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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/

Join our discord our facebook group!

Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
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[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

41: How Plants Communicate 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 and I don’t know anything about agriculture. Each episode, we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on fungal networks.

[Background music].

Hallie: Let’s get into it. Dad, what do you know about fungal networks specifically related to plants?

Chris: I know that there’s something called the mycelial network.

Hallie: Okay.

Chris: I know about it because of Star Trek Discovery.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Part of the premise of Star Trek Discovery is there’s some sort of mycelial network in space that a giant tardigrade can float around on.

Hallie: That doesn’t make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs]. I agree.

Hallie: If the tardigrade is giant, how is it floating around on the mycelia, which are tiny?

Chris: It was a little hand wavy even by Star Trek standards. It helped the enterprise go really far really fast. Faster than their normal work drive could take them. Oops! Editing Chris here. If you’re thinking, hey, Chris. Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise. You’d be right. Hey, listener, editing Chris here. If you’re thinking Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise, you’d be right.

Hallie: Because they rode the fungus.

Chris: Yeah, they rode the mycelial network.

Hallie: Mycelia is basically fungus.

Chris: Okay. But at some point their chief engineer takes over of the person that sort of flies them through the mycelial network because they don’t want to be cruel to the tardigrade.

Hallie: This doesn’t make any sense at all. [Laughs].

Chris: Star Trek, man. It’s about philosophy.

Hallie: Okay. Do you know what fungi is compared to mushrooms? Let’s start there.

Chris: So far as I know and of course I grew up with the five plant kingdoms and from what I remember from my education is fungus is one of the kingdoms and mushrooms are in that fungal kingdom along with athlete’s foot.

Hallie: Wait, you said five plant kingdoms.

Chris: Well, sorry. You’re right. I guess the five light kingdoms of life.

Hallie: Yeah, right. Yes.

Chris: Animals, plants, and then fungus there is another one that aren’t quite the same as plants.

Hallie: Separate from plants.

Chris: Right. Because they don’t have chlorophyll I guess, but more for them.

Hallie: Yeah, I have heard people say, they thought fungus was plants. Fungus is not plants. It is separate from plants.

The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungi and they’re just the very, very tip of the iceberg. The mycelia are actually the body of the fungus. They make up the majority of the fungus and then the hyphae are basically branching filaments that make up the mycelium, the total body of a fungus.

Chris: Wait, are they a berry?

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh my God. Absolutely not.

Chris: All right. They’re not a berry. The mushroom part is like you said, the fruiting body.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much.

Chris: When you say fruiting body, you mean that’s what produces the seed.

Hallie: It’s what produces the reproductive parts.

Chris: Yes, I was going to say, thank you for interrupting me.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Then on a mushroom the seed is I guess spores or at least that’s what I know of, but maybe they’re not all spores.

Hallie: I mean, we’re using the word seed here very liberally. I don’t know if we want to apply seed to the animal kingdom if we can extrapolate that way.

Chris: It’s not that kind of podcast.

Hallie: I wouldn’t say seed. Yeah, the fruiting body, meaning that that is what creates new mushrooms.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Hallie: Then the mycelia is like the body of it. If we’re thinking about it in analogous to a plant, the mushroom would be like an apple and the mycelia would be all the rest of the tree.

Chris: Oh, okay. It’s not just the trunk or just the roots. It’s the whole thing.

Hallie: Then the hyphae is a branch.

Chris: I don’t think I’ve ever seen any part of a mushroom that wasn’t just the mushroom.

Hallie: The mushroom is the mushroom, right? The part of a fungi or fungus.

Chris: When I buy a mushroom at the grocery store or I see a mushroom growing on a log in the forest, there’s just this mushroom popping up and I don’t know what the mycelia part is.

Hallie: Right. I wanted to start talking about these different definitions because I want to get you away from that idea of a mushroom. Have you seen other fungus?

Chris: Oh, yeah. Because I used to work in a bakery and sometimes we’d have to throw the bread out or sometimes we keep food too long and that’s mold.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly. Boom answered. The mycelia there is the fuzzy bits. In the soil, they’re really, really small. Typically, they are microscopic, but they’re very important. We are specifically going to be talking about mycorrhiza fungi. That word, we can break it up into two parts. The word myco, meaning fungus in Greek and the word rhiza, meaning root in Greek.

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, when I walk along the path in the forest and I see the mushrooms, there are fuzzy bits somewhere.

Hallie: Under the ground in the soil.

