Tag Archives: Agricultural science

All episodes that discuss, relate to, or center around agricultural sciences, including plant science, postharvest, plant genetics, animal science, and other relevant topics.

51: Christmas Trees Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on Christmas trees.

[Background music].

Hallie: Today we’re going to talk about the agronomic information around Christmas trees, a little bit about the history. This is an episode for all people of all faiths, even if you do not celebrate Christmas. Welcome to the Christmas tree episode, everyone.

Chris: Welcome. It’s more about trees than about Christmas, right?

Hallie: Yes, absolutely. Except for, I hope you are wearing warm, cozy socks, wherever you are.

Chris: I am wearing no socks, but I am wearing my Baby Yoda PJ pants.

Hallie: Totally counts. Dad, what do you know about Christmas trees?

Chris: I know they’re trees.

Hallie: Yeah, great.

Chris: I know they’re often made of fir.

Hallie: Made of fir. What do you mean made of fir?

Chris: There’s Douglas fir and noble fir and what other kind of fir treating.

Hallie: Right. Not like cat fur.

Chris: I mean, I just assumed it’s all the same fir, right?

Hallie: It is not the same fir. [Laughs].

Chris: Definitely not. Okay. I mean, and they are trees.

Hallie: Yeah, you said that.

Chris: I guess that’s all I really know. Usually, I guess we have some sort of pine tree as our Christmas tree when we’ve had Christmas trees. I feel like my grandparents once went out into the field and cut down some sort of Christmasy shaped Cedar tree.

Hallie: Oh, that’s so cool.

Chris: Or what we call Cedar trees here in Central Texas, which are actually what Ashe juniper or whatever.

Hallie: Correct. Great work.

Chris: Go me and they usually have lovely decorations and some sort of ridiculous, massive thing on top.

Hallie: Yeah, botanically speaking, Christmas trees are not very specific. They’re kind of just generally a conifer. A conifer could be like you mentioned fir trees, it could also be pines, spruces, et cetera. What the term conifer means is it’s within this category of seed plants so that is all plants that make seeds. We have within seed plants, angiosperms that’s plants that flower like an apple tree or a sunflower, anything with a flower on it is an angiosperm and then you have gymnosperms and gymno.

Chris: Means they’re doing gymnastics.

Hallie: It does not mean they’re doing gymnastics. Gymnosperm means naked seed. So sperm meaning seed and gymno meaning naked.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Within gymnosperms, you have a couple of different categories, ginkgo trees, which we’ve talked about before are gymnosperm, cycads are gymnosperm, which are like a kind of palm and then conifers are also a type of gymnosperms. That’s what conifer means. It is a cone bearing plant. It does not have flowers and it makes cones.

Chris: I think cone bearing was the thing that I had learned in I don’t know elementary or high school or somewhere along the way, but there’s a little more to it than that and they bear these lovely cones and the cones are what contain the seeds.

Hallie: Exactly. Yes, these trees that we use as Christmas trees don’t make flowers. They make instead cones with seeds in them. If you’ve ever seen like there’s really cool videos on YouTube with a pine cone exploding outwards.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Which is when a pine cone gets ripe when it’s not ripe, when it’s ready. Then when it’s not ready, all of those little edge guys are like uptight so it kind of looks just like an egg. Then when it’s ready, it kind of just like pops open and all of the seeds kind of shoot-out, which is a great seed dispersal method and then that’s when you get kind of that classic pine cone shape because it kind of just hoots open.

Chris: Okay. We’re putting the link to one of those videos in the show notes because I got to see this.

Hallie: Let’s talk about the history of Christmas trees. There is a very long tradition of people putting green things in their houses. The Egyptians did it, the Romans did it, the pagans did it. When it’s winter time, it’s dark and gross and there’s some green stuff outside. Let’s bring it inside and make it nicer inside. We’ve been doing that for a long time, but the practice of bringing a whole entire tree into your house started in Germany. The church was putting on plays to educate people about the Bible because people couldn’t read very well. So they would put on place showing stories from the Bible and the 24th of December was celebrated as like the feast day for Adam and Eve. Not really sure what that means, but they would put on an Adam and Eve play. Within the story of Adam and Eve, there is a tree famously and so they would bring a tree and from outside as kind of a prop in a play and they would put like red balls on it if they couldn’t source any apples.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Yeah, so that was like the first time we started putting trees inside of our houses around Christmas time. Eventually, they started adding candles to these trees and other things and it started looking lovely and people started thinking, hey, that’s nice. I’ll just put that in my house so eventually, it became a German tradition to actually have a tree around the 25th of December. That was around like the 1500, 1600. Eventually, people started immigrating from Germany over West to the Americas and they kind of took that tradition with them, but it didn’t really take off until Queen Victoria in 1848. There was an engraving made of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who is German. What?

Chris: He’s the guy in the can.

Hallie: What can?

Chris: Prince Albert in a can.

Hallie: I don’t know what you’re talking about, dad.

Chris: You’ve never heard of Prince Albert in a can?

Hallie: Prince Albert in a can? What?

Chris: It’s a joke. You call up a grocery store. You say, do you have Prince Albert in a can? They say yes and you say, you better let him out.

Hallie: Why would they say yes though? I don’t understand.

Chris: That’s a great question. Oh, it’s tobacco.

Hallie: Okay. Well, probably makes sense as to why I’ve never heard this weird joke because nobody chews tobacco anymore.

[Laughter].

Chris: It’s true. I mean, I’m sure some people do, but yeah.

Hallie: I will say I went to school for agriculture and we did have signs around the school saying this is a tobacco free campus so you can’t chew your tobacco or smoke it because that’s what I went to school with.

Chris: Good for them.

Hallie: Farm folks and that is not uncommon for some people in some areas of the country, but anyways. Great, weird old joke, dad.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: So in 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their kids, there was an engraving made. It got put in a couple of magazines and everyone was like, oh my God, how cool and fashionable a tree inside the house with candles on it and stuff so it became kind of a thing and then in the 19th century, the electric lobby here in the US pushed for an electrically lit tree in the white house, which kind of brought the tradition here to the US.

Chris: Naturally.

Hallie: Eventually in the late fifties and early sixties, plastic trees and otherwise non-natural trees came into fashion, which we will talk about later, but that’s kind of the brief history of the Christmas tree.

Chris: Okay. Super brief.

Hallie: Really quickly before we went into the mid-role, I wanted to kind of talk to you about your favorite part of a Christmas tree.

Chris: Oh, wow. I used to help my mom decorate the Christmas tree and it was a lot of fun and for some reason, there were these two little wooden pan hand painted bird ornaments that I always put on the Christmas tree and I’d always sort of dig through the ornament box and look for those specific ornaments so I could put them on the tree. I’d try to give find little places where they could have nest in the branches.

Hallie: Oh, well. That’s so cool.

Chris: Yeah, and then I really pushed hard for blinking Christmas lights.

Hallie: Oh yes.

Chris: Because I thought blinking Christmas lights were the coolest. My mom of course wanted static white lights. The blinking drove her nuts but I just for some reason really loved blinking Christmas lights and then at some point, we had this giant star on the top of the tree that was basically one big series of concentric circles of blinking lights and I loved it.

Hallie: I love that. That’s awesome. I don’t know when you got this, but had like a little X wing that plugged into a Christmas light and so it would like light up different colors if I remember correctly.

Chris: That’s true. The engines would light up.

Hallie: Very cool.

Chris: Yeah, I still got that [inaudible].

Hallie: I also used to decorate the Christmas trees with your mom and my sister and I think my favorite part was always at the very end. Our Christmas trees over the years got more and more elaborate. At one point, we were buying like 18 foot Christmas trees and doing the entire tree and it was like really intense, but my favorite part was always at the very end we would do tinsel and I know it’s not very environmentally sound to be putting strings of plastic on to your Christmas tree, but we would save it from year to year. We would like pull it out of this baggie and it would like always have little pine needles from last year in there and we would like sprinkle the tinsel on and it would just look so incredible this giant monstrous tree that was just covered in a bunch of handmade ornaments and lights and shiny, shiny tinsel. It was my favorite.

Chris: Okay. I want to make sure the listener understands here because my first memory of tinsel was this sort of shiny plastic stuff that was fixed to a string and then you’d sort of draped the string around the tree and there’d be the shiny plastic stuff attached to the string and so you’d have tinsel all around the tree. Now, this tinsel to which Hallie is referring was just the shiny plastic stuff. It was just a bunch of loose tinsel in the bag that they would get up and they would sort of drape all over the tree and then to clean it up, we’d have to pick up the individual pieces and I’m sure we would lose a little bit each year to sweeping or vacuuming or whatever and then stuff it back in the bag. Yeah, it was a mess, but it did look pretty cool.

Hallie: To be fair, we also had this string kind of tinsel. We really went for a maximalist look with our Christmas trees.

Chris: That was like, I think we hit peak tinsel in one year. I don’t know.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad?

Chris: Yo.

Hallie: You know what people wear every day?

Chris: What do people wear every day?

Hallie: Underwear.

Chris: I mean, we’ll say most people. I don’t want to speak for everyone.

Hallie: That’s fair. Most people, most days. We are in Zoom life so live your bliss. There are very few societal norms that we all have to follow anymore.

Chris: It’s true. If you like go commando, but if you don’t.

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Chris: You know who I bet loves comfortable underwear.

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Hallie: We are so grateful for you guys. You do the mostess, the absolute mostess and we are so, so grateful and we hope that you guys are having a wonderful day wherever you are.

Chris: Thank you to each and every one of you.

Hallie: Shall we get back to the episode?

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: So dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: A figure very often associated with Christmas is of course, Santa Claus.

Hallie: Sure.

Chris: But did you know that in the Marvel Universe, Santa Claus is the most powerful mutant according to Cerebro.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Yeah, in 1991, they declared that he was an Omega level mutant with abilities that included immortality, weather manipulation, molecular manipulation, immunity to cold and heat and gravity manipulation, which if you think about it, he’s going to have to be able to do all that stuff to get around the world and deliver those presents.

Hallie: Honestly, I love that. There’s this very, very powerful person and all he wants to do with his big, strong powers is just go deliver presents to children. When you think about the traditional Santa Claus mythos that’s just his job but the idea of thinking of him as like a mutant, that’s not just his job. He just has all these strong powers and then he made the decision to I could do literally anything, but what I will be doing is becoming Santa Claus and taking all these presents to these kids. That’s adorable.

Chris: Does it justify the surveillance though?

Hallie: Oh sure. It does.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Absolutely, dad.

Chris: Also in 1927, the US government issued him a pilot’s license.

Hallie: Oh my God. I love that. I love how the United States military is so dedicated to truly collaborating with Santa Claus throughout the years. It’s wonderful.

Chris: It really is, but also the Canadians do it too. Both he and Mrs. Claus have Canadian e-passports.

Hallie: Amazing. Wait, what’s an e-passport?

Chris: I don’t know. I assume it’s some sort of Canadian electronic passport thing.

Hallie: Well, love it. Great work. Terrific. Do you want to hear about the farming involved with Christmas trees?

Chris: I can’t wait.

Hallie: In 2012, which was the most recent numbers I could find, there were 295,000 acres in production for Christmas trees.

Chris: Is that a lot?

Hallie: I mean, it’s not none acres. That’s a considerable amount of acres that equated to about 17 million trees being cut in 2012.

Chris: That sounds like a lot.

Hallie: It’s yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of Christmas trees around the world. There are a lot. The biggest States here in the US for it are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Oregon and North Carolina are really like the two big, heavy hitters. Although the interesting thing about Christmas trees that is not really the same for any other crops, including flowers is that Christmas trees are very often procured close to your region just because one, they’re alive so they need to be taken care of well so that you can have a long Christmas tree life and two, they’re also really big and hard to move. Flowers are alive and you want to have as long shelf life as possible, but we get a lot of our flowers from South America and Europe, but they’re really, really small so it’s not that hard to move a giant Christmas tree, very hard to move around the world. So Christmas trees are very often procured within your region. You do have like Oregon supplies a lot of the Christmas trees on the West coast. North Carolina does a lot of the East coast, but like here in Texas, a lot of the Christmas trees that we see are just grown here in Texas.

Chris: Oh, cool. I had no idea.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty cool.

I mentioned like Oregon does a lot of the West coast Christmas trees, there is like one farm that is exceptionally large. I think it is the largest Christmas tree farm in the US. It’s called Holiday Tree Farms and they do about 1 million trees per year. But still, if you think about like more than 17 million trees, that’s not even a 10th of the market.

Chris: So are we going to get into this later? How long does it take to grow a Christmas tree?

Hallie: Christmas trees take like 6 to 10 years usually.

Chris: There’s this giant farm in the Pacific Northwest that sort of every 6 to 10 years, they cut down a giant swath of trees and then plant new ones and then rotate out I guess the rest of their acreage over time.

Hallie: I think what’s more common with Christmas tree farming and I’m sure it depends on the farm is you have what’s called like nurserying, where you have some older growth trees next to smaller trees so that once those older trees are cut down, the smaller trees have room to grow. It’s kind of interplanted and staggered based on age.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The most common Christmas tree types are Fraser fir, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce. I think the last year I had a pine tree, which is not represented on the most common, but it was adorable and I loved it.

Chris: It was a cute little Christmas tree.

Hallie: About three quarters of Christmas tree farms sell retail. As I mentioned, a lot of Christmas tree procurement is very localized. This is a huge amount. I mean, you have about half of Christmas tree farms that do at least some wholesaling, but the majority like 75% do a good amount of retail so that is a lot of local sales.

Chris: The pop-up tents, they sell the Christmas trees. Those are basically the people that grew them. Is that what you’re saying?

Hallie: Sometimes those pop-up tents are wholesale, but sometimes they are just run by farms. Like last year I got my Christmas tree from a non-profit here in town where it’s like a fundraiser for the boys and girls club and they buy wholesale trees and then sell them here in Austin.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But a lot of Christmas tree farms do at least some local retail where you can come out and you can pick your own tree, you can cut your own tree down, you can pick it out of a pile or they take it into town and they set up in a parking lot or something like that. There are some like Christmas tree sales cooperatives where some farmers all come together and they rent out a parking lot together. There’s a lot of different models, but yeah, it is quite localized. Most of those smaller farms are often retirement projects for folks who maybe are from that area and their family has been doing Christmas tree farming or they were a farmer and they want something that’s a little bit more hands-off, not that Christmas tree farming is easy. There are definitely difficulties with it, particularly like the weather. It’s real cold when you have to go out there and cut all the trees down.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But generally, you’re doing less year round maintenance because so many of your crops are just perennial. A lot of the larger ones are full-time operations, but those smaller ones can be retirement options.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: How much money is in Christmas trees? Wholesale, it’s around like between 250 and 500 million. I found a couple of different sources from different extension documents as well as industry publications and that’s about the range I saw and then for retail, it can be upwards of 2 billion so that includes wholesalers who bought Christmas trees from farmers and then sold them retail as well as farmers selling directly to retail.

Chris: Christmas is big business.

Hallie: It’s big, big, big business. I promised earlier that we would talk about this. Let’s talk about fake Christmas trees.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Most fake Christmas trees are made of what’s called poly vinyl chloride, also known as PVC. You can also get fake Christmas trees made of aluminum, made of fiber optic cable, feathers, et cetera, et cetera, kind of whatever. Most of the fake Christmas trees, like most, most of them are all made in China.

Chris: How would you like to be a bird and see a fake Christmas tree made of feathers?

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That would be so hurtful I feel like.

Chris: It would be horrifying.

Hallie: That’s your home. The fundamental question I feel like everyone has when it comes to Christmas trees is which is more environmentally friendly, a natural tree or a fake tree so that’s what I wanted to get into here. Here’s like a little bit of the pro con breakdown or first actually, dad, I wanted to know, do you guys do a fake tree or a real tree? I don’t know.

