Meet Sedgewick the Monarch Caterpillar—and find out what you can do to save his species

Danaus plexippus is in trouble. David Mizejewski raised one to demonstrate its life cycle, and explains what you can do to help them thrive

Read the rest

Air plants look and act like they belong on another planet

A few weeks ago while strolling through a farmer’s market in Los Angeles, I came across a vendor cart selling exotic plants that looked like they belonged on another planet. Masses of long green tentacles, feathery white shoots, and spheres of soft silver green spikes that looked like holiday sparklers drew me to the beautiful cart. The vendor told me she was selling air plants (tillandsias). Not very lucky with houseplants, I was hesitant to buy one, until the vendor explained how simple they were to take care of: give them some squirts from a spray bottle a few times a week. I bought two. Coincidentally, a few days later, Timber Press sent me a copy of Air Plants for a possible Wink review. Perfect timing!

Because air plants don’t live in soil or substrate and only need to be misted (or dunked a few times a week, as the book explains), caring for them can be as simple or artistic as you want. Strategically attach them to a screen, create modern art by perching them on wire cubes, craft a year-long wreath, use air plants as living hair ornaments, create a futuristic terrarium… A truly handy and fun read, with clear pretty photos and step-by-step how to projects, this book is not only a guide on choosing and caring for air plants, but also gives us amazingly creative ideas on air plant crafting and design.

Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias

by Zenaida Sengo (author) and Caitlin Atkinson (photographer)

Timber Press

2014, 224 pages, 7.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches (paperback)

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

World's Strangest Flowers

Sierra magazine selected "7 of the World's Strangest Flowers." Above is video of the Touch-Me-Not, native to Central and South America but now growing many other places:

You might easily overlook this herb, with its dainty pink flowers and delicate, fern-like leaves. The mimosa pudica doesn’t just look demure, though. Barely touching its leaves causes them to fold inward and droop downward—hence the flower’s species name, pudica, Latin for “shy, bashful, or shrinking,” as well as its nicknames, “touch-me-not” and “shy plant.” The leaves usually reopen in a few minutes. Other stimuli, including warming and shaking the plant, produce the same phenomenon. The leaves fold and wilt in the evening, too, but they stay that way until sunrise…
"7 of the World's Strangest Flowers" (Thanks, Orli Cotel!)

"Garden apartment" redefined in new green apartment building

NewImage

Architect/developer Sebastian Mariscal designed and is expecting to build a 44-unit apartment building in densely-populated Boston where most of the space you'd expect to be used for parking spots is instead given over to a variety of gardens. There's a 7,000 public garden on the ground level and a roof that's 70 percent dedicated to community gardening. Meanwhile, each living unit includes a 144 square foot "outdoor room… full of vegetation."

"The Apartment Complex of Tomorrow—0 Parking Spots, 46 Personal Garden Spaces" (TakePart)

While Mariscal's original design only had six parking spaces, meant for rentals, and he only planned to rent to tenants who didn't own cars, the community was concerned that tenants would own cars anyway and park them on the street. So the architect added 35 spots to his plans and has apparently received preliminary approval to build from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. (Universal Hub, thanks Lis Riba!)

Garden planter turns out to be Roman antique

NewImage

Auction appraiser Guy Schwinge was visiting a Dorset, England home when he noticed an unusual planter in the garden. It turned out to be a Roman sarcophagus from the 2nd century. According to the Antiques Trade Gazette, research revealed that the family had purchased it a century ago from auction house Hy. Duke & Son. Now, Duke & Son have just sold it again, for £80,000.

Front yard gardener wins over officials with petition

Mark recently wrote about a fantastic front yard veggie garden in Drummondville, Quebec, which local officials wanted destroyed. Alejandro De La Cruz writes to say that they've backed down: not only will the garden stay, but the town publicly announced that it will implement new guidelines which explicitly permit it.

Drummondville town officials announced the decision [Ed note: Link is in French] this week during a special session of the Municipal Council to discuss the case. The decision could create a ripple effect in other cities worldwide as zoning laws are a constant debate in urban environments. Roger told us, “The Drummondville case was one of the highest profile examples of a local municipality challenging the right to grow food in one’s own yard. While it took place in Canada, it quickly attracted international media attention because of the garden’s beauty and productivity. The win is significant because it helps establish a precedent that other urban and suburban gardeners can refer to when similar challenges arise in other parts of the world.”

Thank goodness the authorities have busted these hardened front-yard garden criminals

Illegal garden
High-tech kitchen garden evangelist Roger Doiron says: "If this garden is deemed illegal, we're in deep you-know-what."

Earlier this year, Josée Landry and Michel Beauchamp of Drummondville, Quebec planted the front yard of the future: a gorgeous and meticulously-maintained edible landscape full of healthy fruits and vegetables. Now they're being ordered by town officials to remove most of their gardens (town code states that a vegetable garden can't occupy more than 30% of the area of a front yard) in the next two weeks to make their yard conform with newly harmonized town code. Front yard kitchen gardens are not the problem; they're part of the solution to healthier and more sustainable communities.

PETITION: Stop the War on Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

Gardening on the Moon

Frycook posted this fascinating video from the Apollo era on the BoingBoing Submitterator. The basic gist: Back in the day, NASA scientists tried exposing various crops—corn, lettuce, tobacco ... you know, the essentials—to moon dust. The plants weren't grown in the dust, exactly. Instead, it was scattered in their pots or rubbed on some of their leaves. In this study, the plants that were exposed seemed to grow faster than unexposed plants.

