Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Elephant Ear | Colocasia esculenta

 

The elephant ear plant, or Colocasia, is a flowering plant in the Araceae family. It is native to southeastern Asian and India. It’s name is derived from the Greek work kolokasion, which Dioscorides (a Greek Botanist) meant the edible roots of both Colocasia esculenta and Nelumbo nucifera (Lotus). More obviously, the name Elephant Ear comes from its large leaves that resemble the ears of an elephant.

While the roots are edible (known as Taro) – and have been harvested for over 10,000 years – the leaves and stems are not, unless cooked or fermented first, as they contain microscopic, needle-like raphides.

The Elephant Ear plants require full sun or part shade with wet soil. They can grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall with a 2 to 10 foot spread. It thrives in Zones 9-11 and can endure temperatures down to 30 degrees. They make great companions with other plants in the Araceae family or as a dramatic centerpiece in mixed containers.

Swing by the Greenhouse at Denny Farrell Riverbank State park to view the thriving elephant ear plant!

Ladybug 101 from our Educators

About Ladybugs

There are 4.000 species of ladybugs in the world and up to 150 varieties in the United States alone. They were first introduced into the Unites States from Australia.

They are categorized as insects because they have three main portions of their body: head, thorax, and abdomen.They have poor eyesight and rely on their antennae for touch and smell. In the winter they go dormant and in the spring mating occurs. The male and female are attracted to each other by smell. The female can lay from 2 to 50 eggs in a day!

Ladybugs: A Natural Pesticide

Many farmers and gardeners consider ladybugs a natural pesticide. They eat tiny insects called aphids which feed on the sap in plants. Aphids are common garden insect pests that feed in colonies. An infestation usually causes mold and plant leaves to curl and dry out.

Female ladybugs are larger than male ladybugs and can eat up to 75 aphids a day while a male can eat around 40 per day.Ladybugs in both the larval and adult stages feast on these insects. During its lifetime, a lady big will eat over 5,000 aphids!

Ladybug Release

The best time to release ladybugs in your garden is typically early during the growing season on a cool evening. A great place to release the ladybugs is an area where they can find food and water. Planting plants close together helps to maintain a humid environment. Ladybugs are attracted to plants with umbrella shaped flowers or leaves, such as angelica, caraway, cilantro, dill, fennel, tansy, wild carrot and yarrow. Ladybugs also are drawn to cosmos, coreopsis, dandelions and scented geraniums.

Greenhouse Plant of the Month: Meyer Lemon | Citrus x meyeri

Meyer Lemon tree is known for its beautiful, scented white blooms and large, bright yellow lemons. The fruit’s flavor is less acidic, juicier, and sweeter than a common lemon. These trees can be used ornamentally around homes or patios and can be grown as a houseplant.

 

History of the Meyer Lemon

Citrus x meyeri is a citrus fruit native to China. Agricultural explorer Frank Meyer, an employee of the USDA, collected a sample of the tree while on a trip to China in 1908. Botanists believe it is a hybrid of a Citrus limon (Lemon) and Citrus reticulata (mandarin orange). For nearly a hundred years it was widely unused as an ingredient and typically found as an ornamental. That changed in the late 90s when chefs, including Martha Stewart and Alice Waters, ‘rediscovered’ its flavor and uses in culinary dishes and treats.

 

 

Growing Tips

The Meyer Lemon thrives in warm climates and is fairly vigorous: when grown from seed, the tree usually fruits within four years and can yield many fruits year-round. While it performs best at temperatures around 70 degrees, it can survive brief temperatures below 40 degrees, but does not tolerate frost. Prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55F will cause them to go dormant. Meyer Lemons can grow anywhere from 6-10 feet tall with a 4-8 foot spread.

Place the container outdoors in the late spring in the full sun, clear of the last frost and protected from the wind. Bring indoors in the fall to let the tree overwinter. Meyer Lemons require moderate water in the winter with an increase needed during the summer and while producing fruit.