Chris: When we do trees, we’ve done real trees. We haven’t done trees in the last couple of years just because I don’t know effort, I guess and we need to clear out the space where we would put the tree. I know historically growing up, we always had real trees although later in life, my parents or maybe just my dad got a fake tree. His parents had a fake tree. I believe that they would get out every year and they used it for 20, 30 years or something like that. It’s been a mix for me. My mom’s parents always had real trees so I was most familiar with real trees.

Hallie: Same. Like you said, we always did real trees growing up. I’ve only had like a Christmas tree once. I have like put Christmas tree ornaments on my houseplants before, which is how I did it all throughout college and grad school.

Chris: There you go.

Hallie: Then last year was my first year getting like a real actual tree, which was really fun. Here’s kind of the pro con breakdown.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: Fake trees are made of plastic. That requires a lot of oil, right? Because it’s what? It’s an oil byproduct so that’s like a lot of energy, a lot of non-renewable resources. They are also made in China so it’s a lot of transportation. Real trees require agricultural inputs. Typically, this is like a lot of pesticides to keep the trees looking nice. They do also require pruning and maintenance as they live for between 6 and 10 years.

That’s like a lot of work and can be a lot of petroleum if that is what is driving the trucks around the Christmas tree farms.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The other big consideration with real trees is where they go at the end of their life. If they go to the dump, then they just decompose and produce a lot of methane versus if they are taken away and chipped and made into mulch and recycled or if they go and do something else where they’re not just decomposing in the dump.

Chris: Turn it into Dillo Dirt.

Hallie: Yeah, they can totally be composted for sure. That’s kind of the pro con. Here is the breakdown. There’s not a lot of science, unfortunately about like truly what is the best option. I found two life cycle analysis and one of them said, in order to balance out what you would be spending in terms of carbon on real tree versus a fake tree, you would have to keep your fake tree for more than nine years and the other study, I found said more than 20 years. One of the studies was paid for by the Christmas Tree Association of America and the other one was I found it linked on the US department of energy’s office of scientific and technical information website, but it was done by a French Canadian research firm who apparently does life cycle analysis, but this is the only study I could find from them and it was done in 2016 I think and I also couldn’t find anything under the names of the researchers other than this life cycle analysis so these are very different numbers.

I cannot say for sure that either of these life cycle analysis are really better than one or the other of them, neither of them have been cited that much. One of them obviously was paid for by the industry. The other one, I don’t know who it was paid for by, so it’s unclear which one. I can’t just go out and tell you, here’s the answer. Here’s my thoughts. When you do buy a new fake Christmas tree, unless it’s like a wooden balsa wood Christmas tree, it’s going to stay on the planet for ever, for ever and ever. It’s not going to go anywhere. If you buy a real tree, it can be decomposed. It can be turned into wood chip mulch, which we can always use more mulch. Believe me I know. That’s kind of like my take on it. My gut is if you have a fake Christmas tree already, no point in getting rid of it. But if you don’t have one and if you can’t find a used one that already exists, then maybe we don’t need to be creating more that will just stay on the planet.

Chris: Well, that sounds reasonable. Although real trees are certainly getting more and more expensive over the years, but to review, Christmas trees are generally conifers, which means they are cone bearing and we’re linking a cool video. They were like so many things popularized by a queen and thank goodness Santa Claus is benevolent with all those powers.

Hallie: No kidding.

Chris: Buy yourself a tree if you like. If not, that’s cool.

Hallie: Have a wonderful and warm winter season, everyone. Take care.

Chris: Bye.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

52: Insect Agriculture

This week we talk to Robert Nathan Allen (known by most as RNA) of Little Herds! We talk about what’s exciting in the world of edible insects, as well as break down a few misconceptions. Also, would a grouping of insects even be called a herd?

https://twitter.com/rnaeatsbugs, https://www.instagram.com/rnaeatsbugs/, https://twitter.com/littleherds, https://www.instagram.com/littleherds/

Join our discord our facebook group!

Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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51: Christmas Trees

This week we’re talking about Chistmas trees! What is a conifer? Should you buy real or plastic? How many super powers does Santa Claus have?

Pine cone opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUhubDdGRuo

Sponsors

Knickey makes undies from organic, fair trade cotton and ships in 100% plastic-free packaging. Use code GROWON at checkout to save 10%!

Read the transcript.

Join our discord our facebook group!

Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
facebook.com/onetogrowonpod
[email protected]

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

Support us on Patreon!
patreon.com/onetogrowonpod

About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

49: Apples Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we are talking about apples.

[Background music].


Hallie: Okay, dad. What do you know about apples?

Chris: I know that some of them are delicious. Some of them are not. Some of them taste way too sour or like cardboard.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: I know that they can be stored for up to a year, which still blows my mind.

Hallie: That’s true. [Laughs].

Chris: I know they got little seeds in them and worms like to use them for houses at least in cartoons or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, good stuff.

Chris: You can stick a crabapple on the end of a stick and fling it really far.

Hallie: We used to play like, I don’t know. I can’t remember if we had a name for it, but we had a crabapple tree up at the farm and we would take crabapples and throw them and the other person would hit them with a tennis racket and they would just explode. It was so much fun.

Chris: Oh boy.

Hallie: Probably not good for the tennis racket, but that tennis racket was probably like 45 years old.

Chris: Or crabapples. Sure.

Hallie: I mean, it was really not good for the crabapple. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright. So apples, what do you got? What’s so great about the apple?

Hallie: The apple also known as Malus domestica is in the Rosaceae family. We have talked about lots of things in the Rosaceae family, so I thought it would actually be interesting to talk about where in the Rosaceae family apples are compared to other things in the Rosaceae family. Listeners, I will put this on the Instagram and probably on the Twitter.

If you want to see what it is that dad and I are going to be talking about, you can find it there, but dad, this is basically a hypothesis of the evolutionary structure of the Rosaceae family that you can see here. Can you describe what it is for the listeners?

Chris: Well, I see Johnny and Maura up top and there’s also some David.

Hallie: What? No. [Laughs].

Chris: Okay. Now, what I’m looking at is this sort of ridiculous graph. On the left-hand side, it starts out as I guess, three lines sort of splitting out from each other at not quite, but almost a right angle and branching into a whole bunch of other little lines, which branch into even more little lines. It just sort of makes this little kind of tree like structure I guess and towards the lines become different colors I guess to represent different species of apple.

Hallie: It’s to represent different types of fruits within the Rosaceae family.

Chris: Oh, got it.

Hallie: Like if you see on the left, there’s like achene, druplet, follicles, capsules, dry drupe pome, et cetera. We’ve talked about some of these different types. We’ve talked about drupes on the show, we’re going to be talking about pomes today but basically, this is just like different structures of fruit within the family. You can see up here at the top, we have Fragaria and Rosaceae.

Rosaceae is roses like you have in your garden, Fragaria is strawberries and then you have rubrics, so those are all up at the top. Then down at the very bottom there’s Prunus, which is things like peaches and apricots and plums and then in the middle, you have Malus and Pyrus. Can you guess what Pyrus is if we know Malus is Apple?

Chris: Are Pyrus cherries?

Hallie: No, that’s Prunus.

Chris: Okay. Pyrus, I don’t know. Does it have to do with papyrus? Is it like little paper reeds?

Hallie: No, it’s pears. [Laughs].

Chris: Oh, that makes sense sort of.

Hallie: Yeah, apples and pears are quite similar. They’re both pomes.

Chris: Alright. Do they rhyme?

Hallie: No, not a poem. A pome, so P-O-M-E. A pome is a fruit consisting of a fleshy enlarged receptacle and then a tuft central core containing the seeds. A receptacle is basically the thing that holds the flower and it’s right below the ovary and this is actually what strawberries are as well as they’re mostly a receptacle. Then on the outside is where the actual fruit is.

Pomes are a little bit different where the enlarged receptacle is on the outside and then the seeds from the ovaries are on the inside. Basically, the inside bit is what comes from the ovaries and on the outside this technically vegetative part of the flower structure grows up and around it to protect those seeds.

Chris: Okay. When you say receptacle, basically, you mean the delicious part?

Hallie: Yeah, well, so the receptacle strictly speaking is like the stock that holds the flower and it’s the part on the stock that’s right below the ovary, but with like pears, apples, strawberries, when the ovaries are fertilized, then that part also grows as well as the ovary itself.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: The fleshy part is the receptacle, the enlarged receptacle. The part we eat is the enlarged receptacle. We have talked about Amygdalin once on the show before. We talked about it actually in our Halloween episode last year when we were talking about apricot pits, but Amygdalin is also present in apple seeds, although in a smaller amount.

Chris: I do not remember what Amygdalin is.

Hallie: It is the thing that makes cyanide.

Chris: Maybe don’t eat those seeds in large quantities.

Hallie: I mean, you would have to eat a lot of them and honestly, it would be very hard because you would also have to like break them open. Usually, if people eat apple seeds, sometimes they just chew on them. Sometimes they swallow them whole accidentally. You’d have to basically make a smoothie of like 500 apple seeds and then eat all of it, which would be horrible and disgusting, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Chris: It definitely sounds unpleasant. Actually, now I do remember this. We talked about apricot seeds in foods that kill if you’d like to re-examine that episode, but yes, that’s where I’m remembering this knowledge from. Apple seeds have the same potential, but probably not a thing.

Hallie: Apricot pits have dramatically more Amygdalin. Definitely do not chew on an apricot pit.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But apple seeds are not that big of a deal. Like I have heard that as a fun fact, like, oh, apple seeds can kill you. They can’t really kill you unless you eat an immense amount, which is true for most foods.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: Originally, it is thought that apples originated in Central Asia, but modern apples actually share more genetic material with European apples just because of hybridization along the Silk Road. We started domesticating apples a very, very, very long time ago and Malus domestica is just such a distinct species and has genetic material from many, many different kinds of apples that is really like its own thing now, which is why it’s its own species, even though it was just hybrids from all these wild species. But that’s super cool.

Chris: This sounds like the kind of question that would get you thrown off a bridge on Monty Python.

Hallie: [Laughs]. One of the interesting things about apples is that they are self-incompatible. We’ll talk about this later on in the show when we talk about breeding. But that basically means that one apple tree cannot fertilize itself. It needs a second other apple tree to make apples. This plus the long lifespan of apples plus it being involved in cultural practices and being eaten by a lot of people made for hybridization and a lot of genetic variation during domestication. It’s very different from corn that we have now where like we have a lot of different varieties of corn, but they’re very genetically similar because apples cannot self-fertilize, you have so many, so many, so many different kinds of apples and they’re very, very genetically distinct.

Chris: I know we’ve got a lot to talk about and I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, but how common are self-compatible plants versus self-incompatible plants? That’s not something that I ever would have really thought of.

Hallie: With herbaceous plants, things like tomatoes, they have a year to live and then they’re done, so it’s much more common for them to be self-compatible and self-fertilizing just because it makes much more sense. If you have a year and then you’re done, then you really want to be cranking out those seeds as quickly and as easily as possible. If you have a tree crop, that’s really their goal is to live as long as possible, it makes sense to want to have a lot of genetic diversity because that will make you more resistant to disease.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s really your goal. If a disease gets to a tree, that tree might be done. If there are a lot of other trees that are very similar genetically, then they also might be done. Having like self-incompatibilities just makes a lot more sense evolutionarily as an advantage to trees versus if you’re talking about more short-lived species.

Chris: So every apple tree is unique and special just like people.

Hallie: It’s true except for it’s not which we will be talking about. [Laughs].

Chris: Alright.

Hallie:
I want to talk about Johnny Appleseed. Dad, for any non-Americans that we have listening to the show, can you give a very brief summary of who Johnny Appleseed is?

Chris: Actually, I’m not sure that I can.

Hallie: What do you know about him?

Chris: Johnny Appleseed is one of those names that you hear here in American, even if you don’t know a lot about him. He’s like a guy that planted a lot of apple trees and had this philosophy of life that I’ve got everything I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed and I’m thankful to God for all of these things.

Hallie: Yeah, that was a great summary.

Chris: Thanks. That’s all I know.

Hallie: Johnny Appleseed is based on a real man called John Chapman who was born in 1774 right before the American Revolution in Massachusetts. As he was growing up, where he was living was going through like a lot. Capital, A capital L, A Lot. Eventually, he moved west to Ohio and he was in Pennsylvania for a bit as well. Basically, he moved to Ohio during a land deal. The rules of it basically were the settlers could take land from indigenous people “settle it” up to 100 acres of land in what we now call Ohio if they planted 80 trees. You had to plant 80 trees to be able to claim your 100 acres. So Johnny Appleseed moved to Ohio and he would go up to the cider presses in the winter and load up on apple seeds that were a leftover a by-product and then come spring, he’d go and plant them all by a river with a little fence of brush around them to keep the deer out.

Then five years later, he’d come back, get all the saplings out of the ground and sell them to new settlers.

Chris: Sounds like a lot of work.

Hallie: Well, but the thing is it’s not a lot of work. You plant seeds and then five years later you have something to sell. It’s not like he was tending these apple trees. He was basically setting up little nurseries that he would just leave by themselves to function. Sometimes he would come back in once or twice to check on them and make sure everything was going well, but he wasn’t doing much.

Chris: So he made money off the land rush, basically.

Hallie: He made money off a land rush. It was like a very capitalist opportunity facilitating settler colonialism, but he was a weird guy. He took this money and it’s not like he went and bought a bunch of land or bought a bunch of people or resources or tried to make himself rich. He started to run a horse rescue with the money he was making. He would take in horses that he thought were being abused. He really couldn’t stand to see animals or plants abused or hurt, which is why he didn’t graft apple trees. We will talk more later about grafting apple trees, but that is something that was really, really common for hundreds of years. By the time Johnny Appleseed rolled around, it was very common to graft apples and he wouldn’t do it because he thought it was hurting the trees. He didn’t really live any particular places. He was a wanderer. He was very religious, so he would kind of wander around and spread the gospel.

He was a vegetarian later in life. There was this account that I found that Anthony Banning Norton, who was a journalist and historian he called Chapman the oddest character in all of our history in his 1862 History of Ohio. I copy and pasted a little account because I just thought it was really interesting. He said, “One cool autumn night while lying by his campfire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny who wore on his head a tin utensil, which answered both as a cap and as a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire and afterwards remarked, God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort. That should be the means of destroying any of his creatures,” meaning God’s creatures. Then in that same account, they talk about him sleeping in the woods, him walking around barefoot in the snow. I don’t know how truthful these accounts are just because it’s history and this guy wasn’t there. He was a journalist and he was talking to people who said that they were there, but boy, what a picture they draw.

Chris: Indeed.

Hallie: This really reminds me of if you’ve seen the Good Place you remember Doug Fawcett.

Chris: Yes.

[Laughter].

Hallie: This is what this reminds me of.

Chris: Right. Living on his own trying to make no impact whatsoever and just to backtrack super quick, as you said it very casually. He said he didn’t buy anything. He didn’t buy any land or people or whatever. Just to be clear, he did live in a time when buying people was possible.

Hallie: Exactly. I did want to be clear at the front, he did facilitate settler colonialism. He was taking advantage of these capitalist structures in this late time of oppression and he was able to benefit from that, but he was a weirdo amongst those systems. For sure.

Chris: [Laughs]. That’s awesome. Now, I’m curious. I wish we had more firsthand historical accounts of him. I’m sort of interested to learn more about the individual.

Hallie: Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting history, but the really interesting thing about Johnny Appleseed is really the impact he had because he wasn’t grafting plants and basically making clones, he was planting from seed and making genetically distinct individual trees. He dramatically increased the genetic diversity of apple trees in North America and made it really possible for genetic apple breeders today to have a lot of material to work with.

Chris: Okay. If apples are so genetically diverse, then how do apple growers predict how an apple is going to come out?