Chris: There are fuzzy bits.

Hallie: There is a network of branching hyphae filaments that make up the mycelium.

Chris: Wait, is that where the enterprise flies around?

Hallie: Yes, fine.

[Laughter].

Chris: I know you wanted to get away from mushrooms, but on a mushroom there’s the cap and the stock.

Hallie: Sometimes.

Chris: Is all that part of the fruiting body or is some of that part of the mycelia?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: All that’s part of the fruiting body and the mycelia is the fuzzy bits underground and there is a network of them.

Hallie: We said fuzzy bits because we were trying to envision fungus. When you really see an image of an underground, like mycelium, it looks like a tree. It’s massive.

It’s really interconnected. If you could imagine grassroots, like really, really fine hyphae that are connected and huge. It’s going to be super huge. It’s not like a little fuzzy spot. It’s a huge network of these branching hyphae that connect.

Chris: Like a rhizome?

Hallie: Yeah, right. But a fungus though. It’s like a fungi. Anyways, we got the image now. There are many different kinds of fungi. We are going to specifically be talking about mycorrhiza fungi.

Chris: Mycorrhiza fungi.

Hallie: Yeah, do you remember the Greek I said earlier? Myco meaning.

Chris: Fungus and rhiza meaning root.

Hallie: Exactly.

Chris: I remember because I’m looking at the show notes.

Hallie: [Laughs]. This is all we’re going to be talking about. Basically, plants need nutrients from the soil, right? But they don’t spread out very well. It takes them a lot of energy to spread out.

Most plant roots are built with carbohydrates and plants make carbohydrates using photosynthesis, so it’s a lot of work to photosynthesize. You know what does spread out really well is mycelium.

Chris: Why is that?

Hallie: Because they’re real small and it’s easy for them to get very many places and it’s just what they’re specialized to do. It’s what they do. Plants trade carbohydrates with fungi in the soil for basically nutrients. They get the nutrients from the fungi and the fungi gets some carbohydrates to go and build some more little hyphae somewhere else or to go build a mushroom. Then I found an article from the journal nature that said that 85% of vascular plants are in some kind of mycorrhiza relationship.

Chris: When the fuzzy bits spread out, they’re not just transporting nutrients to each other or to their fruiting bodies or whatever. Plants somehow use them to transport nutrients.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re basically in relationship with the plants in the ecosystem, which makes sense when we think about it as an ecosystem, which it is, but yeah, they’re basically like buying and selling nutrients and carbohydrates back and forth between these plants and the fungus.

Chris: But whenever I hear someone talk about their plant getting a fungus, it’s a bad thing.

Hallie: Well, yeah.

You can have issues with houseplants if a plant gets anaerobic, but those fungi in the soil are really, really crucial to a plant being able to get enough nutrients. Like everything else pretty much in the soil, you can have beneficial fungi and you can have detrimental fungi or pest fungi. Most of it is beneficial fungi. That mycorrhiza network is so key for plants.

Chris: Got it. Okay, cool. But I think we need to establish something pretty quick right now. Is it fungi or is it fungi?

Hallie: [Laughs]. I switched between the two, which is probably not correct. I think technically it’s fungi, but I always grew up saying fungi, so let’s stick with fungi for the rest of the episode because I’m pretty sure that’s the scientifically correct way to say it.

Chris: It’s fungi like the peanut butter.

Hallie: Fungi peanut butter? What is fungi peanut butter?

Chris: Fungi like the peanut butter, not fungi like graphics.

Hallie: Oh my God.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Man, I can’t even say that sentence. A gif jif joke for those of you at home.

Within these mycorrhiza fungi that we’re discussing today, there are two main types. There are ectomycorrhiza fungi and arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically these two types are describing how the fungi gets in relationship with a plant. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, do you know the prefix ecto?

Chris: Yeah, that’s what ghosts create as ectoplasm.

Hallie: No, oh my God. I mean, yes, but like in the science, like actual, what does it actually mean in Latin?

Chris: Ecto, does it mean outer?

Hallie: Exactly. Right.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically, if you think about plant root cells, they’re kind of built like a brick wall. They’re like these little boxes that are stacked next to each other and an ectomycorrhiza fungi will penetrate the root, but doesn’t penetrate the actual cells. It creates this sheath around those little brick cells, which can be very helpful in protecting the roots from nematodes or something like that that might want to come and eat it, but it basically comes out and creates a little wall around that little cell along the root. It’s ecto meaning outside of the cell. This is often associated with forests.

