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Titan arum time-lapse

If you missed it live, here is Cornell’s titan arum blooming over 40 hours March 18-19 compressed into 100 seconds, plus the spadix collapsing three days later. More on titan arum at the Titan arum blog.

Thomas Bjorkman defends broccoli

Listen to report.

Thomas Bjorkman

Thomas Bjorkman

Broccoli has gotten a bad rap (again) in this week’s Supreme Court debate of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. But in this Marketplace radio report from American Public Media, Thomas Bjorkman stands up for the much-maligned vegetable.

Broccoli was mentioned eight times in oral arguments and Justice Scalia framed what’s become known as The Broccoli Question: If the government can make everyone enter this health insurance market, why not the food market? Can the government also make you buy broccoli?

Kermit Roosevelt: If the government tried to make you buy broccoli and eat it, I think there would be a constitutional problem with that.

But that’s not what the individual mandate does, he says. Making people buy a policy isn’t saying they have to go to the doctor. And grocers don’t write off the cost of giving away billions of dollars of free broccoli and then jack up food prices for the rest of us.

Roosevelt: We don’t have the broccoli emergency rooms where people say they don’t want broccoli and then they go and get it and make taxpayers foot the bill.

But don’t mention any broccoli emergencies to this guy.

Thomas Bjorkman: I feel protective of it!

Thomas Bjorkman is director of the Eastern Broccoli Project at Cornell University and has devoted the last 20 years — most of his career — to studying this particular vegetable.

Bjorkman: I’ve gotten used to watching it grow, its like you’re used to watching your pet behave in certain ways, I’m used to seeing the broccoli behave in certain ways!!

If he’s learned one thing about broccoli its this: Most kids love it. It’s the best-selling green vegetable. When Bush said he hated it, broccoli sales shot up the next year.

Which makes you realize, whatever the Supreme Court decides about health care? Could be a great year for broccoli.

Hands-On Horticulture class lives up to its name

Students in Hands-On Horticulture for Gardeners (HORT 1102) have helped the class live up to its name in recent weeks, whether creating floral arrangements …

floral arrangements

… pruning shrubs and cleaning up around Bailey Plaza …

pruning shrubs on Bailey Plaza

… or taking a trip to Cornell orchards to learn how to prune apple trees.

apple pruning lesson

Fine weather to put the apple pruning lesson into practice.

pruning apples

Though the weather did take a turn while pruning grapes …

snow squall while grape pruning

Time for a quick warm up while learning about apple sorting …

apple sorting

… and storage at the Cornell Orchards farm store.

storage room

More about the class:

The objective is to instill in students a lifelong appreciation for how gardening can enhance individual well-being through aesthetics, culinary experiences, and mastery of techniques. Emphasizes hands-on learning and practice of key gardening skills and techniques in the greenhouse and the field, such as landscape management, garden design, propagation, pruning, grafting, pest management, and flower arrangement. There is one Saturday field trip at the end of the semester to visit gardens in the local area. (Spring. 2 credits. Not for seniors or plant sciences majors.)

2011 ‘year of extremes’ for New York vegetable growers

Stephen Reiners“2011 was a year of extremes in New York, with a wet spring followed by a very hot and dry early summer,” reports Stephen Reiners (right), Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University in his annual vegetable report. (See New York Fresh Market Production Stays Steady While Processing Vegetables Decline in 2011.)

“Catastrophic flooding rains in late summer in eastern NY ruined crops and severely damaged many farms. Planted acres for fresh market vegetables were down slightly, to about 85,000 or a decline of about 4%. The value declined about 10% as the weather decreased average yields. Cabbage was once again the most valuable vegetable crop in New York with a value of $87 million. For fresh market crops, sweet corn continues to be grown on the most acres at 23,300.”

Read the full report.

VitisGen meeting April 16-17

From Bruce Reisch:

VitisGen (the Specialty Crop Research Initiative project to apply molecular technology to grape breeding programs) will host a meeting of all Project Directors along with its Industry Advisory Committee here in Geneva, April 16-17. A workshop in genetic mapping technology known as “Genotyping-by-Sequencing” will be hosted in Jordan Hall on the afternoon of April 17 to carry out the mission of VitisGen to educate breeders and all interested parties in this new and very powerful technique.

In the news

Susan BrownFrosty night threatens early-budding fruit crops [Associate Press 3/27/2012] – “This is absolutely the earliest we’ve seen,” Cornell University horticulture professor Susan Brown (right) said of the combination of freezing weather and plants that have come alive early. Most threatened overnight are apricots, which are already in full bloom. “They’re going to be toast,” she said.