Hallie: We’re going to talk about that after the break.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Welcome everyone to the break. Dad, did you know we have a Patreon.

Chris: I did.

Hallie: We have a Patreon. It has several tiers on it. They are all super fun and I would encourage anyone who is listening and interested in supporting the show to just mosey your way on over there to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: We have several tiers. One of which includes our starfruit patrons, who should have just gotten a shipment of salt, which is amazing.

Hallie: It’s not just salt though. I want people to understand it’s not just salt. We worked very closely with this extremely cool shop that is based out of San Diego and they got like six specialty salts all of which I tried with you and oh my God, were they amazing?

Chris: Let me tell you a piece of sourdough bread with some butter and a little dash of the truffle oil salt is amazing. Also, the other night I had some corn on the cob with some butter and the Havana spice salt. Wow. That was incredible.

Hallie: That’s one of our tiers over on Patreon.

Starfruit patrons get a shipment every six months of very cool goodies that we love and we think they’ll love, but mostly we are just extraordinarily grateful for everyone on Patreon and all of your support of the show. You make it possible for us to do this and make it as wonderful as we are able to make it and thank you, especially to our wonderful starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Chris: Thank you so much. We could not do the show without you.

Hallie: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Hey dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do have a nature fact.

Hallie: What is it?

Chris: One of the things that apples are used for is apple pie and I love me a good apple pie and there’s the expression American is apple pie, but did you know that apple pie actually originated in the UK and the first known recipe that was recorded that we have written down was by Geoffrey Chaucer?

Hallie: What? No way.

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: Really?

Chris: Author of the Canterbury Tales often referred to as the father of modern English literature.

Hallie: Wow. That’s an incredible nature fact.

Chris: It included apples, figs, raisins, and pears in a pastry shell. But no sugar, which I’m guessing was probably much more expensive at the time.

Hallie: Honestly, that sounds pretty good. I feel like the raisins would bring that sweetness. It sounds like it would not be too sweet, but just right.

Chris: I was saying at the time I would probably be really happy to eat that pie.

Hallie: I feel like I would be happy to eat that now. Apples and pears and raisins, I could totally go with that and figs. I love figs. Figs are my favorite.

Chris: Figs are great.

Hallie: Tara tarara! Nature fact. Okay. You want to know about apple breeding.

Chris: You have no idea how much I want to know about apple breeding.

Hallie: A lot of the crops we eat as mentioned before can be pollinated by other flowers on the same tree or plant. Some flowers can even be pollinated by itself, like tomato flowers can just be pollinated by themselves. Apple pollen cannot fertilize flowers from the same plant. Their system to reject their own pollen actually also reduces the likelihood that parent or sibling plants can breed with them. As I mentioned, this makes for healthier plants more resistant to pathogens and pests, but it also makes it impossible to breed. The apples that Johnny Appleseed spread around North America, which were created by seed were mostly cider apples because for cider, you really just need the sugar content. They don’t have to taste good. They don’t have to look good. It’s very rare for an apple planted by seed to taste good and look good. It’s not common. The spread of apples across North America precipitated by Johnny Appleseed, but of course, not exclusively to John Appleseed, did lead to things called chance seedlings. Some of which led to varieties. We now know like the Golden Delicious, which is where you just have a random seed and eventually, wow. Something great comes of it, but almost never does that happen. We now have genetic sequencing, which does take some of the guesswork out of it. But honestly, if you think about it, if you’re trying to create a new apple, you can’t crossbreed between two apple trees necessarily that are related and you’re trying to isolate specific like genes, specific traits. Really, it’s just roll a dice. You have to plant a seed and then you have to wait 15 years to get an apple to see if it is good.

Chris: 15 years?

Hallie: That’s how long apple trees take. It’s like 10 to 15 years until the apples are ready to be harvested. It takes a long time. Sometimes it can be earlier if you have ideal conditions, but generally, that’s about how long it takes. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard to breed apples. It’s very hard to breed apples. I cannot stress this enough.

Chris: Okay. Let me try to sort of clarify this in my mind. Let’s take Golden Delicious as an example because it’s like one of my favorite apples. Love me a Golden Delicious. If I want an orchard of Golden Delicious, then I get Golden Delicious apple seeds or do I start with saplings or whatever and plant them and then wait for years for them to become trees and then they keep producing apples forever or how does that all work?

Hallie: If you want a Golden Delicious apple orchard and you start with Golden Delicious apple seeds, you will not get Golden Delicious apples.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Because the flowers on the Golden Delicious apple tree were pollinated by some other random tree, right?

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: The seeds are half Golden Delicious, half something else. How we breed plants is we do a lot of back crossing, so you cross with something else and then you cross back with the original plant. You cross with something else and you cross back with the original plant. That’s almost impossible to do on apples because of the self in compatibility and because they take so long to get to maturity. We don’t have these specific genes isolated. We don’t have the traits isolated. So Golden Delicious is really just totally random. How we get Golden Delicious apples, we take a root stock and we graft onto the top of it. Meaning we take part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and we cut off the top part of an apple tree and we stick on the top part of a Golden Delicious apple tree and they grow together and it’s basically cloning. This is how apples have been grown for a very long time. The oldest apple variety might be the Annurcha Apple, which some people think is the one mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his naturalist historia as maaleh or celer before the year 79.

Chris: Oh, that’s a while ago.

Hallie: We have been doing this for a very long time. We have been grafting apples because it’s very hard to breed apples, so we just clone them. We just clone them because that’s how you get good apples.

Chris: Okay. What’s the difference then between breeding and cloning? In this case, cloning, you’re taking an existing plant and you’re taking a piece of it and you’re growing that or you’re grafting something else on to it to grow it.

Whereas when you say breeding, you mean growing from seed and hoping that they’re pollinated by plants close enough to it to produce something predictable, except it sounds like that won’t happen. It’s just going to get pollinated however it gets pollinated and have fun with whatever you get that could be really interesting or it could be awful.

Hallie: Right. For example, say we’re breeding like sunflowers. You want a bigger sunflower seeds so that you can put them in the Piggly Wiggly’s and you also want something that is resistant to sunflower blight or whatever diseases affect sunflowers. So you take a sunflower that might be really affected by whatever disease is affecting the sunflowers but it has big seeds. Then you take another sunflower that has small seeds and is really resistant to this disease and you cross pollinate them like 200 times. Then you look at all of the babies that came out of those and see, do any of these have both of the traits that I want. You just keep doing that over and over again until you’re able to breed the specific traits that you want. That’s a really simplified version. Plant breeding is a lot more complicated than that, but you can’t really do that with apples just because of that self-incompatibility. You can’t keep breeding back and forth because of this mechanism to reject pollen that is related to the original tree. We just have to clone it. We roll the dice. We go out into the woods. Literally, this is how they found the Golden Delicious apple. They were just talking to farmers, going out into the woods, being oh, I heard so-and-so has an apple that’s good. They went and they found it in the woods and they took it and they said, this is a good apple. We will now take part of these branches and go clone them and now you can eat them in the grocery store.

Chris: Thank you to those people.

Hallie: Yeah, absolutely. But also, it’s roll the dice. They didn’t really do anything other than facilitate the growth of the apple tree.

Chris: Fair enough.

Hallie: We graft all the apples. They’re all clones. All the Red Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Golden Delicious apples are exactly the same. All the Granny Smith apples are exactly genetically the same. Of course, this creates issues with genetic diversity and disease. But because we just have so much apple genetics, apples as a whole are not really at risk of a disease wiping out a monoculture, but like specific apple varieties might be.

Chris: Okay. As long as Golden Delicious are safe, I’m fine.

Hallie: Well, as of 2008, 90% of the apples produced in the US were just 15 varieties.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: So Golden Delicious is probably one of those 15. That’s a lot of Golden Delicious apples. They’re probably okay, but compared to every other apple out there, they are definitely at a higher risk in terms of risk to diseases.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: That’s how we make apples. In terms of who eats apples, China eats 40 million tons of apples. The US eats 4 million tons of apples, which is second place. So China eats the most apples.

Chris: I mean, they got a lot more people, so I guess it makes sense.

Hallie: The highest per capita, I was actually really surprised by this is Poland, Turkey and then Iran.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: Very interesting. China also grows the most apples. They grow 41 million tons. The US grows 4.7 million tons and then Turkey comes in third with 3 million tons.

Chris: The little good Turkey.

Hallie: I know. Apparently, very big apple people over in Turkey, had no idea. Post-harvest, this is the thing that you really wanted to talk about when I brought up talking about apples, you wanted to know how we get the apples off the trees and into storage and then to the grocery store.

Chris: Indeed.

At some point, we have to blame Hollywood for the need for them to be red, but we will come to that.

Hallie: No, that’s the first thing I have.

Chris: Oh really?

Hallie: Yeah, red color is normally just cosmetic. Like Gala apples, it’s an indicator of maturation, but that is pretty much the only apple that we eat commercially where that’s really an indicator. Normally, it just is consumers won’t eat an apple unless it has some red on it or it’s specifically not a red apple.

Chris: I remember in the nineties, there were a bunch of farmers that tried to breed some really great bright shiny red apples, but they all tasted like cardboard.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They ended up going out of business and there was this whole thing about farmer relief for these people who were losing a bunch of money because they grew really not good apples and some of them were like, you know we’re in business. We tried and we failed. That’s it. That’s what happened.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I mean, it is very hard to breed apples to be fair. As you mentioned at the top of the show, apples can be in storage for up to 12 months. Their storage period is 1 to 12 months in storage. Usually, that has to be in the right conditions though, so like the temperature is usually between 30°F and 40°F. The humidity has to be like 90% to 95% just so that they can stay good and edible and delicious.

Chris: You can’t just put it in the cupboard for a year.

Hallie: Can’t just put it in a cupboard for a year.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The next thing I wanted to talk about was browning. Do you know why apples go brown, dad?

Chris: I assume it’s some sort of oxidation.

Hallie: It is. Great work.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: Yes, I found a really helpful article in the Scientific American, which is called, “Why do Apple Slices Turn Brown After Being Cut?” When apples are cut or bruised, oxygen is introduced into that injured plant tissue and then when the oxygen is present in the cells an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase also known as PPO, which is in the chloroplasts will rapidly oxidize phenolic compounds. Then that oxidation creates a brown colored secondary like product. You can use lemon or pineapple juice to coat apple slices, which will slow enzymatic browning both because they have antioxidants in them and because they have a lower pH so all in all that causes the enzyme to be less active.

Chris: If you want lemon juice on your apple, it’ll stay better longer.

Hallie: It’s true, but in 2017 there was an apple approved. There was a GMO apple called the Arctic Apple and there’s actually several different varieties of Arctic apples.

Chris: Interesting.

Hallie: They basically just took out that PPO, that polyphenol oxidase enzyme out and so now, there’s no oxidation process happening. Other than that, the apples are the same, so they don’t brown. There was a lot of talk when these were first released about like kid’s snacks, pre-cut apple snacks, the apples that you can buy from McDonald’s and stuff like that when you are on the go, you have small kids that need the apples already cut up and you don’t have time to cut them up. There was a lot of talk about those consumer packaged goods, ready to go apples. But of course, apple trees take a long time to grow and they weren’t approved until 2017. So we still have a ways to go until we know really what the market’s going to be.

This year was their highest harvest to date, according to Growing Produce, which is like an industry publication. This article was published on October 28th, so pretty recently. We’re recording this on Halloween. This is pretty up to date. They had almost 8 million pounds and of course, fall is usually when apples are ready, like early fall. 8 million pounds of Arctic Apples this year. Probably will be more next year.

Chris: I wonder how they taste.

Hallie: I mean, they taste the same. They took like existing apple varieties and then just took out that enzyme, so they probably taste exactly the same.

Chris: Also kids, you don’t need time to cut up an apple. You can just take an apple and bite it directly.

Hallie: What if you’re like a tiny baby with the little tiny baby teeth or a small little baby mouth?

Chris: Your parents can cut it up for you. But I mean, let’s face it. That’s not who these things are marketed to. They’re marketed to kids that are 8, 9, 10 years old, who don’t want to be bothered with whole apples or parents that don’t want their kids to be bothered with whole apples and would rather just get them pre-cut apples. I don’t know.

Hallie: Maybe probably. I don’t really mind a pre-cut apple. I mean, we’ve talked on the show before about the question ability of pre-cut fruits, whether that’s apples whether that’s pineapples whether it’s watermelon, when you go into the store and there is like a precut section, one creates plastic, but two, also makes it possible for people to eat fruit that that it might’ve been challenging otherwise maybe because they have a disability maybe because they just don’t have enough time in the day to really take time to prepare fruits like that. There’s a lot of reasons why pre-cut fruit is complicated in terms of creating plastic, but beneficial. It’s complicated.

Chris: Well, pre-cut fruit is fine. Sure. I’ll keep an open mind.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: That’s really cool apples. Love an apple. I’m not going to try to breed an apple, but I will definitely eat an apple and I might try some medieval apple pie.

Hallie: Absolutely. That sounds great. Got to go get me some figs.

Chris: Also Mama Casey, if you’re listening, we haven’t had apple pie in a while. Just saying it.

Hallie: You can make an apple pie. It’s not hard. No, dad come on. You can make an apple pie. You don’t need mom to make an apple pie.

Chris: I mean, she really makes good pie. Just saying it.

Hallie: Oh my God.[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

49: Apples

This week we’re talking about apples! We discuss varieties, methods of propagation, and how apples were first domesticated. Also, how well do you know Chaucer?

The Johnny Appleseed song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_IrdS-zu48

Read the transcript of this episode.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

Rocks with weeds

48: Xeriscaping with Leah Churner and Colleen Dieter Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re talking about xeriscaping.

[Background Music].

Hallie: This week we have on the podcast two amazing women. We have Leah Churner, the founder of Delta Dawn Sustainable Gardens here in Austin, Texas. She’s also the creator of Hothouse Podcast and a co-creator of the Horticulturati Podcast. And we also have Colleen Dieter on. She is the creator and brains and brawn and everything behind Red Wheelbarrow Plants and a founder of Central Texas Seed Savers, as well as the second half of the Horticulturati Podcast. Welcome you all.

Chris: Welcome. Thank you for being here.

Colleen: Thanks.

Leah: Thanks for having us.

Hallie: Was there anything that I missed in you all’s intro?

I know you have many accolades to your names.

Colleen: No.

Leah: I think you got it.

Colleen: Generally, awesome people.

Hallie: Yes, absolutely.

[Laughter].

Chris: Those are the only kind of people we ever have on the podcast, so here we go.

Colleen: [Laughs]. Okay. Good. We’re in good company then?

Chris: Absolutely.

Hallie: I know I mentioned that both of you all have two different gardening companies, but I was wondering if you guys could give a little background about the work you do and how you got there.

Leah: Colleen, you start.

Colleen: Oh, okay. Alright. I was going to tell you to go first, but I’ll go first. I help my customers by alleviating their anxieties about their yards. Primarily, I help homeowners who are do it yourselfers who want to garden and want to landscape their properties, but they just don’t know where to start and they just have a lot of worries and trouble and so I can come in and give people advice about what to do and how I got into it was through 20 years of experience as a personal gardener in Austin. Before I had my consulting business, I had a set group of customers who all had really complicated yards and I took care of their yards basically and learned all about plants in Central Texas that way along with a short stint, working at Natural Gardener. I studied horticulture as my minor in college at the Ohio State University and I was a philosophy major. That’s my story.

Leah: I’ll go. I’m Leah speaking here. I’m a landscape designer and gardener and like Coleen, my background is into the maintenance side of things and so I was doing that sort of same personal gardening maintenance for people for a long time. I still do that, but now I also do design and consulting and I’m very hands-on from the point of conceiving of ideas to putting them in to trying to maintain them over time. I’m a control freak in that way. Yeah, that’s what I do and I am also teaching planting design at ACC starting on October 12th and that’s what I do.