 

See the Meyer Lemon at the Greenhouse

Currently, the greenhouse’s small Meyer Lemon is producing seven fruits while the taller Meyer Lemon is showing off its bright, beautiful white blooms. You can stop by the greenhouse to see the Citrus x meyeri anytime during the scheduled hours.

 

Click here to see our upcoming events/workshops at the Greenhouse!

Pumpkin Patch & Halloween Facts

Happy Pumpkin Patch!

 

At this time of year, 2nd graders have candy and treats on their mind – but wait, these orange drops are sweet and delicious too! Thanks to a generous allocation of City Council funds, Council Member James Vacca, these 7 year olds commuted from their classrooms to their gorgeous Hort garden, right on their school campus to harvest their perfect pumpkin!

 

 

Agricultural Origins of Halloween

 

Halloween is a yearly spectacle and beloved holiday of costumes, trick-or-treating, and carving pumpkins. It’s a night of candy and mischief, where children haunt the autumn streets and jack o’ lanterns glow. Many participate every year in the festivities, but few know the holiday’s ancient agricultural beginnings.

 

Celtic Festival of Samhain

The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-in.) Across Ireland, Wales, the British Isles, Scotland, and France, the night of October 31st marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.  This was a time to offer thanks for abundance and to make sacrifices to appease the gods for the coming winter.  Grain was reaped; mead (honey wine) and beer were brewed. Sheep and cattle were brought in from the pastures for the winter.  Old animals that were thought wouldn’t make it through the coming season were slaughtered and this meat, along with fruits and vegetables that would otherwise spoil, were shared in large festivals. Fairs, markets, and assemblies took place across the lands.

 

Trick or Treating

Samhain was considered a sacred time when the veils between our world and the “otherworld” were lowered and spirits, elves, and fairies would roam the earth. Bonfires were lit on hilltops and scary costumes were worn to frighten malevolent spirits. In Wales, young men would dress up and commit pranks, impersonating the spirits of the dead. Food and drinks were left out for the ancestors, which led to the modern tradition of giving out treats.

 

Bobbing for Apples

The practice of bobbing for apples can be traced back to the Roman invasion of Britain, after which the conquering armies incorporated their traditions into the Celtic festivals. The Romans introduced the apple tree, leading to the goddess of the orchards and abundance called Pomona being honored at Samhain with the divinatory tradition of apple-bobbing. Here, unwed young people would try to capture apples that floated in water or hung on strings. The first to catch one in their teeth would be the next.

 

Jack-O’-Lanterns

The first Jack-o’-Lanterns were carved during Samhain in Ireland out of turnips and beets. The lanterns, hollowed out and carved with frightening or funny faces, were said to both represent the spirits that haunted the world during this time, and also to ward them off. When Irish immigrants came to America and discovered the native pumpkin, this large and hollow gourd replaced the turnips and beets as the vegetable of choice.

The name of the Jack-O’-Lantern can be explained by the myth of a clever but lazy blacksmith named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree. Jack then carved crosses into the base of the tree to trap the devil. He forces Satan to promise to never take his soul to hell. After living a greedy and drunken life, when Jack dies, he is not allowed into heaven or the underworld. When Satan forbids his entrance to hell, he gives him an ember to place inside a lantern to light his way as he wanders the world for eternity.

 

Modern and Secular

After the Catholic Church came to wield great power, pagan holidays began to be supplanted by Catholic holidays. “All Hallows Eve” was superimposed over Samhain, with some of the old traditions coexisting with the new Christian holiday of “All Saints” and “All Souls”.  When these traditions came to America, they were secularized into Halloween, and the holiday came to be celebrated mostly by children. Though many have forgotten Samhain, everywhere we see symbols of harvest and mischievous spirits in the form of colorful corn, bales of hay, carved pumpkins, scary costumes, pranks, and general mirth.

 

Summer Days in Greenpoint

This summer, the Hort’s education team developed and led the Young Naturalists Program at McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The program was free and open to the public throughout July and August. Students, mostly two to twelve years old, joined our educators for nature-themed classes. Additionally, as an ongoing project, students beautified a park corner – opposite PS 110 – where they and their parents cleared leaf litter, pulled weeds, fertilized the soil, added compost, and planted native perennials to attract pollinators to the park.