A lot of conifers have these ectomycorrhiza fungi relationships. They’re great. They’re terrific. The other type is arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. I tried to figure out what the word arbuscular means. It is based on the word tree, right? Arbuscular basically these guys squeeze in the actual root cells in the plant cells. They get in the walls and they live in the cells and the little arbuscular, which are the bits of the fungi that are inside the actual plant cell spread out and look like tree branches, which is where we get that arbor connection because it kind of looks like a tree branch inside of the actual cell. This is really typical in things like grasses, not always. These connect to all kinds of different things.

Chris: That sounds amazing.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re both great. They’re both super cool.

Chris: But they both do essentially the same thing. They have some sort of relationship with the plant where they do like a nutrient exchange.

Hallie: Right. That’s what this mycorrhiza fungi do. This is just basically a different way of establishing that relationship with the plant.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Now we’re going to get into the crazy part. We’re on board for a plant knows a mushroom and they like trade stuff back and forth, but here where it gets intense.

Trees are not in kind of the traditional way that we think about them, an individual organism.

Chris: Because they’re socialists?

Hallie: Because these fungal relationships form something that scientists have been calling the Wood Wide Web.

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, mad respect.

Hallie: I think it’s good.

Chris: But wait, I don’t think I understand what it is you’re saying about why they’re not individuals. Trees are not individuals because they talk to each other or because they have the Wood Wide Web too. That goes between the tree roots so that the trees can talk to each other over the fungal network.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s basically that second one. This Wood Wide Web is a way of reimagining what we think of as a forest ecosystem. A lot of this work was pioneered by an amazing scientist, Suzanne Simard from the University of British Columbia and here’s like how she figured it out. What she did was she put a traceable form of carbon in a tree in a forest. Then she took samples from a neighboring tree at a later date and found carbon in the other tree that she did not put it in.

Chris: Dude.

Hallie: A tree had taken a carbon and put it down into the Wood Wide Web into this giant fungal mycelium and it had gone into a different tree.

Chris: Is she sure that the tree just didn’t reach over and said here have some of my carbon?

Hallie: We’re pretty sure that’s not what happened [laughs].

Chris: Okay. I mean, maybe a leaf fell and the leaf decomposed and then the other tree absorbed. I’m sorry. None of that’s correct. This is insane. That’s wild.

Hallie: Yeah, I did a lot of research on this and a lot of the analogies I found were actually specifically talking about the internet and how it’s kind of a series of tubes that connects servers.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Hallie: These trees can be thought of as servers and sometimes you have smaller servers or bigger servers. A bigger server would be a really big older tree. What’s often called like a mother tree when thinking about this type of framing of the ecosystem. What scientists have seen is that you have these source plants and then you have these sinking plants. Plants make carbohydrates, right? Using oxygen and carbon dioxide and using photon energy they create a carbohydrate. However, if you are on forest, you will have a big tree that gets much sun and many photons and you’ll have a small little tiny baby tree that will be under the big tree.

When you’re under the big tree, you get very few photons. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: Is this nature’s version of trickle-down economics?

Hallie: No, oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: It’s like nature’s version of motherhood. That’s why it’s called Mother Theresa.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Hallie: This big tree will pass carbohydrates across the Wood Wide Web to these little small trees so that they can continue to survive. They have seen examples of trees that are getting very, very few photons that are really not photosynthesizing a lot, but are able to continue to survive because they’re basically getting carbohydrates from the rest of their community.

Chris: Wait, can I use this in my backyard to grow plants that otherwise wouldn’t grow in the shade?

Hallie: Yeah, you know what you need in order to establish a good Wood Wide Web in your backyard.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Compost. You should compost, dad.

[Laughter].

Chris: I mean, that I have to go through the action of composting.

Hallie: You can also buy compost, but if you’re buying compost in order to establish the mycelial network, you do have to buy an active compost that’s not dead because you need living things in it like fungi.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: They send carbohydrates. They can also send nutrients around. They can also send water around and it has also been found that they can also send stress chemicals and like warning signals around on these internet of trees.

Chris: I’m just thinking of all the HTTP codes on the web. They can send two hundreds and five hundreds and maybe even a 404.

Hallie: Sure, dad?

Chris: Yeah.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: Site not found. I don’t know.

Hallie: What is the 500 code? I don’t know that one.

Chris: Internal server error.

Hallie: Okay. Yeah, I don’t really know what that means, but yeah, absolutely if that helps, sure.