Hallie: Super cool.

Chris: Yeah, very nice. I got to ask is the Ohio State University, the only university in Ohio State or the only university called Ohio State or is the, just part of the name?

Colleen: The, the is just part of the name. It’s like a branding thing.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Colleen: It’s silly when I say it, I’m saying it partly with pride, but also partly sarcastically.

[Laughter].

Chris: Very good.

Leah: It’s like Talking Heads, when you talk about the band Talking Heads, you don’t call them the Talking Heads.

Colleen: Yeah, or Sustainable Food Center. Is it the Sustainable Food Center or is it just Sustainable Food center?

Hallie: A lot of people think there’s a the, but there isn’t. In fact, no the.

Colleen: But with Ohio State, there is a the.

[Laughter].

Leah: I did not know that.

Colleen: It started like around the time when I started in school there. They did that branding thing. It’s just a silly thing.

Hallie: You two both have immense experience and you guys are both so knowledgeable and you guys highlight that beautifully in Horticulturati, your podcast. But I specifically asked you guys here to talk about xeriscaping because one it’s like something we’ve gotten a lot of questions about from our listeners and I know a bit about it, but I was pretty sure you two would have a lot to add.

Leah: Oh, great.

Hallie: Two, it’s like a big buzzword here in Texas. It’s something that a lot of people talk about, but I think that the idea of what it actually is, is very incorrect, so I was wondering if you guys could give a little definition about xeriscaping.

Colleen: That’s a good question.

Leah: Well, I’ll hazard.

Colleen: Go.

Leah: Or do you want to go Colleen?

Colleen: No, you go.

Leah: Okay. So xeriscaping is an approach to landscape design that I believe originated in the eighties in Colorado in Denver and I think it was the Denver watershed protection department that came up with it and trademarked it. I might need to fact check that, but it was definitely out of Denver and it was a trademarked term just to refer to designing landscapes in a way that they require very little water and very little supplemental irrigation. I think there’re seven principles and they include things like using mulch, using plants that are well adapted to the landscape. Colleen, do you remember any of the other xeriscape principles?

Colleen: I think one of them is like keeping plants like do you need more water up closer to the house and grouping them together so that the higher water use plants are up near the house? I’m trying to remember what some of the other ones are, but yeah, it was really laid out. I mean, the spirit is that it really was a concept that was laid out in a really specific way with these seven principles and now has evolved over time to mean something different as a buzzword like you were saying.

Hallie: I guess from you all’s perspective as designers and gardeners, what is the perspective now of xeriscaping? What do you guys hear people referring to when they talk about xeriscaping?

Leah: Well, do you want to go first, Colleen? Then I’ll tell my part.

Colleen: Well, yeah. The term that is being used instead, so xeriscaping is X-E-R-I, like xeri and that refers to a dry environment, but now people hear that and they think it means zeroscaping, like the number zero where it involves removing a lot of plant material from the landscape and then just putting rocks or gravel on top of the soil and then calling it done. People will often call me and say I’m interested in xeriscaping. Excuse the pun, it’s gotten watered down over time.

[Laughter].

Chris: Very good.

Colleen: It has lost a lot of its meaning and has been sort of I guess not purposely co-opted, but sort of transformed into a concept that has been divorced from its original intention I think of creating rich landscapes that use less water than a conventional landscape that has a lot of turf grass in it and plants that demand a lot of water use.

Leah: I had a chance to look up the seven principles and they’re really quick. I’ll just throw them out there. They are planning and design, soil improvement, practical turf area, not having the entire yard be St. Augustine lawn if you don’t need that much turf grass, you would have to irrigate, efficient irrigation, mulch, low water use plants and appropriate maintenance. Never anywhere in that definition is take all the plants out and cover everything with rocks. There is no nowhere in there.

That is what as a buzzword xeriscape has come to mean, unfortunately, is that idea that just put rocks everywhere and gravel and there’s a lot of problems with that.

Hallie: You mentioned problems and you say, unfortunately, can you talk a little bit about the issues with this rock scaping and the crushed granite with cactuses look of a landscape?

Leah: There’s a few things and I’ll let Colleen chime in too. First of all, there’s two really big problems. One is that gravel reflects light and heat and raises the ambient temperature, whereas plants and mulch absorb light and heat and they lower the ambient temperature, especially if we’re talking about like trees. There’s a heat Island effect when you use lots of rocks and that can be very uncomfortable during the summer and raise your energy bills and be really hard on the plants and trees that you do have. Then the other issue is that because we’re not actually in the desert and we get what 34 inches of rain a year and the most of those rain events happen in a few big storms throughout the year, things are just going to get super weedy because we don’t live in a desert where we can just cover everything with rocks and have a kind of a Southwestern landscape. Doesn’t quite work where we are because we just get a little too much rain and then plants really want to grow anywhere where there’s a sunny spot.

Chris: I’ve seen people put like trash bags or whatever all over their lawn to sort of kill the grass to put something new and usually, they follow up with covering it with rocks and maybe some succulents, but even giving it that treatment after some time, some weeds are going to sprout up.


Colleen: Yes, for sure because as long as the wind blows and birds fly, there’s going to be weeds because there’s just seeds everywhere.

Chris: Got it.

Colleen: In fact, especially with decomposed granite, the grittiness of decomposed granite, which is almost like sand that grittiness of that texture, catches more seeds and that material holds water for quite a while too and so it’s really a nice place for little tiny plants to start their lives. It becomes really weedy over time. At first it seems fantastic, but it doesn’t take more. Usually, after a year or two it becomes really weedy and can be really high maintenance and it’s counterintuitive because you would think it would be really low maintenance, but as Leah and I have both found as professional gardeners, when we’re caring for those types of yards, they tend to be the highest maintenance yards.

Chris: Oh boy.

Leah: Because it’s not very fun to weed gravel.

[Laughter].

Leah: It hurts your fingers and it’s hot. I mean, also another problem with doing that solarizing thing where you put the plastic down is that one of the principles of xeriscape is soil improvement and if you are basically zapping the landscape with the sun and the plastic, you’re actually really going to degrade the quality of your soil because you’re going to kill not just the grass, but also although microorganisms and the soil biology that you have in the soil, and it’s going to become a real sterile soil and that can also make it hard for plants to do well as I’m sure you guys talk about a lot on One to Grow On.

Colleen: Yeah, and not to mention if there are any trees growing nearby, you can also damage the tree roots by heating up the soil to try to kill other plants. You can inadvertently damage tree roots too and that’s the thing in Austin. We’re so fortunate to have such tree cover in this city and it’s very rare that you find a property that doesn’t have any trees on it and surrounding trees with gravel can have a negative impact on their lives as well.

Leah: I think Colleen and I would both agree that even though it sounds kind of counterintuitive, one way to really, if you want to keep weeds down, plant more trees because you want to shade those weeds out. Then also if you do have a bunch of grass that is growing in the shade or something that you want to get rid of, you can actually do a similar thing. You can smother it by sheet mulching, so that would be using a ton of organic material, cardboard, compost, and mulch just piled up lasagna style on top of the soil and that will actually help do that same thing that the solarizing is doing, but it’ll do it a little more gently and it’ll not harm the soil biology, but it is a little bit harder to do that. It’s just a little bit more intensive.

Chris: How terrible is my St. Augustine?

Leah: You’re saying Augustine? It’s not so terrible.

You don’t have to feel bad about having some grass. I think there’s a place for it.

Chris: Excellent.

Colleen: For sure, like Leah was saying when she was reading off the xeriscaping principles, you could have turf grass where it makes sense. If you have established St. Augustine grass, that’s in a dappled shade situation, which is where St. Augustine grass likes to be and you’re caring for the soil underneath it, which is another one of the principles, you’re caring for the soil underneath it so that the soil is so spongy and will hold water for longer and you’re caring for the turf grass using organic methods and mowing correctly, like mowing with the mower blade on the highest setting possible and leaving the clippings on the grass. If you’re doing all of that, then it’s not the worst. It just depends on what your perspective is and if it’s providing a service for you, then I think it’s fine. [Laughs].

Leah: Sometimes you want a little bit of lawn to be some kind of nice negative space of green and I think there’s a place for that. There might be some tiny little spots in what I would design.

Chris: Awesome.

Colleen: I agree. Like, at my house, I’m a plant collector. I have tons and tons of plants and the grass doesn’t really serve a purpose for me, but if I had dogs or children or I didn’t collect plants, then I would have kept some of the St. Augustine grass that I had in my yard that was really well-established and in the right light and actually didn’t need that much water.

But if you’re trying to grow St. Augustine grass where there’s full hot sun and you have to water it all the time, then that’s a problem. I think that’s the spirit of xeriscaping. I that’s when they developed this in Denver. I think that’s what they were after was just getting people to be cognizant of how much water they’re using on their landscapes and to put a little bit of thoughtfulness into it.

Hallie: That’s what I really wanted to dig into on this episode. We did an episode in the past on turf grass and we talked about the water needs, but I would love to hear you all’s perspective. Like say, you get a client who calls you and says, I want to xeriscape because I want no water and I’m just going to do cactuses. I don’t want any of those stinking flowers that I have to prune and fertilize and all that stuff. What would your response to them be?

Colleen: I would educate them. Sometimes that’s all people need and that’s why as a consultant, people call me because they want ideas and they want to be educated and so sometimes people think that that’s what they want, but when I come to them and I say, okay, listen. In my experience, those landscapes are the highest maintenance and here’s the alternative. You could have some relatively low maintenance plants that only need to be trimmed like once a year, that will attract butterflies and other wildlife and we can design it in a way that we can handle any like erosion problems that you’re having or something like that. I make sure that they understand that what they think they need is not what they actually need because people will usually say, I want a landscape that is really low maintenance, so I’d like to just install rocks over the whole thing. Then I’ll say, well, there’s this misconception that we’re talking about right now and then people are like, oh, okay.

Then I’ll show them photos of other landscapes and tell them what care they require. I have a stable of plants for customers who just really don’t want to do any maintenance at all, who maybe are retired and travel a lot and plants that are like evergreen and need very little care that I’ll do for those particular customers, which is actually a rare situation. Most of my customers are interested in gardening and don’t mind doing some trimming and transplanting and stuff like that, so it just depends on the situation, but I try to really listen to people and hear what they really want and then educate them about the best way to go about getting what they want.

Chris: I’m definitely one of those no maintenance people, if I can help.

Colleen: Sure.

Leah: I actually had someone that I talked to on the phone today say that she wanted to xeriscape part of the yard and like her neighbors had done. When that comes up, I’m like let’s look at it. Let’s talk about it and I try to use the term water-wise, which is a term that I borrow from the sorry, Austin watershed protection department that they use a lot and I like that term because it’s not always appropriate to use Zurich plants. You might need plants that can tolerate periodically wet conditions, like maybe plant something by a downspout or in a low spot in your yard and also just the term Zurich, in terms of ecology, it refers to an upland location, a higher elevation where the most of the water runs downhill. So that’s why it’s so low water because it’s up high and then you have the mesic zone, which is kind of in the middle. Then you have the hydroxyl zone, which is low down in the valleys where the water congregates or whatever. You got to think about not every situation is correct for cacti and succulents.

There’s certain places that it’s going to be much more appropriate and effective to use plants that can handle a little more wet conditions.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Welcome to the break. Dad, did you know that on our Patreon, we have outtakes and extra research.

Chris: We do have outtakes that are frequently hilarious. I’ve heard your sister laugh at them on more than one occasion.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Very often hysterical and hilarious.

Chris: Extra research.

Hallie: Yes, we have extra research from the episodes as well as other miscellaneous cool articles or additional reading. I try to put tons of really cool information into the Patreon and so if anybody is interested in learning more about the topics that we’re talking about on the show, if anyone is interested in laughing out loud, who isn’t? In these times, am I right?

Chris: You are right.

Hallie: You can find all that info on our Patreon, which is patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: You can join our wonderful patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Hallie: We are so, so grateful for all of you. You do so many wonderful things to our hearts and brains. When we think about how much we love you, sorry, that turned a little bit weird there at the end, we are grateful for you. You make our world spin and you make this podcast happen and we hope that you are having a wonderful day wherever you are. Shall we get back to the episode?

Chris: Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Can you tell me more about water wise gardening? What do gardeners need to think about and you all as professional gardeners need to think about when you’re thinking about water-wise gardening?

Leah: When I think of water wise gardening, I just think of really matching a plant to its site conditions carefully and one of the best resources for figuring out what goes where is the Grow Green Guide that the city puts out and it’s free and you can get it at any nurseries and a lot of different like hardware stores in places. It’s a little booklet that the watershed protection department puts out and has a list of all these native and adopted landscape plants and has their water requirements and pictures of everything and it’s just such a cool resource. Starting to think about, what plant would work here? What’s the right plant for this spot is part of what I think of when I think of water-wise gardening? Like Colleen said, maybe putting some of the wetter plants near the house. Did you say that Coleen?

Colleen: Yeah, near the house and around the downspouts like you said. That’s a great tip putting plants that require more water up near the house. If you have gutters, then you could plant those plants near downspouts and then if you don’t have gutters and you’re going to get more rain off of the roof. So just having higher plants that prefer a little bit more water up closer to the house. By the way, you can download a digital version of the city of Austin’s Grow Green Guide from the Grow Green website. Something else that I always think about too with water-wise landscaping is again building the soil. It’s really important to me. Leah was talking about sheet mulching as a way to eliminate existing grass or plants that are not desirable in a particular landscape. Sheet mulching is a really great way to build soil as well and building soil is important in xeriscaping like I said earlier because you want the soil to be alive with microorganisms and that soil that’s alive and healthy will act like a sponge and will hold water for the plants to be able to use in the long-term as opposed to a degraded soil. Degraded soils are going to be really hard. A lot of the water when it rains, the water will run off of a degraded soil and it won’t be able to soak in as deeply. Sheet mulching is a really good way to build more life into the soil and create a soil that’s going to be spongy and healthy to support the plants and will also reduce runoff during storms and prevent flash flooding.

Chris: I think if Hallie had a battle of cry, it would be soil health.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Colleen: Yeah.

Hallie: I do really like that word spongy though because I feel like talking about soil health is still something that’s harder to get across if you’re talking to newer gardeners because it can be abstract and I think that word spongy is so helpful.

Colleen: Definitely. You have to have metaphor because a lot of people I’ve never even really had the experience of trying to dig a hole before and understanding what it could be like and understanding what their soil is like in their particular situation. You have to use metaphor to make that real for people.

Leah: We’re not saying that Brock’s need to be banned or outlawed either.

Colleen: For sure.

Leah: Just like there is a place for turf. There’s also a place for rocks and one of my favorite things to design is dry creeks for helping storm water runoff and stuff like that, controlling the water in the landscape and doing it in a way that’s pretty more visually appealing than just putting in French drain or some elaborate underground system, making a dry creek bed. Those are really, really fun to design and they involve a lot of rocks, but you can also incorporate plants into those. We’re not against. I don’t think Colleen or I are anti-rocks and we both enjoy using rocks and boulders in the designs.

Colleen: No, for sure. Chris, you were saying that you really want to have a super low maintenance landscape and I often include boulders in my designs for folks who are in that situation because the boulders can add a lot of interest and can be really fun to look at because they attract a lot of lizards and stuff like that and they don’t require any care or watering. [Laughs]. But I don’t want the entire landscape to be just boulders. That would be really expensive and really hot and really weird.

[Laughter].

Colleen: But a boulder like here or there, it can be really, really cool.

Leah: I love boulders. I just wish they weren’t quite so heavy.

Colleen: Agreed.

