Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Guardians of Life...

Walking the dog through the fields the other morning at 0430 I looked up and saw a clear star filled sky. It then made me remember that my wife had called me a geek for arranging glow in the dark stars on the eldest daughter's ceiling according to the northern hemisphere constellation map!! That took me a while to do but I am proud to say that it has worked and her ceiling is now twinkling away each night!!

Anyway back to the walk...I picked a maize leaf because I wanted to photograph its stomata. Now these things are basically microscopic pores but like all those tiny things they play such an important part in ensuring the continuation of life on our planet.

Can you make out the small oval shapes in the photo below? These are the stomata.

Here is one in more detail. Given it was dark outside and when I took this photograph the stomata were closed.

Two cells called guard cells surround each stoma. These regulate opening and closing and control the exchange of gases between the leaf and the atmosphere.

Oxygen involved in respiration (getting energy to live) and carbon dioxide involved in photosynthesis (making food) enter through stomata. During the day you would normally see the stomata open letting in these two gases. The byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen and this is released through the stomata to the outside world.

Water is also released through stomata via a process called transpiration. This is how water is able to travel freely through tiny seedlings to massive redwoods. 

So how does it work? Well without becoming too technical it is just the movement of water into and out of the guard cells. Water goes in and the guard cells become turgid and open, water goes out and the guard cells become flaccid and close. This is all controlled by the amount of light, carbon dioxide and a number of chemicals and hormones that the plant produces.

The classic study is to paint clear nail varnish onto a leaf's surface, peel it off and then view it with a microscope so keep a look out in the future for more posts.

So the next time you go out into the garden or look at a pot plant indoors, just give a thought to the the multitude of guard cells that are working non-stop to ensure your plants keep on growing. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hollyhock's Sticky Pollen

or Vice Versa?

I noticed recently that the bumblebees were smothering the hollyhocks and really getting covered in pollen. We have a south facing brick wall and grew our hollyhocks from seed last summer and overwintered them on top of the outdoor boiler. We planted them out this spring and after a slow start they relished the warm weather and towered. 

Looking at the photograph I could see a lot of large round pollen had stuck on the bee. 

I thought this would be a great start to viewing pollen and other plants with a microscope.  I collected some pollen, soaked them in ethanol and then stained them yellow.

Turning the lamp right down gave the the orange effect from below and because the pollen was stained yellow it turned into a lovely green colour when viewed with a high power microscope.

Each pollen grain then revealed its beautiful design. A round grain with a number of spikes. The pollen is quite sticky anyway and with spikes probably ensures that it sticks to any insect that cares to enter the inner sanctuary of the flower.

I find it amazing that nature has so much beauty and has evolved in many different ways to ensure the survival of many species we see around us.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What do you do with a load of tomatoes freshly picked from your poly tunnel??

You fire up the wood oven and make your own Roasted Tomato Passata! We used the recipe in River Cottage Handbook 'Preserves' by Pam Corbin

Chop the tomatoes if they are a bit on the large side together with your shallots shallots and put them into a roasting tin.

The first picture shows an assortment of 'Yellow Perfection', 'Chocolate Cherry' and 'Dolce Vita'.

The red tomatoes in the second picture are the amazing 'Country Taste', a really meaty and juicy tomato.

Sprinkle a load of herbs on such as marjoram, rosemary and purple basil. Splash a good load of olive oil and toss the tomatoes so that they get a good covering.

Put your trays into your wood oven and don't forget the odd aubergine or two for company. Don't ask what the temperature is as I go by the look of the bricks and feel of radiating heat!!

We were going to cook pizzas after this so the dome and floor was going to get pretty hot. The bricks in the background have started to go white and that tells me that the oven is getting the right temperature.

See the black soot on the bricks on the left? that part needs to get hotter so after the veggies cooked I stoked the heat up.

After about 40 mins with a turn every now and then the tomatoes looked like this.

They were then whizzed up in a food processor, strained through a sieve and then poured into sterilised kilner jars.

Result - a lovely smokey taste to the passata.

We also reduced some passata to make tomato ketchup.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

It's a bee's life

Honey Bee on Sedum
Well this is the first post of hopefully many! I hope you enjoy reading about The Gardeneur!

I am still trying to work out how blogging works! Now a 38 year old who has grown up with a bit of technology should know better and hopes that his two daughters who are 2 1/2 and 1 don't catch him up.

So to get things started - Out in the garden the other day I noticed that our Gooseberry Fool Sedum that we planted earlier on in the year had attracted a large number of honey bees and bumble bees. It's great to see them at work, especially as though they all had such a bad start to the year. I am sure those icy cold mornings of cycling down to the station to catch the 0557 lasted a lot longer than normal!!  

Our garden is literally full of wildlife at the moment and that includes the girls 'looking after the veg and flowers'.