Before he became a world-renowned expert in pomology and viticulture, he was a taxi driver in New York City, a trolley coach conductor in San Francisco, and a Neruda translator exploring Latin America from the back of a motorcycle, all of his worldly possessions packed in one saddle bag.
Ian Merwin has a colorful history, one he has happily shared with students in the 23 years he has been teaching at Cornell. Many of them gathered at Cornell Orchards on May 10, alongside more than 100 colleagues and friends, to hear him recount the tales one more time as he presented a final lecture to commemorate his retirement.
“What will you do when you graduate? It doesn’t really matter,” Merwin said. “It’s all interesting. You learn something from each one.”
A dozen universities are collaborating on a sort of extreme winemaking project: How cold a climate can a grape survive and still make good wine? The Northern Grapes Project is inventing wines the world has never seen before, winning wine awards and creating a new crop for struggling rural economies.
For the hundreds of students and others who pass through and congregate on the ‘Garden Floor’ of Plant Science Building, the hallways just got cheerier: Three 5- by 7-foot acrylic on canvas murals by Ithaca artist Kellie Cox-Brady now adorn the walls.
Already an established artist, Cox-Brady honed her horticultural art skills by taking online botanical illustration courses developed by Marcia Eames-Sheavly. And she helped Eames-Sheavly create a third advanced course.
“Gardens surround our building. The whole idea was to bring some of that color and inspiration we get from plants indoors, year-round,” says Eames-Sheavly. “I think Kellie did just that.”
With unpredictable annual rainfall and drought once every five years, climate change presents challenges to feeding Ethiopia. Adapting to a warming world, the potato is becoming a more important crop there – with the potential to feed much of Africa.
Semagn-Asredie Kolech, a Cornell doctoral candidate in the field of horticulture, studies the potato and bridges the tradition of Ethiopian farming with the modernity of agricultural science.
He shuttles between Ethiopia and Ithaca to examine and research efficient agricultural practices in the shadow of climate change. “The potato is a good strategy crop for global warming. It has a short growing season, it offers higher yields, it’s less susceptible to hail damage, and you can grow 40 tons per hectare. With wheat and corn, you don’t get more than 10 tons a hectare,” Kolech says.
Farmers Robert and Rodney Donald review the Adapt-N tool with Cornell extension associate Bianca Moebius-Clune. They saved thousands of dollars after applying Adapt-N recommendations during a trial at their Moravia farm.
New tool helps farmers nip nitrogen losses [Cornell Chronicle 2013-05-13] – The free Web-based tool, Adapt-N, draws on local soil, crop and weather data – including high resolution climate data stored at the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell – to provide better estimates of nitrogen fertilizer needs for corn (including sweet corn), in real time, throughout the season. Adapt-N was chosen as AgProfessional’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Top Product of the Year, taking 52 percent of the vote and being the first product developed by a university to receive the award. In addition to reducing farmers fertilizer costs and nitrogen pollution, the tool can also reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide emissions from nitrogen fertilizer use rival the global warming impact of the entire U.S. aviation industry.
From Mark Bridgen, director of the The Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center and Pi Alpha Xi advisor.
The first chapter of the national horticulture honor society Pi Alpha Xi (PAX) was formed at Cornell in 1923. But after more than a decade of inactivity, PAX’s Alpha Chapter is back with the induction of new members on May 7, 2013.
Back row: Mark Bridgen (advisor), Elizabeth Simpson, Angella Macias, Matthew Bond, Rowan Bateman, David Harris, Neil Mattson (faculty), James Keach (graduate student). Front: Madeline (Maddy) Olberg, Chelsea Van Acker, Melissa Kitchen (graduate student).
The vision for PAX grew out of an after-dinner conversation of a group of academics from several universities at the International Flower Show in New York City in 1923. They were looking for ways to recognize the academic achievements of floriculture students in the United States, and foster fellowship among students, educators and professional horticulturists.
A group at Cornell University led by Arno Nehrling established the society, writing its first constitution and ritual and designing the insignia (right). The first installation of the Alpha Chapter was held on June 1, 1923. It has since spread to some 40 academic institutions around the country, and embraces all horticulture disciplines.
PAX was very active at Cornell University for many years, peaking in the 1970s. Members organized a formal dance with a live band each fall at Willard Straight Hall. Back in those days, young men presented huge football mum corsages to all the young ladies at these events.
As student enrollment in floriculture and ornamental horticulture declined and faculty retired over the years, the Alpha Chapter’s activities declined, and it eventually became totally inactive sometime in the 1990’s.
This year, I was named the new advisor to the Alpha Chapter and we’ve reactivated our membership with National PAX. I was originally a member of the Gamma Chapter at the Pennsylvania State University back in 1976, and later continued my activity as a graduate student at the Epsilon Chapter at Ohio State University and with the Kappa Chapter at Virginia Polytechnic & State University, where I earned my PhD. My wife, Margot, was also a member of PAX at Penn State.