Chris: Well, when I was a teenager, I was in Colorado with my mom and my cousin and we were driving around and every once in a while she would see a rock that she really liked and she would have me or my cousin get out of the car and pick up the rock and put it in the car and before long, we had a suitcase full of rocks that she really liked and I’m pretty sure they’re still in her garden somewhere, but when we went through airport security, we put it on the conveyor belt and the lady at the x-ray machine probably gave her the exact look that you’re imagining right now and said, mum, are those rocks?

[Laughter].

Leah: I get it. I understand that. I mean, sometimes you just see a rock and you’re like, wow. That rock is nice.

Chris: [Laughs].

Colleen: Definitely, your mom and I share that interest because I definitely have gone through airport security with rocks in my bags more than once.

Leah: I’ve got pictures of rocks in my camera roll on my phone.

Hallie: One time I saw a rock in Costa Rica where I was on vacation and I saw one, I was like, oh, my grandmother would love that rock, so I tried to bring it back and airport security actually confiscated it because they said it was a blunt object that I could use to bash someone’s head in on the plane.

Leah: Oh, no.

Hallie: Which I felt could be said for a lot of contents of suitcases.

Colleen: Seriously?

Chris: It’s true.

Leah: [Laughs]. Wow.

Chris: See the shoe. It’s a blunt object.

Leah: It’s imaginative.

Hallie: I’m curious, did you guys learn this stuff in school? How did you get educated on what xeriscaping is not and water-wise gardening?

Leah: Well, we both worked at the Natural Gardener for a time. I didn’t go to school for horticulture or anything. I studied art history. But I learned a lot of stuff through doing some nursery work at the Natural Gardener, just doing garden maintenance and going to the Grow Green program that the city of Austin puts out. They do it every year, a couple of day seminar that teaches sustainable landscaping and just taking classes here and there, but I don’t have any formal training in this stuff.

Colleen: Yeah, my background is the same as Leah’s and how I picked up this stuff along the way. Just through that experience of firsthand caring for these properties as a personal gardener, one day I would be at a house without a garden that a master gardener put together. I had some customers who were master gardeners for example, and they loved gardening, but they hurt their back or something like that and couldn’t care for the garden. So they would hire me to take care of it while they were recovering and stuff like that and those yards are just so fun and rich to be in and just gave so much back to me as a gardener, but even more to the homeowners that had seen blooms and the animals that would visit and the changing of the seasons, these little subtle differences that you could enjoy throughout the years. Then the next day go to a yard with a much more professionally designed yard. By the way, a professionally designed and installed yard that was full of gravel, the whole thing is gravel and just a few plants here and there and it was hot and miserable and I would work for hours and hours and just feel like I didn’t even make a dent in how much work there was to do in that yard. It just got me thinking like, is this really what we should be doing? Is this really saving water? I noticed too, that even those yards, sometimes they were so poorly designed that they would end up using just as much water as the master gardeners yard that was providing so much joy and so many ecosystem services too. I just wanted to learn more about what the right thing to do was like, how do you create a yard that gives back to the homeowners and how do you create a yard that doesn’t require as many inputs and pays off?

One way that I have learned a lot about is just by talking to other gardeners and other landscapers, especially people who volunteer at the Wildflower Center or people who work at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I learned a lot from just conversations like that.

Like, hey, are you having this experience with decomposed granite that you had to weed it all the time and stuff? People being like, yes. Then just doing my own research too in addition to taking the Grow Green classes and classes at the Wildflower Center and stuff like that. Yeah, just that accumulation of knowledge of just talking with other gardeners and people who work at nurseries and stuff like that is how I learned about water-wise concepts.

Leah: I was just going to say, that’s how I met Colleen as she was teaching a class on perennial maintenance at the Natural Gardener and I was working at the Natural Gardener at the time and they let me sit in on her class. After the class, I went up and asked her some questions about weeding gravel probably and I really think I was asking her about like, how do you get nutgrass out of ARD and how do you do that? That led us to become friends and so that’s a big way of making friends with gardeners and spending a lot of time geeking out about gardening things

Colleen: Especially around here where the climate is so different from so many other parts of the world. It’s so unique here that there’s not a lot written about gardening here. So you really have to ask other people because there’s very few books that you can pick up at that will tell you how to do any gardening in Central Texas. There’s some really good ones, but for the most part, you end up still having to collect information from other gardeners and be friends.

Hallie: I think that’s so beautiful and I think that Colleen your description of different types of gardens and this one garden that’s just so joyful is so evocative. I’m curious, this is my last question that I had. Is there anything that you all are seeing changing or any new things on the horizon for you all’s industries for you all sector?

Leah: I mean, for one thing, I will say that people are spending more time at home because of COVID and they’re thinking about their landscapes a lot so I don’t know. I feel like gardening is on the rise as far as like things on the horizon. I don’t know.

Colleen: What I’m hoping is that people will start to understand more about how regenerative the landscape can be and what’s going on right now with organic farming and people who are practicing regenerative farming to try to combat climate change by sequestering carbon in plants and in the soil. I hope that those ideas and concepts could get carried over to the landscape too because trees are so incredible at sequestering carbon pulling carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change. So right now, tree planting is a super-hot thing and it should have been hot all the time. I hope it’s not just a trend. Like we should all be planting trees all the time. What I’m trying to say is everyone’s excited about tree planting right now because of climate change and trees are one of those things where you do so little. It requires so little effort to plant a tree.

Depending on what tree you choose, like you could plant a live Oak tree in Central Texas and it could live for a thousand years, sequestering carbon, mitigating storm water runoff, providing shade, cooling the atmosphere around it, providing habitat for animals, providing food to us as humans. I mean, there’s so many things that trees do for us and they ask for so little in return. To me, that’s the thing I’m most excited about is the tree planting and the concept of regenerative landscaping, where trees are going to be helping to combat climate change and that individual people on their own properties just by planting trees can help fight climate change.

Leah: Colleen, can I piggyback on what you just said just for a minute?

Colleen: Yeah.

Leah: I was just going to add that in addition to planting trees, also just thinking about wildlife habitat and I think that’s because of climate change, I think that’s another thing that people have started to think about and that’s very important to me as well. I mean, definitely planting trees and also just having places for pollinators and birds to be and all kinds of little critters that you can connect with because I think having those connections with plants and animals and insects and stuff, does give you more of a feeling of connectivity toward nature and that is going to make you someone who was hopefully more active in regards to fighting climate change.

Colleen: For sure, oh my God. Almost every day, every new customer who calls me tells me that they want support bees because they’ve heard about the decline in honeybee population or they want to support butterflies because they’ve heard about the decline in the Monarch butterfly population or they’re just really interested in birding because they just want to see something cool out the window. So that’s like really been big lately. Even more, that was always something that my customers told me, but lately it seems everybody’s whose calling is asking for that.

Hallie: Yes, I love that. That’s amazing. Plant all the trees and it attracts all the birds and pollinators.

Colleen: Yeah.

Chris: Love a bee.

Leah: Bees and trees.

Hallie: Absolutely. Well, you all, it was absolutely phenomenal to have you both on. Is there anything that you all would like to plug or any places that people can find you if they want to know more about your work?

Leah: Sure. I’ll plug our podcast, the Horticulturati. It is kind of bi-weekly and we have a website that is horticulturati.com. Let me try to spell that. It’s H-O-R-T-I-C-U-L-T-U-R-A-T-I.com. Did I get that?

Colleen: I think so. It’s like the illuminati or the glitterati, but it’s about plants. So it’s just Horticulturati with an I at the end, without an E.

[Laughter].

Chris: Link in the show notes.

Leah: Yeah, okay. Thanks.

[Laughter].

Leah: Since we know everyone who’s listening to the podcast right now has a pen and paper ready to write it down. [Laughs].

Colleen: They’ve got their pens.

Chris: That’s right.

Leah: Mostly, I’m hoping that we’ll just get some of your listeners will check out our podcast too. That’s the main thing that I’d like to plug.

Hallie: Definitely go check out the Horticulturati. It is wonderful. Thank you guys both so much for being on. It was so wonderful.

Leah: Hallie has been on the Horticulturati, by the way. I’m just going to say that too if you want to hear it where we talked about soil with Hallie.

Hallie: It’s true.

Leah: Yes, it’s fantastic.

Hallie: It was so much fun.

Leah: It was good. Thank you so much for having us.

Colleen: Thanks.

Chris: Thank you for being here.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

Rocks with weeds

48: Xeriscaping with Leah Churner and Colleen Dieter

This week we’re talking about xeriscaping! Leah and Colleen join us to talk about what it is, where it came from, and why a yard full of gravel is a terrible idea. Also, did your school ever have any weird branding?

Read the transcript for this episode.

Leah Churner
Founder of Delta Dawn Sustainable Gardens, creator of Hothouse podcast, and co-creator of Horticulturati podcast; http://www.deltadawngardens.com/

Colleen Dieter
Brains and brawn behind Red Wheelbarrow Plants, founder of Central Texas Seed Savers, second half of the Horticulturati podcast; https://www.redwheelbarrowplants.com/

The Horticulturati: https://www.horticulturati.com/

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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47: Superfoods VI – Wild Rice, Spirulina, Kombucha, and Acerola Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this episode we are focusing on superfoods for the sixth time.

[Background music].

Hallie: It is superfoods time again. It’s been a little while and we are back at it again.

Chris: We are. Hey, you know what I had for dessert last night?

Hallie: What?

Chris: Or actually no, I made it yesterday and I had it for breakfast this morning.

Hallie: Okay.

Chris: Chocolate chia pudding.

Hallie: Yum, right?

Chris: It was really good. I made chocolate milk out of oat milk using my hot chocolate recipe and then I put it some chia full. You got to mix the chia seeds up at some point because otherwise they get all gloopy at the bottom.

Hallie: True.

Chris: That’s takings I’m getting used to, but it was delicious.

Hallie: So good.

Chris: Yeah, oat milk is good stuff people.

Hallie: Oat milk is the best of the milks.

Chris: It is.

Hallie: Should we dive into it? Oh, first I wanted to tell everyone that these superfood ideas came from polls that we held on Twitter and Instagram.

Chris: That’s right.

Hallie: If you want to get involved in choosing the next superfoods for the next episode, then you should make sure you’re following on Twitter and Instagram because that is how we are now deciding which foods we’re going to be talking about.

Chris: You have questions, we’ve got answers.

Hallie: We’ve got answers, you all. First crop is wild rice.

Chris: Wild rice, the kind of rice that I never liked to eat as a kid.

Hallie: Why did you not like to eat it?

Chris: I liked white rice. That was enough rice for me.

Hallie: What do you mean that was enough rice for you? You didn’t like wild rice?

Chris: That was the best rice. That was the only rice that I thought was good.

Hallie: Because it’s plain and starchy and boring and not delicious?

Chris: Yes, just like me.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly. You’re plain, white, starchy and boring.

Chris: That’s right. Born and bred. No, but I don’t know.

Wild rice and brown rice, they just all tasted weird and different.

Hallie: I mean, they are different. That’s part of the thing that people don’t know about wild rice. Brown rice and white rice are very similar. Wild rice and white rice are actually quite different.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: They’re fully different species.

Chris: Because it looks like plain rice but it’s a bunch of different colors.

Hallie: Yeah, when you get the wild rice that’s mixed up and it is different colors, oftentimes it’s different kinds of rice that they have taken and mixed together. Like if you get wild rice off of one rice plant, they’re all the same color usually.

Chris: Are you saying they’re lying to me?

Hallie: I mean, it is wild that they do mix multiple kinds of rice and pack them.

Chris: [Laughs]. That is so wild.

Hallie: Because oftentimes the rice in those bags has different cooking times from each other because it’s different plants. It’s different kinds of rice.

Chris: Oh, that’s outright annoying.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s kind of annoying, but it usually ends up tasting good, but you can actually buy straight up one species wild rice if you want and we’re going to talk about that.

Chris: Okay. Talk about that.

Hallie: Wild rice is also called Canada rice. It’s also called Indian rice. It’s also called water oats. The ojibwe word for it is manoomin.

Chris: Is it called Canada rice because it grows in Canada or because Canadians are particularly wild?

Hallie: Because it grows in Canada.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I think we all know Canadians are not particularly wild.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The species is Zizania. It’s related to as I mentioned Oryzeae, which is the white rice, but it is a different genus within a similar area of the family and it’s all within the same grass family, which Poaceae, which is the grass family has tons and tons of plants in it. It is native to North America and to Asia. Mostly, it’s found in small lakes and streams. There are four different species. You have Zizania palustris, which is Northern wild rice. It’s native to the Great Lakes region of North America and then a little bit further west up into the plains and forests of what is present day Canada and parts of the US. You have Zizania aquatica, which is wild rice. The common name is just wild rice. It is native to the Saint Lawrence River, which feeds into Lake Ontario and it’s also native to parts of Florida and the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. Then you have Zizania texana, which common name is Texas wild rice. Do you know about this rice?

Chris: I feel like I’ve seen it in the grocery store maybe.

Hallie: You have absolutely not.

Chris: Really? Okay. I know nothing about Texas wild rice then.

Hallie: So I think you probably should know some things about Texas wild rice.

Chris: As in, I need to know this for my survival?

Hallie: No.

Chris: Or is this something I should have picked up along the way?

Hallie: Yes, the second one.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Texas wild rice is endemic. It’s extremely endangered and it’s pretty much endemic to one river in Texas.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Which is the San Marcos River.

Chris: Oh, no kidding.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Were we around it when we went swimming?

Hallie: All the time.

Chris: Oh wow. [Laughs].

Hallie: Yes, constantly. The San Marcos River is a spring fed river.

Chris: Yeah, it’s cold.

Hallie: There used to be a place right at the spring called Aquarena Springs known for dressing ladies in mermaid costumes amongst other things.

Chris: Yes, and swimming pigs.

Hallie: But yeah, Aquarena Springs was home to the Texas wild rice for the decades it was open.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Yeah, Texas State has a research station there and they study wild rice. It’s very endangered. It’s kind of weird because part of the main park in San Marcos, I went to school in San Marcos. We didn’t mention that. I went to school in San Marcos, Texas and the main park where all of the college students swim every single day and they jump in and they do challenges and they throw Frisbees, that is where that rice is native to. If you jump in and you swim, there’s all this rice around you and people are always complaining about getting tangled up in the rice and all that.

Chris: It’s so wild to me that it could be endangered because rice is something that I think of as so common, but we just have this little rice plant in Texas that you say I’ve never eaten it. Has anyone eaten it? Is it edible?

Hallie: It’s totally edible, but generally, no. You definitely don’t want to eat it because it’s so endangered. It’s just really, really hard for the flowers themselves to get pollinated because the pollen moves very slowly and it doesn’t move very far, so it’s hard for the pollen to get into the flower and it’s hard for the flower to make fruits. When the fruits are made, we really want those to turn into rice plants because it is hard to get those little rice fruits.

Chris: Then with fewer bees around, that’s probably just making things even more difficult.

Hallie: Well, rice is actually not pollinator pollinated. It’s wind and water pollinated.

Chris: Oh, kill the bees. Rice don’t care.

Hallie: Not relevant.

Chris: Don’t kill the bees. Is there like a black market restaurant where I can pay a thousand bucks a plate to eat Texas wild rice?

Hallie: You didn’t hear this from me, but not no. The answer is not no to that question.

[Laughter].

Hallie: But don’t go looking for it at all. Do not go looking for this.

Chris: Oh, wow. Okay. Alright. That might be in the outtakes. We’ll see.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The fourth species of Zizania is Zizania latifolia, which is native to China. Manchurian wild rice is the common name. It’s native to that part of China, which used to be called Manchuria. It’s also really hard to find it in China in the wild, so it’s also kind of endangered in China, but it’s actually invasive species in New Zealand.

Chris: That’s where their candidate is from.

Hallie: Yeah, is that the one thing you know about Manchuria?

Chris: It’s the Manchurian candidate.