Chris: That’s just, wow. Stress chemicals. I’m like, look out there’s a woodpecker or something.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly that. Look out, something is coming eating our leaves perhaps make more cellulose if you can. Something’s coming and then they will.

Chris: Well, that’s cool and herbicides too this is?

Hallie: Yeah, you’re reading a little bit ahead.

Chris: True.

Hallie: They can also transport things like herbicides, which we don’t really want transported, but that hasn’t been as studied, partly because if you’re using something like an herbicide, then that’s often diminishing the soil ecosystem, right? If we’re growing in a more conventional system, then you usually have a less robust soil ecosystem. Not that that has to be the case that you can’t use herbicides in a system that has a robust soil ecosystem. But as we’ve talked about on the show before, we can always use more science about regenerative, agricultural practices and soil science and soil health.

Chris: That is good.

Hallie: One of the other interesting things that they found about these “mother trees” is that when they are dying, they take the carbon that has been stored a lot, not all of it obviously, but they take some of the carbon, they have stored and they release that and as well as other nutrients back into the network, so they’re basically passing resources onto the next generation and it kind of speeds up their death. One of the things that a lot of forestry scientists have been talking about for the last, however long, like since the nineties, when this research was being done is considering that when we cut down these larger trees to make plywood or whatever, we’re basically taking those resources out, so it can be harder for the next generation of trees to actually grow up to maturity because they don’t have that kick start as these mother trees who are aging out and passing those resources on.

Chris: Man, that’s wow. Okay. Is this more like an Ethernet or like a token ring thing?

Hallie: I don’t know. I think that’s the point where we should perhaps get into the break because you were talking way beyond what I know of the internet.

Chris: [Laughs]. Into the break.

[Background music].

Chris: You really should learn more about computers and the internet and the way it all works I think.

Hallie: You know what? I do know more about our starfruit patrons.

Chris: What? Vikram, Lindsay, Patrick, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Our starfruit patrons and all of our patrons have made our local food series possible. They have made it possible for us to get transcripts. They have made so many things possible for us to grow the show, things that have happened and things that are coming up that we’re planning. If you’re interested in supporting the show, we have perks at all kinds of different levels from $1 all the way up to $25 is the highest tier. We have pretty fun perks. If you’re interested, you can come join us over there at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: That’s patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We would love to see you there. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Great.

Chris: All right. Earlier we established that in Star Trek Discovery they used the mycelial network to fly around.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. The engineer that was able to fly them around the mycelial network was played by Anthony Rapp.

Hallie: No way.

Chris: Oh, yeah way.

Hallie: You’re kidding. Broadway King Anthony Rapp was on the Star Trek.

Chris: As you know, Anthony Rapp was big in Rent.

Hallie: I mean, he was the lead in Rent.

Chris: Yes, the reason he was able to do so well in Rent is because he was a fun guy.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. He was a fun guy.

Hallie: That doesn’t even make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh, my God.

Chris: Also, there are mushrooms that go in the dark and they look really cool and you should look them up.

Hallie: I can’t even believe you could even come up with a Rent appropriate pun.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The amount of Rent that you had to listen to when I was in high school and you couldn’t even come up with a Rent specific pun.

Chris: Oh, man. I did try to see if they talked about there being mold in the building, but there was no reference to it.

Hallie: No.

Chris: They were just jerks who didn’t want to pay rent.

Hallie: No, that’s not the takeaway at all from Rent.

Chris: Not the takeaway. It’s just who they were as characters.

Hallie: No, we don’t have the time to talk about how wrong you are.

Chris: [Laughs]. Thank God.

Hallie: Moving on. Back to fungus. There has been some cool research that’s shown that nutrient transfer from old growth. Douglas firs happens more with plants that are related to them like other conifers versus plants that are more distantly related to them, like broad leaf plants.

We don’t know how they know. We don’t know why that happens. It’s not like they’re talking to them. They’re talking to the fungi who is then talking to the plants. How do they tell the fungi, “Hey, take this to that tree over there, but not to that tree because that tree and me are not bros?” How do they know?

Chris: I don’t know. But it sounds like they got a little tribal thing going on.

Hallie: I want to know how they know so badly. It’s so weird.

Chris: Maybe they can see each other. I don’t know. That is pretty wild though.

Hallie: It’s wild.

Chris: Maybe it’s like some sort of gene expression over the network.

