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Pygmy Sundew Propagation by Gemmae

28 Apr

I recently ordered a number of carnivorous plants from Cook’s Carnivorous Plants as well as CP Jungle.  One of those plants was a pygmy sundew, Drosera Scorpioides.  I wasn’t sure what was going on with the top of the plant at first; was it flowering?  It was actually producing gemmae or brood bodies that may be propagated asexually.  These are modified leaves that break free in the wild when struck by rain and they each contain an exact clone of the parent plant.

Here is a 2.5 minute video showing my process for propagating my new Drosera scorpioides from gemmae:

 
This is the plant the same day it was received from Cook’s Carnivorous Plants:

Drosera scorpioides, a pygmy sundew

Drosera scorpioides, a pygmy sundew

I fed my plant a moth 2 days before removing about 5 of the gemmae, 2 of which you see in the video above.  For the morbidly curious, the video of the moth being enveloped by the sundew tentacles is below.  After about 30 seconds the footage is sped up to 2000% although you’ll still probably want to skip forward as there is a lot of footage.  Notice there are a few more gemmae on the plant in this video:

Food in the City and Subirrigation

24 Feb

I was recently invited by Shaunalynn of sprout & co to speak at the Food in the City Spaghetti Dinner about my experience with subirrigated gardening.  Subirrigated gardening is a way of growing plants that conserves water, preserves fertilizer, and simplifies watering.  I regularly consult the Inside Urban Green blog for information on subirrigation which is authored by Bob Hyland, founder of the Center for Urban Greenscaping and the definitive subirrigation guru.  Other topics for the evening included raising chickens, Sam Katz-Christy on his Somerville yogurt co-op, Tai Dinnan from Groundwork Somerville on maple tree tapping and syrup making, and Mike Nagle on window farming in urban areas.  Live illustrations were created by Isaac Bell during the talks which reflected the topics at hand.

I’ve been interested in making my own yogurt for some time now and learned a lot about the process as Sam fielded an array of questions from the crowd.  The co-op operates from the industrial kitchen of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church and sources milk regionally from Crescent Ridge Dairy. Crescent Ridge Dairy delivers in glass containers which helps reduce plastic waste when making yogurt in large batches;  Sam’s simultaneous consideration for the environment and community was inspiring.

Sam Katz-Christy fields questions about yogurt making and running a co-op.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

Sam Katz-Christy fields questions about yogurt making and running a co-op. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

My talk reviewed the principles of subirrigation including 2-liter soda bottle designs and larger planter designs based on corrugated drain pipe which are more suitable for growing vegetables.  The planter below was built from a 3-liter bottle and housed a couple of happy basil plants.  Herbs do very well in these 2 and 3 liter designs.

A 3-Liter planter that I built to grow basil.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

A 3-Liter planter that I built to grow basil. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

For growing tomatoes and peppers, the corrugated pipe planter designs are the easiest and most reliable to build.  Below is a section of the corrugated and perforated pipe cut to fit in the bottom of the clear container shown to the right of me.  I would use this planter to grow one tomato plant or two pepper plants.  Clear containers allow you to observe water levels without detriment to the plant.

Showing off corrugated and perforated drain pipe for building planters.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

Showing off corrugated and perforated drain pipe for building planters. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

There was a great turnout for the talks.  The picture below by Chris Connors shows a small fragment of the assembled crowd;  I really enjoy hanging out after talks at hackerspaces to meet new people with similar interests.

The crowd at Sprout as well as live artwork being projected behind me.  Photo by Chris Connors.

The crowd at Sprout as well as live artwork being projected behind me. Photo by Chris Connors.

I am working on finishing a Make Project page which will include details on fertilizer, pesticide, and other concerns.  For more information on subirrigation I highly recommend the Inside Urban Green Blog as well as the EarthBox Forum.  Now is the time to order and start your tomato seeds for the upcoming season!

If you’d like to stay in touch with sub-irrigators in Somerville, MA and Boston, join the Sub-irrigate Sprout google group.

Soil Moisture Meter with a 555 Timer

5 Feb

For the past two days, I have been thinking about and building a low-cost electronic soil moisture meter for house plants that does not involve using a microcontroller.  To accomplish this, I envisioned being able to blink a light (LED) to indicate when a plant requires water using a cheap 555 timer and two nails to measure soil resistance.

Soil Moisture Sensor based on 555 Timer

Soil Moisture Sensor based on 555 Timer

555 timers determine their output signal based on two resistors and a capacitor.  I used the Astable 555 Square Wave Calculator to determine blink speeds for lighting an LED and for the 555 schematic.  To figure out what my capacitors were rated in Farads, i used the Electrostatic Capacitance Converter to convert uF to F.  My 2.2uF capacitor was 0.0000022F; that’s 2.2 times 10^-6.  I used a 100,000 ohm resistor for R1 and 10 ohm resistor for R2 to achieve a frequency of about 6.56 hz.  It looked like this:

Astable 555 Timer Circuit with Two Resistors

Astable 555 Timer Circuit with Two Resistors

To create a soil moisture meter, I used 2 parallel holes (1 inch apart) in a small piece of wood to put 2 bright common nails with wires attached (with solder) through the holes.  Speaker wire worked well here because it’s flexible, there are two wires within it, and it can easily be split apart.  I then replaced the 10 ohm R2 resistor with my soil moisture meter.

Astable 555 Timer Circuit with One Resistor and Soil Moisture Sensor

Astable 555 Timer Circuit with One Resistor and Soil Moisture Sensor

Here’s a short video of what it looks like in action:

The timing isn’t quite right, but it shows promise as a prototype that can be refined.