Hallie: Great, dad.

Chris: That’s it. That’s all I got.

Hallie: The first two species that we talked about Zizania palustris and Zizania aquatica are the species that are most commonly eaten. They’re not endangered. You can find them in the grocery store. They are eaten both today and also have been eaten for centuries by indigenous people that are native to Turtle Island or what we call North America.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: I mentioned earlier the Ojibwe word for this plant because that’s the one that I was able to find online, but I want to make it clear. This plant was and is very important to many first nations’ people including the Menominee, the Odawa, the Chippawa. If this is a food crop that you personally really like eating, I really highly recommend that you learn more about the people that cultivated it. You can find really great resources and info at nativewildricecoalition.com, including sources on where to buy native grown wild rice.

Chris: Oh, very cool.

Hallie: Extremely cool.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: The largest market producers today, unfortunately, are not really first nation’s people. It’s folks in Minnesota and California because everything is grown in California and parts of Canada. Usually, it’s grown on wetland. As I mentioned, it’s native to streams and small lakes. That is usually where it’s grown. Oftentimes, it’s grown on Peats.

Chris: How does Pete feel about that?

Hallie: Oh my goodness gracious.

[Laughter].

Hallie: P-E-A-T, as in like a bog.

Chris: Alright. A peat bog is like a marshy grassy puddle thing. Cool.

Hallie: Yeah, marshy grassy puddle thing. Otherwise, it has to grow in these wet conditions otherwise the rice would just be less productive or it would be all the way unproductive. It’s grown somewhat because there’s a market for it, but it does take a lot of water, which is problematic if it’s not growing in its native places where there is already a lot of water.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: I couldn’t find any specific numbers on how big the market for wild rice specifically is, but as you and I both know it is widely available and very popular. The claims around it. Let’s get into that. Claims are it boosts your energy. It helps with your weight loss. It helps with your immune system. Lots of questions around those claims. No proof around any of those claims.

Chris: Okay. Is it healthier than white rice?

Hallie: It is. It is healthier than white rice. White rice is a whole grain, but it is not terribly healthy. Wild rice does have a good amount of protein.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: It’s a whole grain. Whole grains are pretty much universally good for the hearts. They’re good for all kinds of stuff. It is gluten-free as you know rice is, but also wild rice because it’s really grown differently it’s not usually processed in the same processing facilities as white rice, which can sometimes have gluten contamination. Sometimes with certain wild rice brands, you can get like a more gluten-free brand if you are really, really sensitive to gluten and even if it’s processed in the same bagging system or something like that.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Sometimes that can cause issues for folks. Wild rice, not usually a lot of crossover with gluten, which is helpful. It has got good nutrition. It has got good antioxidants. There’ve been several studies that have showed that wild rice compared to other whole grains particularly is very heart healthy, but you know all whole grains are heart healthy, but there have been some studies that show wild rice might have a little bit of an edge over other whole grains.

Chris: I’m going to go get me some wild rice.

Hallie: Pretty cool stuff, right?

Chris: Good stuff. I’m not going to put a cape on it, but I’m going to eat it.

Hallie: It’s a great grain. It’s a great rice. Very important to a lot of native peoples. You can go to nativewildricecoalition.com to learn more about tribal producers. It’s a great grain.

Chris: When I hear the phrase great grain, I just imagine this sort of images of fields of wheat and this majestic music and maybe David Attenborough’s voice narrating something.

Hallie: The great grain god.

Chris: There you go.

Hallie: Probably not cape worthy, but a great grain.

Chris: Go wild rice.

Hallie: Shall we move on?

Chris: We shall move on.

Hallie: Spirulina. What do you know?

Chris: It’s algae, is it not?

Hallie: No, actually. It is not.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: You know anything else?

Chris: I know it’s in some smoothies that I used to buy.

Hallie: Back in the before times in the smoothie times.

Chris: [Laughs]. Very much in the before you times actually.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: I didn’t know there were smoothies invented before I was alive.

Chris: It’s true. They existed.

Hallie: Wow.

Chris: We had blenders and everything.

Hallie: Blenders and everything. Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, which is called generally a blue-green algae, but is not an algae.

Chris: Okay. I was about to say. Did I not just say it was an algae?

Hallie: It’s not an algae. It’s a blue-green algae. It’s microscopic. It’s a bacteria. It grows like algae, so we say blue-green algae. That blue-green is quite important because if you cut it off, it would just be algae. But a blue-green algae is an algae like thing that is blue-green and not an algae. Very confusing I know.

Chris: That was very confusing. If I take a giant antibiotic and kill the microscopic bacteria, will this fix my gut?

Hallie: What?

Chris: If it’s bacteria I don’t know, can it fix my gut bio?

Hallie: Oh, I see. Well, we will get to that.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: These things photosynthesize much like plants and algae.

Chris: Really? That’s pretty cool.

Hallie: It’s quite cool. Love an autotroph.

Chris: What’s an autotroph?

Hallie: An autotroph is something that creates its own food as opposed to us heterotrophs meaning other and then troph meaning like food energy, so we have to source something else for our food as opposed to like a plant creates an onset.

Chris: Man, if I could create my own food, I would have to leave the couch even less.

Hallie: Wouldn’t that be great?

Chris: [Laughs]. That would be so great. Autotroph made some ice cream.

Hallie: Cyanobacteria is very important on our planet. There is a theory that it is responsible and it seems very likely that it’s responsible for what is known as the Great Oxidation Event, which was a geo historical time period where oxygen levels of the ocean and the atmosphere rose.

Chris: Okay. I was actually going to ask that as this blue-green algae that’s not algae, is it the thing that lives in the ocean along the surface or whatever and you can see little spots of it?

Hallie: Well, it is microscopic.

Chris: But if there’s like a lot of things.

Hallie: Exactly. If there are many microscopic things, it becomes macroscopic.

Chris: There you go and it very possibly raised the oxygen level of the whole earth.

Hallie: Very possibly, but also it just creates a lot of oxygen, like way to go cyanobacteria.

Chris: I was going to say that sounds pretty important.

Hallie: Extremely great. There are species of cyanobacteria that are also responsible for fixing nitrogen in soils, which like way to go.

Chris: Oh, that’s nice. Got to have the nitrogen for the plants to grow.

Hallie: Right. Spirulina specifically is made from three cyanobacteria species, Arthrospira maxima, Arthrospira fusiformis and Arthrospira platensis.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: It’s confusing because there is actually a species of cyanobacteria called Spirulina where that’s the genus, but that’s not what this is. It used to be called Spirulina and then they changed the genus and I would think that you would just change the other animals gene or the other bacterial genus because this one you had a common name that people were using, but I digress.

Chris: Okay. I’m confused more now, but that’s okay. There’s multiple genuses of this bacteria. Do they all live together or do you find them separated out?

Hallie: That’s a great question. I do not know the answer to it, but great question, dad.

Chris: Thank you.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: I try to pay attention.

Hallie: How do you grow Spirulina?

Chris: Well, I mean, it just sort of exists in the ocean, does it not?

Hallie: It does grow in water, but if you’re going to create a product of it, then you have to have some method of producing it.

Chris: Okay, so I presume you start with some water.

Hallie: You do start with some water. Naturally, it occurs in lakes. We talked about the ocean. These species specifically occur more often in lakes, particularly lakes with a higher pH. For production, they’re usually grown in a controlled environment. You got like a tank of some kind, tanks have to be oxygenated with water movement and then when it’s time for the Spirulina cyanobacteria blue-green algae to be harvested, the water is pumped up. I saw that you also have this, so it’s pumped up through a faucet and you place a really fine mesh screen over the tank. They have a little fountain that comes up with the water and then it just goes back down onto the screen that’s placed over the tank and then the water just goes back into the tank and the blue green algae is caught on that net. Then they have like a little, have you ever made like dough and you have like a dough scrapper. Do you know what I’m talking about like a little pastry dough scraper?

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: They have one of those. They just scrape all the algae together and then they just gloop it into a five gallon Home Depot bucket.

Chris: Okay. You can look at that mix of spirulina and water with a slightly higher pH and say, yeah, basic.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Then the spirulina gloop in the Home Depot bucket is taken away and it’s dried and then processed. What is it processed into? Most commonly, it is a powder and this powder can be put in things like smoothies or tablets, which has become much more common.

Chris: That sounds weird.

Hallie: Like a little spirulina pill to take with all your supplements and vitamins.

Chris: Everything’s got to be a pill.

Hallie: Exactly. There are other specialty products, obviously with spirulina, but pills is what I saw a lot of.

Chris: I guess gloop is not efficient enough for transport.

Hallie: Definitely not.

Chris: [Laughter].

Hallie: I found a couple of different numbers estimating how big the market was, but on average it was between like $5 and $8 million, so it isn’t nothing. It’s definitely a niche, but it’s like, certainly there is some money there. A lot of claims that it’s helpful for high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes. That it will cure malnutrition, all this stuff, improve your kidney function, improve liver function. Lots of these claims.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: It is a good source of beta carotene. It is a good source of minerals, a good source of gamma linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid.

Chris: That sounds good.

Hallie: It’s about and I don’t know how, 60% protein.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: I don’t know how at all, but also to be fair, you would have to eat a lot of spirulina to get your daily protein content.

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Hallie: Like a lot. You had it in just like in a powder in your smoothie. How many smoothies would you have to have? A lot.

Chris: You could still eat a spoonful of powder.

Hallie: But like compared to a steak. If a chicken breast is like your daily protein and that’s like 100% and this is 60% and you had like a tablespoon, how many tablespoons? It’s probably not the most efficient way to get your protein, but for an algae or a cyanobacteria blue-green algae, I should, say it seems like a lot of protein.

Chris: Way to go spirulina.

Hallie: Way to go. It does not seem bad for you at all, but probably will not cure your liver malfunction.

Chris: Is that a claim?

Hallie: It’s a claim. I mentioned that earlier.

Chris: Okay. Sorry, I missed that. That’s out there. I almost want to put a cape on it for being a bacteria with that much protein. Way to go.

Hallie: It is impressive. It is not regulated by the FDA. We are talking about superfoods. I would not necessarily call this a superfood as it is not really regulated by the FDA in the same way. There are technically nutrition labels, but there’s not a lot of science around how accurate those nutrition labels are. I would say if this was like more in the mainstream, if there was better regulation around it, if it was more clear what it was and what was going into all of the things that were on all the shelves, perhaps we could put a cape on it, but I don’t want to tell people to go out and buy spirulina and they’re buying like 50% sawdust, 50% spirulina. Not saying that that’s what’s happening.

Chris: But it’s possible.

Hallie: But what I’m saying is there’s very little regulation and it’s unclear.

Chris: Well, when someone’s trying to sell me something that’s not regulated by the FDA for efficacy or safety, I need a break.

Hallie: A break. Here we go.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad, do you know what time it is?

Chris: It’s 7:43.

Hallie: It’s time to vote.

Chris: Get out there. Vote your votiness. Use your voting right.

Hallie: Do all the voting.

Chris: I did it today. It took me about 15 minutes and it’s the first week of early voting still. Just because the lines were super long on the first day, doesn’t mean you can’t find a place to go on a quick vote and there’s a lot of resources like VOTE411 that you can go and get sample ballots and see how candidates stand on certain issues. Get out there. Do your thing.

Hallie: Absolutely, I personally am using Ballotpedia as well as the League of Women Voters and my local newspaper who compiled a bunch of statements from local candidates I would never have been able to access this much information on the people running for school board in my area without their amazing work. If you are able to vote in the US we have this election coming up, please, please, please go out there and vote.

Chris: You know who I would vote for?

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons.

Hallie: Oh, you mean like Paul, who recently upgraded his patronage and our starfruit patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Patrick, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Chris: Exactly like them.

Hallie: We are so grateful for every single one of our patrons, new, old, medium. You guys are all amazing. We love you so much and we hope you’re having a wonderful day wherever you are and I think that it’s now time to get back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Terrific.

Chris: Listener, you’re going to have to bear with us for a little bit because this is an audio medium and the nature fact that I found is visual in nature. But part of the joy of this will be Hallie’s reaction to it I’m sure. We will put a link in the show notes where you will be able to go see this amazing feat of nature factness.

Hallie: Now, I’m really confused.

Chris: The next item that we’re going to talk about is kombucha. Alright. Wonder Woman is coming out. The next Wonder Woman movie is coming out.

Hallie: Is it?

Chris: I don’t know. In the next few months or so.

Hallie: How nice?

Chris: It gets delayed for a year from COVID. I don’t know. Check your local listings.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: But apparently with kombucha, you can shape it.

Hallie: What?

Chris: As you grow it, you shape it.

Hallie: Oh, like the SCOBY? We will talk about what a SCOBY is.

Chris: I don’t know what a SCOBY is. I just found this cost player who made a wonder woman costume out of kombucha.

Hallie: No.

Chris: Listener, we’re currently looking at a three piece set. There’s a pair of boots on a pedestal. There is the wonder woman. I don’t know. What is that? The dress thingy?

Hallie: The little corset with the skirt.

Chris: There you go on a stand and a tiara and then her cufflinks, her bracelets.

Hallie: Listener, first of all is if it’s safe for you to look, you should pause this episode and go look at this. To be fair, where are you going? You shouldn’t be going anywhere. You should be at home. Go take a look at this. Second of all this, if I’m picturing a costume made out of a SCOBY, I’m picturing something pretty disgusting, right? If you know what a SCOBY is, that’s gross. This is very much extremely cool and not gross.

Chris: It is. It’s all a different color. It’s got all the colors right. Got all the structure right and it’s got a picture of her wearing the pieces.

Hallie: Is that shield made of a kombucha SCOBY?

Chris: I don’t know if the shield and the sword are made of the kombucha or not.

Hallie: This is wild. This is an excellent nature fact, dad.

Chris: Thank you. Thank you very much. I apologize for the visual nature, but once you see it, you will be blown away.

Hallie: What is the artist’s name?

Chris: Christine Knobel. Knobel, K-N-O-B-E-L.

Hallie: Great work, Christine. Absolutely amazing.

Chris: Good job, Christine.

Hallie: So kombucha, what do you know, dad?

Chris: I know that you can make it in the kitchen and it doesn’t taste that great.

Hallie: What? You don’t like kombucha?

Chris: I think it’s one of those things I’ve tried I don’t remember. I’ve tried Yerba Mate once. It definitely did not taste good. It tasted like grass or dirt or something. It tasted like the ground.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: I may be conflicting Yerba Mate and kombucha, but I’m pretty sure I’ve tasted kombucha and I was just like, no. That’s not for me.

Hallie: I’m quite surprised that you have not had kombucha. I feel like it’s very popular these days like you can get it everywhere.

Chris: In fact, I think I got in a jar. I forget what flavor it was supposed to be or whatever and I just remember being no.

Hallie: That is very surprising to me. I like kombucha, but when I was in grad school, two of my three roommates were growing kombucha in the kitchen so we had a lot of kombucha on hand all the time.

Chris: Well, the kids like it. What can I say?

Hallie: It’s good. You should try. It’s like a drink.

Chris: It’s not good.

Hallie: It’s good. It is fermented black or green tea.

Chris: Which just seems like a bad idea. It seems like you’re going to leave the liquid out it’s going to grow mould on it. You’re going to get sick when you drink it.

Hallie: But the thing is you don’t get sick because it’s supposed to have microbes on it. How you make kombucha, you have the tea.

Chris: You know what’s a microbe?

Hallie: What?

Chris: COVID-19. That’s a microbe.

Hallie: Oh, my God. Cut that out and put it in the outtake.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: We’re not making COVID content anymore.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: How you make kombucha? As I mentioned, it’s fermented tea, so you got to have the tea and then you add in a lot of sugar and then you add in the SCOBY, which is an acronym for a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Chris: So wait. Are you making a SCOBY treat, SCOBY snacks?