That's pretty interesting, so I dug around a little to find out more about these studies. Turns out, growing plants in lunar soil isn't quite as promising as the video makes it sound, but it's not a ridonculous idea, either. In 2010, scientists at the University of Florida published a review of all the Apollo-era research on this subject, which amounted to exactly three published studies. From that data, we can say that the plants weren't obviously affected in any seriously negative ways by their exposure to lunar soils—which is good—but we can't really say the plants grew better their terrestrial-only cousins, either.

In the end, and as recorded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there were only three published primary studies of seeds, seedlings, and plants grown in contact with lunar materials. In those three cases, small amounts of lunar material were used, and the plants were relatively large. In general, the dusting of plants or the mixing of lunar fines with other support media makes plant interaction with the lunar material a small part of the plant experience. At no point were plants actually grown in lunar samples in the way that one might imagine, with the entire root structure growing through and in constant association with a lunar soil. It is no accident that the wording of most of the titles of the studies, as well as the careful discussion within the papers, refers to growth “in contact with” lunar samples—not “in” lunar samples. With only a small portion of the roots, for example, interacting with the lunar materials, it is likely that plant responses to the lunar materials were, therefore, quite attenuated due to the lack of an extensive plant/lunar soil interface. Biophysical issues, such as root penetration of dry and variously hydrated lunar sample types, were completely unaddressed. Thus, the effects of actual growth within lunar soils were simply not a part of the plant studies of the Apollo era.

On the other hand, in 2008 scientists with the European Space Agency tried growing marigolds in a medium of crushed rock—basically the much-cheaper equivalent of growing plants in moon "soil". There's no indication that the marigolds did better than those grown in real dirt, but they did grow and they did survive (even without any added fertilizer), which could be indirect evidence in support of the Moon gardeners of the future.

Watch the video on YouTube

Read a 1969 newspaper clipping about the NASA experiments

Read the 2010 review paper—available for free, in its entirety

Read a BBC story about the 2008 marigold experiment

Kickstarter to fund development of Arduino-based, browser-controlled open source hardware automated gardening dome

Wisevehicle sends us the Horto Domi Kickstarter project, "A wonderful project to create a raised bed growing system with open source electronics. The project pulls all the pieces of a great garden together and helps the user monitor and control them via a smart phone application." The Horto Domi founders are seeking the funds to perfect their project and publish it as an Open Source Hardware spec.

Horto domi is an open hardware raised-bed garden unit with environmental control and monitoring via web-interface thanks to Arduino Ethernet. DIY sensors, such as those collecting moisture and temperature data help monitor the environment within the dome and will eventually be used to automate conditions. The goal is to grow whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are. Horto domi is Latin for ‘Garden at home.’ It's a statement to healthful food independence, a “neo-renaissance” tip of the hat to Arduino, and it sounds like horticultural dome. Particular consideration was taken in this prototype’s design to maximize the mineral and nutrient value of the beyond-organic produce and minimize environmental contamination risks.

Horto domi: the Open Garden (Thanks, Wisevehicle!)

Lego greenhouse uses bricks as growing medium


Sebastian Bergne's Lego greenhouse isn't merely an enormous structure made from transparent legos*, it's also a functional greenhouse that apparently uses legos as a growing medium.

LEGO commissioned the award-winning designer, Sebastian Bergne, to create a public installation using the iconic bricks, as part of the London Design Festival 2011. Entitled the “LEGO Greenhouse”, this large-scale installation will be on display in the North Piazza, Covent Garden, a world-renowned cultural district, from 15th to 25th September 2011...

In daylight, the structure looks very much like an ordinary suburban greenhouse dropped into a new environment. Yet at night, it assumes another character entirely. It is transformed into a magical box, glowing and lit it seems, by the life of the plants it contains.

(via Cribcandy)

*ObPedantTroll: legos legos legos legos ahahahahahaha!

All New Square Foot Gardening

Squarefoot Gardening.jpeg I decided to try my hand at gardening again after last having a vegetable garden in college 35 years ago (which I remembered involving a lot of work). After doing some research online I found Mel Bartholomew's squarefoot garden method appealed to my inner geekdom. Bartholomew's method relies on building and gardening in four-foot by four-foot plots/boxes. He then provides details on how to plan the optimal mixture of soil, fertilizer, and supplements to match whatever you want to grow in them. After using the method for three years I am a sold. The method assumes you know nothing, does not require you to be very handy, is inexpensive, takes up a minimal amount of space and water, is very practical and detailed, can easily be entirely organic, requires minimal weeding, and, best of all, yields lots of fresh veggies. What more could you ask for? The other books I looked at required tilling, fertilizing and weeding rows or did not focus on the basics. --John Cowling All New Squarefoot Gardening Mel Bartholomew 2006, 271 pages $12 Don't forget to comment over at Cool Tools and/or submit a tool!

3D printed bug-repellent protects your plants

Vikcreated a 3D-printed bug-repellent and uploaded the 3D file to Thingiverse:
Cabbage white butterflies are antisocial when they're laying their eggs. So if you stick up decoy butterflies, you can scare them off your crops. It's slightly oversize so it looks more intimidating to butterflies. Feel free to evolve the design.

Ignore butterflies attempting to mate with your decoy. They are stupid males and will not be laying eggs.

Printed Pesticide

Roll your own biodegradable seedling pots from strips of newspaper


Toronto-based manufacturer Richters produces a "PotMaker" that uses two chunks of maple-wood to turn strips of newspaper into biodegradable seedling pots. Fill them with soil, plant your seedlings, and transfer them to the garden when you're ready to plant. The newspaper disintegrates shortly after planting.

Potmaker Step-by-Step Instructions (via Make)