linked here. It would be great to meet some of our California readers in person if you plan on being there.

I’ll try to take some photos and share my thoughts about the show on upcoming posts. Maybe I’ll even find my Friday quiz topic lurking there!

Rain barrels

A few weeks ago one of our readers, landscape architect Owen Dell, sent me a link to his blog where he takes on rain barrels. It’s a great analysis of the (im)practicalities of rain barrels and it got me to wondering how many of our readers (and my GP colleagues) use these as supplemental sources of irrigation water?

I have two in our back yard that were made from old olive oil containers retrofitted for collecting and dispensing water. They’re hooked together so that when one fills, the rain is diverted to the second.

We use this water pretty much for watering container plants, especially those on our south-facing front porch that require watering every other day during the summer. The barrels each hold 55 gallons and are always full during the winter and spring. We drain them almost dry over the summer, but even a brief rain results in several gallons collected.

So I think they’re a pretty good deal, since we use relatively little water from the hose to keep our container plants happy. But Owen brings up some valid points in his analysis, as do commenters on his blog.

What do you all think?

Mulch much?

[Try to say post title three times fast. Heh.]

Here on the GP blogski, we’ve discussed both the merits and shortcomings of many non-traditional forms of mulch; rather, stuff that covers the ground that is referred to as mulch. Shredded rubber, marble chips, lava stone, dyed lava stone (ick), etc.

But this is a new one on me:

Naturally, I immediately shoved my hand in the biggest tub of glass (part of the Scientific Method). It was not…super smooth. A couple of pieces stuck, and there was a bit of sparkly-dust residue. I tried to remember not to rub my eyes for the rest of the day. Not sure I’m buying the recommendation to “use in pathways.”

"Aaargh! My Eyes!"

Pretty colors…soooo shiny. And recycled!

What’s this? A warning label on the aqua mulch: “Parents, please watch your children’s hands around the glass mulch.”Whoops.

Aargh! My eyes!

April foolery revisited

You certainly had fun with this!  Yes, it’s “lucky bamboo,” a name which is completely inappropriate given that it’s not bamboo (but Dracaena sanderiana) and it’s certainly not lucky:

Now “spiral lucky bamboo” is usually dracaena (or as I like to call it “not-bamboo”) that’s been exposed to a unidirectional light source and turned at intervals to create a contorted spiral shape:

These plants, on the other hand, have been cut into straight sections and bound with shiny gold wire in ever increasing lengths so that we have a leaning tower of not-bamboo surrounded by adulating ceramic frogs (good eyes Anne and Jam!).  Given enough time – a few weeks, maybe – whatever architectural appeal this arrangement had will be covered with leafy growth from all those sprouting nodes.

There’s a homework assignment for someone:  buy one of these, then film it under time lapse photography.  If our tech guys ever get our video capability up on this blog, I’ll post them!

Looking for the lowdown on tree rings

Often we use our blog space as a soapbox from which to pontificate, but today I’m looking for some input from our loyal readers.  Last week I received a note from an editor looking for some words about tree rings.  We’re talking about landscape tree rings for planting annuals or perennials, not dendrochronology.


The editor was interested in specifics on tree rings for large existing trees such as what type of materials to use, what types of flowers or plants worked best, which trees can or can’t have tree rings, etc.  My reply was short, maybe even a little curt, “I don’t have any experience with tree rings but our general recommendation is to avoid grade changes around trees whenever possible. After I sent the reply I started thinking, is there any real harm to tree rings?  I’ve seen some that looked pretty nice (seen many that look like crap, too).  For most trees the amount of surface area covered is small compared to total surface root area.  If care is taken not to bury the root collar and trunk, would the tree notice covering a little bit of mostly structural roots?   Would appreciate thoughts (pro and con) from those with direct experience.