Hallie: Yeah, you make SCOBY snacks. Exactly and the SCOBY eats it all up and then it all gets fermented.

Chris: I can’t possibly be the first person to think of that joke.

Hallie: [Laughs]. If you’ve never seen a SCOBY, I want to describe it for you. Dad, have you ever seen a SCOBY?

Chris: No, I don’t know what a SCOBY is. You said it was an acronym.

Hallie: It is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Chris: Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, SCOBY.

Hallie: So I want to paint you a picture. You have like one of those glass containers with the little spouts you would put lemonade in or something on a cold day.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: Instead on the inside, there is some black tea with a lot of sugar and on the top, there is approximately half a centimeters worth of slimy organism symbiosis and it’s very slimy and it takes up the whole width of the jar. When it is big enough, you lift it out of the water and you peel away the layers.

Chris: You peel it?

Hallie: You peel away the layers and you create a wonder woman suit or you throw it down the garbage disposal or you send it away with your friends to start their own kombucha at their own house.

Chris: You peel it.

Hallie: You kind of peel it away in a way that’s very weird and I did not believe until I saw it with my eyes, but it just peels away. It’s like little sheets of paper, but it’s a SCOBY. It’s wild. It’s very slimy. It’s very delicious though.

Chris: It sounds disgusting.

Hallie: But it’s very delicious.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Kombucha possibly originated in China. There’s a lot of theories though. It’s kind of hard to tell because you can peel the SCOBY away and give it away, so it was widely circulated. It is alcoholic as it is fermented, but it’s less than 5%, so it is not regulated.

Chris: Also the fact that it’s made with green or black tea is probably another reason that I don’t drink it because I don’t drink caffeine in general.

Hallie: I don’t know what the final caffeine level is. If like the fermentation breaks down any caffeine molecules I don’t actually know.

Chris: If Texans turned sweet tea into kombucha, is that a [inaudible]?

Hallie: Absolutely. The market for kombucha now is huge. I looked it up. It is billions of dollars.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Hallie: Billions and billions of dollars. It gained popularity in the nineties as a health food and now it has just exploded and you can find it in most grocery stores.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: There is also a new product called Kombrewcha or hard kombucha.

Chris: Kombrewcha or hard kombucha, so it’s kombucha with more alcohol.

Hallie: It’s like a Mike’s Hard kind of thing, but for kombucha. Claims, it rids your bodies off toxins. It can treat hair loss, it can treat arthritis, cancer, constipation. It can treat diabetes and prevent aging. Lots of claims. It was widely and still is widely promoted as a health food.

Chris: Listener, if you were putting alcohol into your body, you are not riding your body off toxins. You are putting toxins into your body.

Hallie: Probably the same with caffeine, not untrue. Nutritionally in actuality, in reality, it has whatever nutrition was in the teas. Green tea has antioxidants in it. Black tea has some antioxidants in it. That’s pretty much how nutritious the kombucha is. However, there have not been any human trials on kombucha to look at any benefits or risks.

Chris: I thought part of the supposed benefit of kombucha came from the fact that it was an active bacterial culture or something like that.

Hallie: Right. That is something that’s widely spread around. Again, there have not been any trials and there’s not really any reason to believe that the bacteria in the kombucha is going to bolster the bacteria in your gut. They are very different and we don’t have any science showing that kombucha is good for your microbiome. There are some risks with kombucha because a lot of people grow it at home and because there is fermentation involved, there are risks of pathogenic microorganisms getting introduced, so you do have a risk of something bad being in there. Also because kombucha has a very low pH, you do also have the risk of, if you put it in a metal container, it can actually leach metals out of the container. It’s very, very acidic. There are serious health consequences to drinking super acidic things. There are some people who drink kombucha like every single day and it’s not always good to be drinking something that’s as acidic. But again, there are no human studies on the risks or benefits of kombucha.

However, it does not seem to be the best thing for you to be drinking all the time.

Chris: Not only will I not put a cape on this, but unlike wild rice and spirulina, I’m going to say hard pass.

Hallie: I would not say hard pass.

Chris: I would say hard pass.

Hallie: It’s delicious and there’s not a lot of risks. Don’t put it in a metal container. Be aware that as with anything fermented, there are risks to pathogens, but no, I wouldn’t say hard pass. I would say once in a while, if it’s a lovely drink, it’s nice cold drink you’re looking for something, kombucha is a good option. There’s lots of flavors. It’s very delicious. I would not say it should be a habit of yours to drink kombucha all the every time and don’t put it in metal containers, but it’s not going to cure anything. But it’s an okay drink.

Chris: Maybe sit down to dinner my steak potatoes made with some asparagus and I swirl a glass of kombucha.

Hallie: Exactly.

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, men.

Hallie: Sniff it. Look at the legs or whatever.

Chris: The legs?

Hallie: It’s a wine thing.

Chris: Whatever. Hard pass.

Hallie: Should we do our last thing?

Chris: Let’s do the last thing.

Hallie: It’s acerola.

Chris: Hey, Hallie. What the flat Jack is acerola? I have never heard of that.

Hallie: Acerola. The scientific name is Malpighia emarginata.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: The family is Malpighiaceae. One of the common names for acerola is Barbados cherry. Acerola is a malpighiales. It is not a rosid. Cherries are rosid, not a malpighiales. They’re not actually that related.

Chris: It sounds like it’s a bad big.

Hallie: As I mentioned, common name for acerola Barbados cherry, Acerola cherry, West Indian cherry and the wild crepe myrtle.

Chris: Wow. Is that what dumps those stupid flowers all over my car once a year?

Hallie: There is a plant that we grow here in Texas that is native to Southeast Asia called the crepe myrtle. However, and I tried to find this and I could not, they are definitely not at all related. The one that grows in your yard is [inaudible] indigo. It is in the [inaudible] family. This is in the Malpighiaceae family. So different families I don’t know. I don’t know why they’re called the same thing. I couldn’t find it.

Chris: Someone probably saw the flowers and said, “Hey. That looks about right.”

Hallie: Quite possibly. The acerola is from Central America, South America and parts of North America. Generally, it is mostly available in capsules or an extract form. It’s not often eaten fresh except for in the areas where it grows native to. In the Gulf coast areas of what we call North America and in parts of Central America down to South America and the Caribbean, it is consumed in those areas.

Chris: In those areas, what form does it take?

Hallie: Well, it’s a fruit. In those areas where it’s native to it is eaten fresh and other places it’s eaten as an extract or a capsule.

Chris: It looks sort of like a cherry likish.

Hallie: It looks like a cherry, but it’s very different from a cherry.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The extract, I found some numbers between $8.6 and $5.8 million for the extract is the market in 2017. Again, similar to spirulina, it’s quite niche, but there is definitely money involved. As an extract, it’s put into supplements. It’s used as a food preservative in packaged foods, snacks, beverages, stuff like that. It’s also used for meat preservation, but most commonly you’ll see it as a supplement. There was a lot of interest back in the sixties after some cool science found some cool things about acerola, which I’ll get to in one second, but no one’s ever been able to make it marketable either fresh or juiced or canned, so all we really have is like the dried extra.

Chris: Was it the same science where they did LSD research on prisoners or whatever?

Hallie: Definitely not, dad. What a weird thing to say? What an energy to bring to the end of the episode?

Chris: You said back in the sixties. I just figured that’s all they did.

Hallie: [Laughs]. That’s I will tell you not what agronomists were doing. The claims, it improves your athletic performance, can fight infections, provide health benefits to smokers, can act as a natural cancer treatment. It can boost your eye health, yada yada yada. There’s a long list of claims as it is marketed generally as a health food supplement. Widely, those are disproven.

Chris: That’s too bad because that sounds great.

Hallie: Right. Almost too good to be true. It does in fact actuality have good levels of Vitamin A, good amounts of iron, good amounts of carotene.

Chris: Excellent.

Hallie: It has good amounts of Vitamin C. Now, I want to play a little game with you. Some of the other food crops that we eat that have good amounts of Vitamin C are oranges, broccoli and kiwi. I’m going to read you the amounts of Vitamin C that those three crops have and then I want you to guess how much acerola has because this is the thing in the 1960s that they were researching and this was the thing that led people to try to propagate it as a food crop, so it does have high Vitamin C.

Chris: I feel like I already know the answer.

Hallie: [Laughs. Hang on. Oranges have 53 milligrams of Vitamin C per 100 grams, broccoli it’s 89 and kiwi it’s 93. What do you think acerola has?

Chris: 200.

Hallie: 200 is your guess?

Chris: 200 is my guess.

Hallie: The answer is 1,676.

Chris: Holy snapdragons.

Hallie: It’s a lot milligrams per 100 grams of acerola.

Chris: It is a lot. Wow.

Hallie: It’s like a whole lot. It’s like, wow! It’s a whole, whole lot.

Chris: Do you know what I remember from biochemistry?

Hallie: What?

Chris: Is if you consume an excess of Vitamin C, it all comes out. It just makes you pee faster and you just slough it all out.

Hallie: Exactly. It is water soluble, so it just all goes out. That’s one of the cool things about this is there are a lot of vitamins where if you eat too many, bad things can happen to you.

Chris: It’s true.

Hallie: This one, not the case. Imagine if you’re sailing the seas and you get scurvy and then you stumble upon an island in the Caribbean and you find an acerola tree, how lucky are you?

Chris: Oh man, I’m getting me some.

Hallie: Cure that right up. Vitamin C is great. It’s great for scurvy. It’s very crucial to immune system function. It’s important for tissue repair. It’s a good antioxidant. As you mentioned, it’s water soluble. If you’re going to be a food and you’re going to have a lot of all nutrient, I feel like Vitamin C is the one to have because there’s no downsides to having a lot of Vitamin C. You can just max people out immediately. It’s like a chip code.

Chris: If I’m ever lost at sea and I get stranded on the island and I find some acerola in that case, I will put a cape on it.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: [Laughs]. But I still don’t feel like we can play the song.

Hallie: What? No, let’s play the song.

Chris: You think deserves the song?

Hallie: Absolutely. Why not?

Chris: I mean, I love the song.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Here comes the song.

[Background music].

Chris: Alright. If you have a smoothie, maybe have a little spirulina in it. If you want some extra protein any morning, maybe put a giant scoop on your cereal or just take a big spoonful and crunch it away. Eat some wild rice. Wild rice sounds great. I’m going to try it again. It doesn’t cook as quickly as white rice. Doesn’t taste as good as white rice. Maybe you just have to get used to the flavor. I don’t know, but it sounds like pretty great stuff. If it’s native to Texas, it’s endangered. Don’t eat it. Stay the heck away from kombucha.

Hallie: No.

Chris: It’s bad stuff.

Hallie: Disagree.

Chris: Hard pass and give acerola a try.

Hallie: If you can find it.

Chris: If you can find it, especially in cherry like form.

Hallie: Cherry like form seems great.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].


47: Superfoods VI – Wild Rice, Spirulina, Kombucha, and Acerola

More superfoods! Will wild rice, spirulina, kombucha, or acerola be caped? Will you please vote? Will you wear kombucha scoby?

Read the transcript for this episode.

Wonder Woman kombucha: https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/articles/wonder-woman-cosplay-made-from-kombucha
Native Wild Rice Coalition: http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com/

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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plant cells

45: How Plants Use Water Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we are finally talking about how plants use water.

[Background music].

Hallie: You have been asking me this question for a little while.

Chris: It’s true and we did like what? 10 episodes on water or two or four or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Only two.

Chris: Okay. We did not answer this question and now we can answer this question and I assume I’ve heard of xylem and phloem, which are the things in the trees and water goes up, water comes down, never a miscommunication.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, we’re going to be talking about mostly four different roles that water plays in plants and how they work. This is not completely everything that goes on in a plant that involves water because plants are mostly water.

There is a lot that goes on, but these are like the four begins.

Chris: Are they mostly water the same way that we are mostly water?

Hallie: The same way that most things are mostly water, yeah.

Chris: Most of the plant is mostly water. Okay.

Hallie: The first one we’re going to be talking about is structure. Dad, do you know what makes plants stand up?

Chris: Presumably, fiber that our doctors keep telling us to eat.

Hallie: Right. Humans have bones. Bones is what makes us be able to stand up and things like that, but plants do not have bones.

Chris: That would be super creepy if there were a plant with bones, super creepy.

Hallie: Yes, for some plants, it is cell walls. For some plants, it’s not cell walls. Do you know which plants it’s not cell walls for?

Chris: No, bananas would have to be cell walls. I don’t know. What do you even mean? What are you asking me? Like plants that stand up, but not because of their cell walls?

Hallie: We’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. There are different ways we categorize plants, right? One of the ways is between woody plants and herbaceous plants.

Chris: Got it. Are you going to tell me that the woody plants is not their cell walls, but I would argue that woody tissue is still some sort of cell wall. I don’t know.

Hallie: The main thing that keeps woody plants standing up is something called lignin.

Chris: Oh, lignin. I forgot about lignin.

Hallie: Your old friend lignin.

Chris: That’s right. For the listener who hasn’t listened to an episode where we have defined lignin. Lignin is?

Hallie: Oh me?

Chris: Yeah, you.

Hallie: I thought you are going to give the definition of lignin.

Chris: I wish.

Hallie: Lignin is basically like, if you look at branches, trunks, it’s what makes sticks sticky. It’s kind of those crunchier little cells and it gives those trees structure. It’s what builds out woody material. Whereas when you look at something like a banana or a sunflower is a really good example of this, they typically don’t have a lot of that woody tissue and so the thing that is keeping them stood up is water.

Chris: It’s like that old joke. What’s brown and sticky? A lignin based plant structure.

Hallie: A stick with lignin.

[Laughter].

Hallie: We said cell walls, right? I just mentioned water. What do you know about plant cells?

Chris: I know they are cells.

Hallie: Yeah, true.

Chris: I guess for the ones on the outside it’s called cellulose. I don’t know why it’s called cellulose. I don’t know what cellulose is. I don’t know. I got nothing else.

Hallie: Do you know what the largest part of a plant cell is?

Chris: No.

Hallie: The largest part of a plant cell is what’s called the vacuole.

Chris: Okay. That’s a word that was probably on some worksheet in ninth grade biology.

Hallie: [Laughs]. The vacuole is basically the goo of it all. Within a plant cell, you’ve got a mitochondria or two. You have some chloroplasts. You have lots of different things in there. All of that is sitting within the goo of it all, which is the vacuole. We can kind of think about plant cells like a balloon or I guess more accurately like a water balloon, but it’s easier for us to think about it as an airfield balloon because those are the ones that we really see stretched out. A water field plant cell is usually pretty tight. If it’s filled all the way up, those walls are really sturdy. It has a lot of structure to it. It’s not caving in. If you put pressure on it, it’s able to kind of keep its shape. That’s similar to how a cell wall works in a plant if you have a full vacuole. That’s what’s called turgor pressure. It’s that pressure within a cell that’s blowing up those cells. It pushes those cell walls out and it lets the plant stand up, which is why, if a plant isn’t watered enough, it loses that turgor pressure and those cell walls start to collapse in on each other and then that’s when we start to see wilting. It’s because those cells aren’t able to fill up the balloons with all that water.

Chris: I almost feel like saying the vacuole is the largest part of the cell. It’s like saying the biggest part is the part that’s not there.

Hallie: Yeah, I know.

[Laughter].

Chris: Except that it’s goo that requires water to be present.

Hallie: Right. One of the really nice things about this for plants is that water is not a solid right. It lets plants be a lot more flexible. Of course, trees are not as flexible as little bitty flowers on the ground or grasses or things like that.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But having their structure being made up of water lets them be a lot more flexible for the wind and stuff. If wind comes along, it can blow about in the wind and it’s not going to be breaking because it has a lot more flexibility, which is great.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s the number one thing that plants use water for. That’s like the thing that a lot of the water is. Most of the water in plants is within the vacuole. Another thing that plants use water for is thermal regulation.