The floriculture team at Cornell University is anxious to invigorate the Alpha Chapter and reignite a tradition that began here at Cornell. You can find out more about Pi Alpha Xi at the American Society for Horticultural Science website, or contact me with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a hot topic, and discussion was simmering at a recent symposium sponsored by CALS International Program and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Changing crops for a changing climate: What can biotechnology contribute? Controversial author Mark Lynas opened the event with a keynote speech that addressed his dramatic transformation from anti-GM activist to advocate. Among the respondents during the ensuing panel discussion:
David Wolfe, horticulture, explained some of the biology behind genetic modification, and its potential to add to crop diversification and mitigate climate change. (58min)
Peter Davies, plant biology, addressed some of the misconceptions about GMOs, and shared examples of instances where genetic modification led to environmental and health benefits.(1:09:00min)
By Celine Jennison ‘14. Cross-posted from CALS Notes.
Have you ever wondered why the grass along Tower Road looked so miserable even though it runs alongside the Plant Sciences building?
A group of students from the “Grassing the Urban Eden” class (HORT 4931) recently re-sodded the side of the road, from Garden Avenue towards Day Hall, to transform the grim strips along the sidewalk into a long green carpet in just an hour.
Bassuk brought her expertise with soil. She had previously invented CU Structural Soil to promote tree health in urban environments where roots suffer from compaction, inadequate water, nutrient and oxygen levels. Her soil has a 8:2 stone to soil ratio and hydrogel, a binding agent and water holding gel to prevent stones and soil from separating during the mixing and installation process.
Rossi lent his knowledge about grass. He recommended 90 percent tall fescue – “the most idiot-proof grass you can get” – and 10 percent Kentucky bluegrass, a common cool-season species used in sod production. Fescue can withstand traffic, salt and drought, but is a “bunch-type” grass; the addition of bluegrass helps knit together a sturdy sod.
The experiment on Tower Road involves installing sod from CALS alumni Laurie and Steve Griffen ‘84 of Saratoga Sod, on top of CU Structural Soil to see how well the grass performs at different depths: 6, 8 and 10 inches deep. Wireless in-ground sensors will later be added to monitor temperatures, moisture and salinity.
As a plant science major who walks along Tower Road every morning, I look forward to monitoring the grass performance and seeing for myself whether this technique is one solution to greening cities and making passers-by happier.
From Margery Daugherty, senior extension associate in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Department:
Are garden centers in your area worried about what to tell home gardeners this spring about impatiens and their downy mildew problem? (See Impatiens downy mildew in the news for background on the problem.)
This may help: ‘Great Annuals For Shade’ brochures for home gardeners are now online. This colorful brochure describes shade annuals that can be used instead of garden impatiens and briefly discusses downy mildew. Two versions are available:
Martha Mutschler and Cornell Dining executive chef Steve Miller, who has tested about a dozen of Mutschler’s hybrids. (Jason Koski/University Photography.)
New mild onions offer great taste, long shelf life [Cornell Chronicle 2013-04-27] – Cornell researchers have developed new mild onions that will have chefs crying – tears of joy. Twelve years in development and with a couple years of testing to go, researchers say it will be just a few years before the mild locally grown onions are available to the public. “My goal was to develop a mild onion with higher brix, for better storability, and adapted to New York state long-day growing conditions,” says Martha Mutschler, professor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics who developed the onions.
Northeast Farmers Urged to Plan Ahead for Climate Change [Lancaster Farming 2013-04-27] – “The assumption that our past historical climate can be used for decision-making is really no longer valid,” David Wolfe told the Climate Smart & Climate Ready Conference at the New York State Grange in Cortland, N.Y., April 19. “The generations of farmers before us could all rely on what the historical climate data told them, we can’t do that,” he said. “This is really the first generation of farmers to face this predicament and so really all of us — ag scientists, NGOs, government agencies and farmers — need to be developing new approaches to environmental monitoring so that we can keep ahead of what is changing out there.”
Awesome Vintage Apple Art: 9 Fruits You Won’t Find at Your Supermarket [Mother Jones 2013-04-26] – Reblogged from CALS Notes: [Mother Jones goes] ga-ga over the 1905 two-tome book The Apples of New York, one of the finest resources for the amateur New England apple enthusiast—“Its nearly 200 illustrations really are worth bragging about, and not just for their scientific value either. They capture the full beauty of apple hues during a time before widespread color photography.” On top of detailed historical and scientific scholarship of 800 apple varieties, the books also teaches readers step-by-step how to identify a mystery apple. Both Volume I and Volume II are available online.