Hallie: I really don’t know. Yeah, there is so much we don’t know about this whole network. There’s so many more things that we will be learning in the next like 50 years and I’m sure in 50 years we are going to know so much more and it’s going to blow my freaking mind.

Chris: Maybe they just ask, “Is your name Douglas?” They say, “Yes.”

Hallie: That’s probably what the fungi do actually. Now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly what they do.

Chris: All right. Cool. Let’s go for that.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I want to talk a little bit more about the context of this in agriculture. We talked a lot about forestry in an oblique way, so obviously this is very relevant for our timber industries. We haven’t done an episode on timber yet, but we’re planning on doing it eventually. It’s like on my list of things I really want to talk about. But yeah, this is super connected, but mycorrhiza fungi don’t just exist in trees. We know about them mostly in trees because it’s pretty easy to put a weird carbon in a tree and then come back a while later and look at another tree, but if you have annual plants, you might not have the lifespan to really be able to measure what’s being passed back and forth, right? There is still really cool science being done. But like we do know that these mycorrhiza fungi are important to annual crops like tomatoes, wheat. Most of the things that we eat. We do know that they are important. We don’t just have as much science because there’s always more science we can be doing.

Chris: That is true.

Hallie: There is evidence that plants that are plugged into the network from a young age are generally healthier. Why? We don’t really know. It could be because they have more available nutrients when they’re young and so they’re able to grow to be more robust. It could be because they have more access to stress hormones, so they get less damaged. There could be other reasons that we don’t know of.

Chris: They’ve got mycelia privilege.

Hallie: Exactly. What does that mean? Who knows? We don’t know yet, but hopefully we will know soon. There can issues in agriculture related to the mycelia network. Overuse of fertilizer can damage mycorrhiza networks basically because the plants don’t need the fungi to provide nutrients, so they’re not giving the carbohydrates back to the fungal network.

Chris: Oh, that makes sense.

Hallie: Yeah, that’s specific to fertilizers, but we do know that large scale industrial agriculture does damage soil health. We can talk specifically about mycorrhiza fungi, but what we do definitely know and what is really clear is that the fungal network, this mycelium under the ground is related to nematodes and is related to protozoa and is related to plants and is related to bacteria, all of which are growing in the soil together. If one of those pieces is missing, like if you don’t have as much plant diversity, then that can damage all of the other pieces that create a healthy biological soil. If you have a healthy biological soil, then you also have a healthy physical soil and chemical soil. All of these different aspects of the soil and how it functions can function much better. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: It’s sort of like when everything lives together in harmony, it all works out better.

Hallie: I mean, yeah, sure. If we extrapolate very far back, that is what I am saying.

Chris: It’s a metaphor for life.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s a metaphor for life. We need balance including mycelium. It’s very important.

Chris: Cool. In conclusion, the trees talk to the mushrooms and the mushrooms relay the messages to other trees, or sometimes even other plants or at least trees of other species or whatever, but not usually. They all live together with their friends, the bacteria and the nematodes and the other things and good healthy soil, which is important. It’s just cool and amazing and important for a healthy ecosystem.

Hallie: That’s the stuff of it.

Chris: That’s the stuff of it, man. Well, thanks. Hallie, you know what? I had fun guy.

Hallie: Oh, my God. Well, I had mushroom.

Chris: You had mushroom for what? That makes no sense.

Hallie: Yeah, well, yours isn’t great either.

Chris: That’s true. Okay.

[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].

41: How Plants Communicate

This week, Hallie and Chris explore the fun-filled world of fungi! We learn about the ways the fungi support plant-life, how they make it possible for plants to communicate with each other, and what these relationships mean for agriculture. We definitely decide how to pronounce “gif” and “fungi.”

Read the full episode transcript here.

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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

A silver dollar plant in a pot

40: Houseplants 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 houseplants.

[Background music].

Hallie: What do you know about the humble houseplant, dad?

Chris: Why would anyone want to live inside of a plant?

Hallie: Oh brother.

Chris: As their house?

Hallie: Oh God.

Chris: Their house.

Hallie: Oh no. [Laughs].

Chris: I know that they are plants that you can put inside of your house. I suppose they’re usually in some sort of receptacle like a pot. You have to occasionally water them. That’s what I know.

Hallie: Pretty good.

Chris: Oh, really? Show over. We’re done?