Each session encouraged the Naturalists to explore their park with curiosity and a keen eye. Tuesday’s Critter Club brought up-close inspections of ladybugs, worms, crickets, and ants. Wednesday’s Art in the Park displayed students’ inner Van Gogh through print making, water colors, collages, and rubbings. On Thursday’s, everyone grabbed binoculars for a special Park Exploration. Botany and Story Time on Friday’s were a huge hit as students explored the inner workings of plants. The Saturday Family Fun gave young naturalists the opportunity to plant and grow something at home!

By the end of the summer, the Naturalists located and identified red-wing blackbirds, monarch butterflies, sycamore tussock moth caterpillars, and countless other critters and animals who call McGolrick Park home. Plus, as a special treat, on the last day of the program students had the special opportunity to meet Crooks the Chicken!

The Young Naturalists Program is part of The Hort’s McGolrick Park restoration which includes improvements to the dog run, reseeding the lawn, and restoring garden beds. This project is in collaboration with the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn and the McGolrick Park Neighborhood Alliance, and funded by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF). The GCEF is a joint program of the Office of the New York State Attorney General and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For a Refreshing Summer, Grow a Smoothie Garden

 

As you walk through New York City, it is hard not to find a store that offers green juices, kale shakes, and fruit smoothies. The health benefits of certain smoothies and juices, particularly green ones, are well-documented and common knowledge. Not only do these nutrient packed cups provide a condensed supply of our daily fruits and vegetables, which can be difficult to get amidst modern living, but they also tend to be quite delicious. At The Hort, we think it’s a great idea to fuse this healthy ‘fast food’ with your horticultural skills to cultivate your very own smoothie garden. Making your own smoothies can be a great way to save money, reduce plastic use, and increase your vitamin intake.

There are many options for what to grow in your smoothie garden. Green vegetables are important main components of any smoothie as they provide energy, stress relief, vitamins, and antioxidants in abundance. Nutrient dense fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries add essential vitamins and sweetness.

When planning your garden this spring, keep these vegetables and fruits in mind for delicious, healthy smoothies:

Vegetables

Celery is a surprisingly healthy vegetable but, fair warning, a bit difficult to grow. It requires copious watering, fertilizer and compost; however, the homegrown stuff tastes unlike anything at the grocery. Not only is celery loaded with anitoxidants, vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium, but it also can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Did you know one serving of Broccoli offers roughly 10% of your daily value of protein? It is also chock-full of calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.

Carrots, being a semi-sweet vegetable, bring a unique flavor and an immunity boost to juices. Studies have shown that eating carrots greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Radish will add a nice spicy bite to your drink, the kind we often get from Ginger. The bright red vegetable is loaded with vitamin C, aids digestions, and known to help prevent viral infections. Don’t forget to add the folic acid-rich radish leaves too!

Fennel is another fantastic taste booster and as a cousin of celery; it has terrific health benefits. Fennel is a digestive aid, skin brightener, and brings a full stalk of antioxidants.

Fruit

Blueberries, America’s second favorite berry, comes with some surprising health benefits. Research has shown that these delicious orbs can benefit the nervous system and improve memory.

Far and away the most popular berry, Strawberries provide many antioxidants and plant compounds, vitamin C and manganese.

Raspberries have been known to increase metabolism in fat cells and help with the digestive process.

Smoothie gardens can be planted in the ground, in pots, or in raised beds — essentially anywhere as long as they are properly cared for and given ample room to grow. Various flower and herbs, such as mint and basil, can be arranged among the rows and the corners for a special smoothie twist. The flowers serve an important function by attracting pollinators to the plants.

So get out that sturdy blender and turn those extra veggies or your new garden into a yummy and fresh summer treat. For a great, delicious smoothie, try this simple formula: 

2 cups leafy greens or vegetables

2 cups liquid base

3 cups ripe fruit

Try freezing your fruit for a chilled, and frosty consistency. Add a 1/4 cup fresh mint for a unique flavor too!