Cold Snap Threatens N.Y. Apples Tonight After Record Warmth [Bloomberg News 3/26/2012] – “The apple industry is holding their breath,” David Wolfe, a plant and soil scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, said in an e-mail. “They’re expecting some damage tonight. The question is how much.”

Berry growers cautioned about new insect pest [Cornell Chronicle 3/27/2012] – An Asian native, Drosophila suzukii first appeared in California in 2008 and subsequently became established in the Southeast. Hurricane Irene is credited with helping it expand northward last year to the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes and Long Island.

Bluegrass Lane annual flower trials

annual flower trials at Bluegrass LaneIf you’re planning what annual flowers to grow in your garden or containers this season, check out the 2011 gallery at the Bluegrass Lane Annual Flower Trials website.

Last year was the eighth season of testing new and soon-to-be-released varieties. This information is used by the industry to develop better plants for consumers. Better plants mean happier customers, and potentially more sales.

The research is led by Bill Miller, with trial garden coordinator Melissa Kitchen and crew of summer interns. They evaluated 225 varieties from seven companies in 2011.

New last year were trials of more than 20 combos — mixtures of plants developed by breeding companies to help take the guesswork out of deciding which flowers make beautiful combinations for gardens and containers. These combos help instill confidence by pre-selecting two or three varieties that work well together, giving a blended look. They have similar growing requirements and may feature complementary colors or themes. Examples include: hot colors featuring reds, oranges and yellows; nautical themes of blues; or the patriotic red, white and blue. This is a hugely popular trend, with each breeding company having their own line of designer combinations.

Visit the Annual Flower Trials website.

View top-rated plants from 2011 trials.

2011 annual flower trials at Bluegrass Lane

2011 annual flower trials at Bluegrass Lane

Seminar video: Integrated biochar systems

If you missed Johannes Lehmann’s presentation March 12 on Integrated biochar systems for soil fertility management, it’s available online.

Teacher of the Year to Speak April 24

Michelle Shearer

Michelle Shearer

Michelle Shearer, 2011 National Teacher of the Year, will speak on “Teaching, Learning and the Power of the Human Factor” on April 24 at 7 p.m. in 233 Plant Science Building on the Cornell University campus.

While the Urbana, Md., high school chemistry teacher honed her teaching skills in STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math), the lessons she shares inspire educators of all students, regardless of their age or gifts.

Shearer, who holds dual certification in chemistry and special education, believes there is an aspiring scientist in all students. She makes a concerted effort to reach out to students who have traditionally been underrepresented in scientific fields, including students with disabilities, minorities, and young women.

“Although chemistry can be an ‘intimidating’ subject that is often viewed as difficult for students to grasp, I have always embraced this simple idea: Chemistry is everywhere, and thus chemistry is for everyone. Everyone. Not just college-bound students, students of a particular ethnic group, or even students of a certain age,” says Shearer.

“I have successfully accommodated exceptional students with low vision, dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome into my AP chemistry classroom,” adds Shearer, who previously taught chemistry and mathematics at the Maryland School for the Deaf.

She tells all her students, “You are the chemist. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, take pride in the goggle lines on your forehead.”

Shearer’s talk will be followed by a dessert reception. The event is sponsored by Cornell Teacher Education, Ithaca College Department of Education, Cornell Employment and Disability Institute, and Wells College Education Program.

For more information, visit or contact Bryan Duff: or 607-255-8663.

In the news

Nina BassukMoving Beyond the Natives/Exotics Debate [Urban Habitats March 2012] – Disturbed soils and other factors in the urban environment present challenges for well-intentioned gardeners, not to mention for the plants they wish to grow, writes Nina Bassuk (right).

A whiff of spring allergies [Albany Times Union 3/23/2012] – “Pollen has to develop and ripen and that is strictly a function of how warm it is,” says Tom Whitlow. “If it’s very warm, it can happen almost instantaneously when the flower opens. If it’s cold it may take a little while, days to a week. … If we didn’t have pollen, we wouldn’t have trees, corn, wheat, rice or any crop. The world would be a very different place without sexual reproduction in plants.”

Public gardens help feed hungry, preserve biodiversity [Cornell Chronicle 3/20/2012] – Donald A. Rakow, Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations, addressed the importance of today’s public gardens at New York City’s 92nd Street Y March 14.

‘Wee Stinky’ draws crowds to Cornell [Cornell Chronicle 3/21/2012] – The towering titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) attracted about 10,000 visits, including more than 3,500 on March 19 alone. More info at Titan arum blog.

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