Hallie: That’s the whole show. That’s all we wanted to say.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: No, not really.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: When talking about the beginning of the houseplant, which is where I want to start this episode, a lot of people talk about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, ancient China, ancient Egypt. They had plants and they were inside. People have had plants on the inside for a long time, but it didn’t really become trendy in modern times until really Victorian England when it kind of became a fixture of the middle class household at least here in the West.


Chris: Wow. I thought you were going to say something like the original cavemen had likened on their walls.

Hallie: I mean, they did. That’s true.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: One of the most famous old school houseplants from this Victorian period is cast iron plants. There’s actually a really good episode of the houseplant podcast On The Ledge with Jane Perrone. It’s episode 138 and they only talk about cast iron plants and it’s extremely fascinating.

Chris: Okay. What in the world is a cast iron plant? Is that a plant that you put in cast iron or grow on cast iron or is made of cast iron? I don’t know.

Hallie: It is none of those things. It’s also called an Aspidistra. They’re called cast iron plants because they’re tough. They’re really tough like cast iron would be.

Chris: They’re tough to eat or tough to kill?

Hallie: Tough to kill, yeah. They’re sturdy. That’s how they got the name. They’re just super sturdy, but Aspidistra is just the nicer name. Cast iron plant now has a bad connotation because it’s like an old school plant. It’s like passé, but if you say Aspidistra oh, that sounds so nice. But cast iron plant is old school.

Chris: All right. Cool.

Hallie: But this episode of On The Ledge, which also can I say is a very great name for a podcast about houseplants is terrific. You should check it out.

Chris: Do people put houseplants on ledges?

Hallie: Yeah, like on the ledge of a window, counter.

Chris: Okay. I like that. That’s great. I love that name.

Hallie: In 1960s, houseplants really got kicked up in terms of a design feature. Before that it was mostly just, oh yes a nice plant and they’re good for me, question mark. But in the 1960s, it was really considered a part of the design as we moved into this mid-century modern era of interior design. Houseplants and particularly different tropical plants really became big features of rooms. This kind of diminished as you moved into the 1980s. Particularly for like houses, it became more popular to have like a fake plant. But in the Moli’i Gardens, actually I was doing research for this episode and particularly like the Moli’i Garden was something that was called out as the first public space that had a larger planting more than just like a pot. You remember here in Austin at the Barton Creek Mall, there’s a big garden over by one of the fountains. That’s pretty common. That large indoor planting was the first time we really saw it in the 1980s in malls.

Chris: I got to be honest with you. I noticed the fountains but I don’t know that I noticed the plants maybe like some big leaves or something. I never really thought about that. Interesting. A garden inside of a mall, not just an outdoor shopping mall, but an indoor shopping mall.

Hallie: What a concept.

Chris: Okay. Is it like a big greenhouse with this sky roof, sun roof, translucent roof?

Hallie: I mean, it’s just on the ground floor, you got a fountain and you got plants around the fountain.

Chris: I guess the fluorescent lights are enough for them.

Hallie: A lot of malls also have skylights and stuff like that. Indoor plants really don’t need a lot of lights, so it works. Today, a lot of houseplants are popular, particularly because a lot of people are renting and it’s really easy to fill your house with houseplants as a way to make it feel homey, but without having to make any permanent changes to the structure, like painting or wallpapering or putting up shelves or something like that. They’re just super on trend now, so I want to talk about them.

Chris: It sounds like they sort of became popular in Victoria England and then all of a sudden few decades later it was akin to picking out furniture. You also had to pick out some houseplants.

Hallie: Right. A lot of reasons for that is mostly around the advancement of the industry and the advancement of the greenhouse technology. It’s become much easier to find those tropical plants that maybe we just couldn’t find them in the 1920s, 1930s because we didn’t have ways to transport them and carry them and that industry really hadn’t developed. Whereas now you can find them at every single supermarket at every single hardware store. They’re just super common because our industry has really developed and we have ways to transport them and care for them and all of that.

Chris: Is it true they do better if you play music for them?

Hallie: I don’t know. Maybe we could do a whole episode on playing music for your plants.

Chris: Okay. That’d be cool.

Hallie: What are the reasons that we keep houseplants? Number one, we’ve been talking about it. It adds to the aesthetic nature of a space. For sure, I found a lovely Architectural Digest article that particularly talked about Funkshway, which of course is an ancient Chinese method of creating a balanced energy in a space. They offered some suggestions of different things that you might want to do in your house, both in terms of design and in terms of more utilitarian things. For example, if you wanted to give your space a sense of grounding or softness, they recommended philodendron or jade. If you wanted to heighten the space, they recommended ficus or rubber plant or a banana leaf plant, all of which are quite tall.