Chris: Staying not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Hallie: Mostly not too hot. Water is not going to keep you super warm, generally speaking.

Chris: Fair enough. Staying cool in the summer.

Hallie: Yeah, staying cool in the summer. This is very important for plants. The plant type term is actually called transpiration. Transpiration is the thing that keeps plants cool. It’s them losing that water off of their leaves. It’s like when we sweat. When you lose that water, the energy it takes to have that water evaporate pulls heat energy off of the plant.

Chris: Right. Heat of evaporation, good stuff.

Hallie: Exactly. This happens through the xylem, which you mentioned earlier.

Chris: Okay. What is that?

Hallie: How much do you know about the xylem?

Chris: I know it’s not the phloem.

Hallie: Is that it?

Chris: That’s it. I think one goes up. One goes down.

Hallie: That is very helpful. The xylem goes up. The xylem is different from the phloem in that the xylem is made up of dead cells, so there’s no actual energy. There’s no living cells that hold the water in the xylem. There’s no energy to move the water. It’s just dead cells and it’s what’s called passive transport.

Chris: Kind of like hair for the plant.

Hallie: Like hair?

Chris: Like hair. Hair’s dead cells, fingernails are dead cells. Now plants have like little fingernails type of stuff.

Hallie: Like how we lose our water through our hair.

Chris: I mean, maybe it doesn’t work quite the same way in animals.

Hallie: Like how our hair is little tubes of water.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: Sorry, I keep thinking about tubes of hair water.

[Laughter].

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, plants don’t have hair, but the thing that they do have called xylem is dead cells that transports water from the inside of the plant to the outside of the plant.

Hallie: You did just say plants don’t have hair, but in this section we are actually talking about two different types of hair that plants have.

Chris: Oh, great.

Hallie: Let’s look into that. In the soil, you have roots and on the main parts of the roots you have little root hairs. Root hairs are really, really small oftentimes they’re microscopic but they have a lot more surface area than the root itself, so most of the intake and output from the root system is actually happening on those root hairs.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: The way that plants take up water, because again, there’s no energy expended to take up water is just a concentration gradient, which means that the water potential is lower inside of the root hairs than outside in the saturated soil. If there’s a puddle of water on the countertop and you have a dry sponge and you put that dry sponge in the teensiest bit in contact with that, that water is going to slowly move into the sponge, right?

Chris: Yeah, okay.

Hallie: That’s because of a concentration gradient. The water wants to be where water is not.

Chris: It’s exactly the same way in the root of the plant you’re saying.

Hallie: Well, I’m saying inside of the root hair there is going to be a lower water potential than outside. If you’ve just watered, the soil is fully saturated. There’s a lot of water out in the soil itself. That water is going to move to where water is not, which is inside of the root hair.

Chris: Right. The root hair functions the same way a sponge functions basically.

Hallie: In this case, yes. Water molecules H2O are cohesive, right?

Chris: Yes, they adhere to each other.

Hallie: They adhere to each other because they have those little hydrogen bonds. That’s why if you fill a cup up too much, you have a little bubble above the rim of the cup or it’s the same reason why you get droplets of water. It’s because those little molecules of water want to stick to each other. They have this cohesion property.

Chris: They’re like tiny magnets for each other.

Hallie: They’re like tiny little magnets. They love to stick together.

Chris: That’s why little bugs can skate across the ponds.

Hallie: Exactly. It’s the exact same reason. This is kind of wild, so prepare yourself. The way that transpiration works in a plant is you have the xylem. It’s these dead cells. It’s basically like a straw inside the plant. It goes all the way up to the leaves. The sun is shining or the wind is blowing and it pulls off a water molecule from the leaf. Every single water molecule within the plant is stuck together. They have those cohesive properties. As one water molecule gets pulled off of the leaf, it’s pulling one more up through the roots and into the stem. It’s like one big chain of links and it’s just slowly moving up through the plant.

Chris: That makes sense. This sounds similar. Not exactly the same, but similar to when you have a cup of water and you’re in a restaurant and you really want to know your parents, so you put the straw in the water and then you blow across the top of the straw and the water comes up the straw and out where you’re blowing. It sounds like a similar principle only you’re not using wind to do it. It’s just the pressure gradient is created by the fact that the water is exiting from the leaf and pulling out more.

Hallie: This does happen because of wind sometimes. The reasons why plants lose water are different reasons. It could just be there’s a really low humidity outside and so it’s being pulled out. There could be a high temperature. Sunshine could be evaporating the water or wind is something that can pull water out of a leaf.

There are different properties to a leaf to make it more or less likely that water will come out of the leaf. If they have a waxy cuticle, if they have more or fewer stemmata, which are like little pores, which is what the water actually comes out of or how open those pores are, they can be more or less open.

Chris: I’m sorry, you said waxy cuticle and now all I can think of is a plant like sitting in a chair getting a pedicure, getting the files down, talking to gossip and all those kind of stuff.

Hallie: That’s exactly what I mean.

Chris: What’s the cuticle on a plant?

Hallie: It’s something like if you think of the difference between a basil leaf versus like a holly leaf. A holly leaf has a really waxy cuticle because they kind of have that waxiness to them. They’re really thick. Basically, it just means that on top of the leaf skin, there is a really like thick layer of wax that’s protecting those pores from having water pulled out of them.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Another good example is like succulents. If you have like a jade plant or something in your house, then those have pretty waxy cuticles usually. But another difference could be the leaf size or the leaf shape, whether or not the leaf is folded inward.

If you look at desert plants, then usually they have really, really small leaves because they’re less likely to be losing water through those and then another factor is actually the pubescent on the leaf. How much pubescent there is, which is like little bitty leaf hairs.

Chris: This is something that makes middle schoolers laugh hysterically I’m sure.

Hallie: I’m sure it is.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Maybe that’s why we don’t teach plant anatomy to middle schoolers.

Chris: Maybe so.

Hallie: But yeah, we were talking about hairs earlier. This is another way that have hairs. They have root hairs and they have leaf hairs. The leaf hairs are called pubescent.

Chris: I had no idea and these are ways for plants to release water.

Hallie: These are basically ways for plants to not release water.

If you’re an understory plant and you might not be getting a lot of water, maybe you’re a small little bush and you’re sitting next to a big tree, you might develop a lot of pubescent so that you can hold onto as much water as possible or if you’re out in the middle of a prairie and it’s really sunny and there’s not a lot of water to go around because you’re surrounded by all these hungry grasses, then maybe you develop really small leaves so that you’re not losing water whenever willy nilly so that you’re able to survive or you know we have live oaks here in Texas and we have really unpredictable rainstorms. We have a drier season and in the wetter season, usually our live oaks have these pretty waxy leaves, so they’re not losing water throughout that dry season.

Chris: A plant on a prairie is wetter when it’s hairy.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Great work, dad. Absolutely great work.

Chris: Thank you. I mean, it’s basically like an animal in the cold is hairier and they don’t lose as much heat. A plant in the shade has these pubescent and doesn’t lose as much water.

Hallie: Right. We have been talking about this from the beginning as a way to regulate temperature as well.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: All accurate.

Chris: All right. Well, I think about these poor little plants when they do lose too much water, part of what they need other than more water is a break.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Hello. I would like to talk to you about the census.

Chris: Why do you want to talk to people about the census? I mean, really.

Hallie: Well, if you live in the US once every 10 years, we do this big count of everyone living in the US and it’s extremely important for things like representative apportionment, which is how we decide what your political power as an area or region looks like or things like funding your schools and hospitals. The deadline to fill out the census is September 30th, 2020. It takes like two and a half minutes. It’s not a very long process and it’s extremely, extremely important. You don’t have to be a US citizen. All you have to be is living in the US. You don’t have to be a voting age. You don’t have to be anything like that. You should just be filling it out for your household. You can go to census2020.gov to fill out the census. It will not take you very long.

Chris: You know who I bet has filled out the census?

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne. Thank you so much patrons. We can’t do this without you.

Hallie: All of our patrons, including and especially our starfruit patrons are absolutely amazing and we are so, so grateful for you all.

Chris: You’re all counted.

Hallie: In the census of our heart.

Chris: That’s right. [Laughs]. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: We talked about thermal regulation. We talked about structure. Now, let’s talk about the use of water as a solvent. Plants use water as a solvent inside of the phloem.

Chris: All right and the phloem is down.

Hallie: Phloem is not the xylem. It is in fact both up and down.

Chris: Oh, all right. Xylem goes from the root to the leaf.

Hallie: There’s not another way it can go because it’s passive transport. Phloem is active cells, so there is actual energy that is expended because it is moving against a concentration gradient. The phloem moves things like glucose, amino acids, some nutrients. The xylem also moves some nutrients, but it does not move all of the nutrients. The main thing that the phloem is moving is these sugars and proteins.

Chris: Wouldn’t have known that plants need proteins, but, okay.

Hallie: Where did you think the proteins in the plants come from? We eat plants and they have protein.

Chris: That’s true. I never really thought about it. I thought maybe they could just build proteins. But to me, if you need proteins, it’s because you have muscles you got to build because you’re working out. You’re getting jacked. I’ve never seen a rose with a six pack.

Hallie: Plants do build proteins. They don’t eat other plants that have proteins in them. They just build them themselves. But usually they’re building them and then they have to go around to all the different cells because one of the main things that we use proteins for is things like DNA synthesizing.

Chris: Oh, that’s important.

Hallie: There are lots of important amino acids out there. Lots of important sugars as well, but every single cell has to have sugars and amino acids. You have these little cells they’re alive. They have to expend little ATPs, little energies as they’re moving these proteins and sugars around the plant because oftentimes they’re going against a concentration gradient. When we’re thinking about like a straw for the xylem, the phloem is more kind of a well, so like pulling something up with the well. You’re moving energy to get a resource out of somewhere and into somewhere else.

Chris: Xylem is like a straw. Phloem is like a well or like something with an active pump.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s the third one. The fourth one is bio chemical reactions.

Chris: Chemical reactions are great.

Hallie: You’re a fan?

Chris: I am a fan. Good old chemistry.

Hallie: Cool. Do you know the reaction for photosynthesis? Don’t look at the notes.

Chris: I don’t, but I think it’s like glucose in light makes carbon dioxide in water or something like that.

Hallie: Well close, but no. If we think about how plants function, it’s actually carbon dioxide and water plus light makes glucose and oxygen. When we think about what plants are creating and giving off, the end product is that glucose they’re able to store and utilize and then the oxygen is coming off of the plant. We’re starting with the carbon dioxide. That’s what the plants are taking in and they’re also of course taking the water in from the roots. Then once you have energy from light, then they’re able to convert that into glucose and oxygen.

Chris: It’s weird to me that it’s synthesizing sugar from carbon dioxide and water because I mean, I never studied biochemical reactions I guess, but I don’t think of carbon dioxide and water as reactive, but I guess this is how we talk about plants taking carbon dioxide out of the air. I guess this is reaction where they do it and they make sugar for us to eat and for them to use and oxygen for us to breathe, which is very nice of them. Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s how it works. Of course, that’s not just how it works and I don’t have time to go all the way into all the intricacies of the photochemical reactions that are happening throughout photosynthesis.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But I did want to talk about one example of where water comes into play because like you said, you don’t just like take a carbon dioxide molecule and a water molecule and you stick them together and you make sugar. There are a lot more biochemical reactions that have to go into it. I will link in the show notes an incredible comic that is made by a guy called Jay Hosler who’s a great science communicator. I was actually shown this comic when I was first learning about photosynthesis when I was in grad school and really trying to understand every single step of photosynthesis. This comic is like a little ant and a little bee and they jump inside of the plant and they walk you through photosynthesis in the most engaging way.

Chris: That sounds awesome.

Hallie: It’s great. I am going to link it in the show notes. I very strongly recommend anyone who’s interested to go check it out.

Chris: Why haven’t I rewritten something like this? Gosh.

Hallie: [Laughs]. In order to create the sugar and the oxygen you have to have water to be present. The xylem and the phloem are moving that water up and down the plant. How is the water actually used in the reaction of photosynthesis? Here’s one example. Inside of the plant, there are plant cells. Inside of a plant cell there are these things called chloroplasts.

Inside of chloroplasts, there are these little things that look like a stack of pancakes and they’re called thylakoids.

Chris: I like pancakes. That’s a word I’ve never heard before.

Hallie: The thylakoids is actually the thing that absorbs light during the photosynthetic reaction.

Chris: It’s like a little plant solar cell.

Hallie: Kind of like that. The part that actually grabs the light energy are what are called photosystems, which are inside of a single thylakoid. They’re basically clusters of chlorophyll molecules along the thylakoid membrane. There are two photosystems. There’s photosystem one and photosystem two. I’m going to talk just about photosystem two.

Chris: Oh, you’re going to make photosystem one pill all left.

Hallie: Listen, there’s a lot of steps to photosynthesis. It’s extremely complex. I’m amazed that plants do it every single second of the sunshiny day. It’s an amazing, amazing process. I cannot possibly walk through every single part of it because I do not understand it. It is so complex. It is so beautiful. It is so amazing.

Chris: Yet we eat them.

Hallie: I know. We eat them after they’ve made these beautiful sugars with this amazing miraculous process.

Chris: Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Photosystem two. What photosystem two does is it chops a water molecule into two hydrogens and an oxygen and an electron. The oxygen just jumps off and it gets given off as a waste product. It left the picture. Inside of the thylakoid pancake, one of the thylakoids is called a lumen. Inside of that lumen, it’s like the vacuole. It’s the inside part. Inside of that lumen, it’s chock full of hydrogens, which creates what’s called a proton gradient.

Chris: Ah, that’s a word I’ve heard before.

Hallie: What’s that?

Chris: It’s a proton gradient.

Hallie: Correct. Yes.

Chris: I did take a semester of biochemistry. It’s something I remember us talking about and areas of differing charge, basically.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

There are several different ways that plants use proton gradients. Here is an example of a proton gradient, but one of the things that they do with all these hydrogens, they have a bunch of them chock-a-block in the lumen. One of the things that they do is once you have 14 of these hydrogens to rub together, there’s an ATP synthase guy who’s able to go in there gets 14 hydrogens together, builds an ATP.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: An ATP is adenosine triphosphate and it’s kind of known as what a lot of people refer to as molecular unit of currency. It’s basically what plants use whenever they need to expend energy. ATP is what’s used in the phloem when they’re trying to move nutrients, glucose, amino acids, all up and down. They have to use those ATPs to get that movement.

Chris: These little energy cell guys build the ATPs from the photosynthesis.

Hallie: Here’s one example. You need ATP in order to eventually build a glucose. Photosystem two has a water molecule chops it into half, gives off the oxygen as just a waste product, goes off, gets hooked up with another two, goes out into the atmosphere, we breathe it in. That’s great. But eventually you get 14 of those hydrogens, right? You’ve got one oxygen, two hydrogens. You go through that a couple of seven times or whatever. You get 14 hydrogens and then you get an ATP. That’s one example of one of the many steps in photosynthesis. It’s not comprehensive. Water is used a lot of other places in photosynthesis, but there’s one example.

Chris: Nice. It’s the miracle of life.

Hallie: The miracle of photosynthetic life. The miracle of it. It’s amazing. I love plants.

Chris: It sounds pretty amazing. I think we’ll need to talk about photosynthesis more in another episode.

Hallie: We can do that. Do you want to do a little summary?

Chris: No. I mean, that was a lot. Plants need water to stay cool and to move nutrients and to make energy and oxygen for us to breathe. Everyone, make sure the plants get water.

Hallie: Water your plants, friends.

Chris: Water your plants, friends and water your plant friends. Plants are friends and food.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

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Chris: Be sure to see what sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then keep on growing.

[Background music].