If you wanted to balance excess water, kind of a more utilitarian need, like somewhere in a bathroom or a laundry room, they recommended the lincon air plant, or perhaps pothos, which you’re familiar with. These are all great plants and great uses for them. I’m going to talk a little bit later about all different options for some of my favorite plants and why they’re helpful, but yeah, they provide a really lovely aesthetic thing in your house. It’s really soft. They’re really lovely and it’s a very different shape than most of our furniture nowadays, so they’re great.

Chris: Nice.

Hallie: Plants can also clean the air. To what benefit is questionable and I’ll talk about that, but they can also for sure increase the humidity of the space. If you have a dry room, particularly if it’s winter time or you live in somewhere like the desert, having plants in your house is definitely going to increase the humidity of the space just because you’re watering them more frequently and then there’s water in their trays sometimes, and not all the water is going directly into the plants. Having water out is going to be increasing the humidity.

Chris: I can definitely see in the winter. July in central Texas, maybe we don’t need the humidity quite so much.

Hallie: We don’t need the humidity here, but I’ve definitely lived in places where I’m like, oh, it’s so nice. I come home, there’s a bit of moisture in the air as I’m parched from coming in from the desert sun.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: There was a NASA experiment that was published in 1989 that was investigating ways to effectively detoxify space station air and they found that in a lab environment, indoor plants can scrub the air of volatile compounds, like formaldehyde and benzene, which are things that we don’t want in our air. However, if you really have a medical need for air purification, don’t replace your air purifier, which is plants. Plants are doing this, but not on a huge level. They’re very small guys. They can only do so much.

Chris: You can’t put like a whole rainforest in your bathroom.

Hallie: Yeah, I mean, they’re lovely to have, but if you need air purification, maybe have both. I don’t know. But yeah, they do do this, but on the outside of a laboratory setting, it wasn’t a really remarkable difference. I want you to imagine a scenario for me, okay?

Chris: All right. I’ve got my brain camera turned on.

Hallie: Okay, so you’re sitting in a room. There are no windows.

Chris: Why?

Hallie: The chair you’re sitting in is really hard. It’s kind of uncomfortable.

Chris: Am I in prison?

Hallie: Sure. If you want to be in prison, you can imagine yourself in prison.

Chris: I don’t want to be in prison. I’m in a really hard chair in a room with no windows. Okay.

Hallie: The light overhead is kind of bright. It’s like fluorescent. The ground under your feet is like a reflective tile. There’s light reflecting back up at you and all the walls are like bright white.

Chris: This seriously sounds like the intro to a horror movie.

[Laughter].

Hallie: How do you feel, right?

Chris: No, it’s awful.

Hallie: Not good. Okay. Now imagine the same room, but there’s a really big rubber tree plant or ficus plant in the corner of the room. How does that change things?

Chris: I guess it creates one point of interest.

Hallie: Yeah?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: How do you think your physical reaction would change to that room? Would you feel, I don’t know, more stress, less stress, no change?

Chris: I would feel less stressed, except if I walked into that room in the first description, I’d be like, oh, this is a really weird cold creepy room. The second description, I’d be like, oh, this is a really weird color, creepy room, but look, there’s a plant over there. That’s weird. Why did someone put a plant in the corner?

Hallie: [Laughs]. Sure. It’s not a perfect description.

Chris: But I see what you’re saying. It’s the cold creepy room versus the cold creepy room with like a little life in it. Adds as that little something extra.

Hallie: There have definitely been studies that have shown that plants in a space can improve your mood, improve your concentration, improve health outcomes. I found this piece from a Psychology Today article that said, “Based on several experimental studies, the presence of potted plants have been found to be helpful in many different settings, including work, school and hospitals. Particularly, they have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve reaction times, increase attentiveness, improve attendance at work and school, raise productivity at work, improve wellbeing, improve perceptions of the space,” which is a really vague term.

I don’t know how you measure that, but cool. “Lower levels of anxiety when you’re recovering from surgery and raise job satisfaction,” which is like a lot that we’re asking from just these little plants.

Chris: No, kidding. I almost feel like this is a superfoods episode and we should put a cape on a houseplant.

Hallie: [Laughs]. I had a professor in college who is actually studying the impact of plants in a classroom on college quiz test grades and the correlation there. It’s great to have plants in a room. They make you feel more relaxed and being inside of an angular stuffy cold room is not natural for our brains. It’s not where our brains pick operation. It’s weird and so having a little bit of that nature, it seems can help de-stress us and can help us feel more relaxed. Can help us enjoy a space more, which can then I’m assuming correlate to this like improved attendance. If you like the space more, you’re probably more likely to go to a space versus if you really hate the space.

Chris: Okay, cool. Magic plants.

Hallie: I mean, is it magic? Is it brain science? Who can say?

Chris: Fair enough, but you know what we can say.

Hallie: What’s that?

Chris: We can say that we’re going into a break right now.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Chris: Hey, Hallie.

Hallie: Hey, dad.

Chris: Do you know who probably has houseplants?

Hallie: Who?

Chris: Our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey.

Hallie: Patrick, and Shianne. You guys are so wonderful and your support means the world to us. If you at home listening are interested in joining our Patreon family, it helps so much. It makes so many things possible for the show, including us to have series, we’ve got transcripts on the website now, which our patrons are paying for 100%. You have supported so many things about the show and we are so, so grateful. If you are interested in supporting the show, you can head over to patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We have a lot of different, super fun tiers.

Chris: Tiers that get you bonus content like outtakes and little extra audios. We’ve got the plan of the month club. We send you a little digital file with some plant facts about certain plants and a recipe using that plant and sometimes we’ll mail you a postcard, but we haven’t recently because I have been a little afraid to go to Office Depot to get a print it out and go to the post office to mail it out. I don’t want to do that because there’s a plague on, but we will get those mailed out someday. Our starfruit patrons get all kinds of goodies, like boxes of stuff.

Hallie: We’ve been doing like goody boxes for our starfruit patrons. We just did the first one, I guess, back in June. Yeah, June is when they got delivered and we worked with a really cool artist in Australia and she mailed them soaps and handmade candles and handmade lip balms and a bunch of really cool stuff. The next one is going to be closer to November, December. We’re doing it about twice a year, so we’ll be talking about it again when we get closer to that. But if you’re interested in supporting the show at any tiers, any levels, you can do $1, you can do more than that. We would really appreciate the support. If the show is something that’s meaningful to you, it’s great. We have so much fun over there. You also get a Discord channel and we can chat. Gosh, I feel like this Benadryl is not going well.

Chris: It’s going super long. Do you know what, I would appreciate if we got back to the episode?

Hallie: What’s up?

[Background music].

Hallie: Oh my God. Okay. Dad, you got a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do have a nature fact.

Hallie: Hit me.

Chris: All right. In the beginning of the episode, I asked who would want to live in a plant anyway because it’s hilarious, right?

Hallie: Sure.

Chris: Well, you know who does live in plants. It is the Keebler elves. They live in a tree. They do. You know who it turns out is a subsidiary of Keebler?

Hallie: Who?

Chris: Little Brownie Bakers.

Hallie: Okay. [Laughs].

Chris: They are one of the bakers that make Girl Scout Cookies.

Hallie: Yeah, I know this.

Chris: For half of the country, Keebler makes Girl Scout Cookies. Not only that, but Keebler has their own cookies that are the same flavors as some of the Girl Scout Cookies, like thin mint and samosas. They’re just not as exciting to buy from Keebler as they are from Girl Scout.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: This blew my mind. Did you already know all this?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: It’s not blowing your mind?

Hallie: I was a Girl’s Scout. I knew this.

Chris: What you knew? I feel like you were in on something.

Hallie: I was in on something like a conspiracy?

Chris: Yeah, you knew the secret.

Hallie: We don’t have Little Brownie in Texas.

We’ve got ABC, so it’s like a totally different distributor.

Chris: Even if I bought the Keebler thin mints, they wouldn’t be the same as the Girl Scout thin mints that we get here.

Hallie: I mean, it’s like the same formula. I don’t know how different it is bakery to bakery. I’ve never done a test comparison.

Chris: All right. Well, I don’t know. I feel like I’m giving some pretty significant information to the rest of the world so you can be like, yeah, I knew that, whatever, but I bet listener I bet there’s at least one of you out there that didn’t know that already.

Hallie: Congratulations to the rest of our listenership other than me on now finding out that you can buy thin mints all year round, but it does not go to support Girl Scout, which is really great for the development of leadership skills in young women, so sport Girl Scout.

Chris: True.

Hallie: Oh wait, I have to do the theme.

Chris: Oh yeah. You got to do the theme. Don’t forget to do the theme.

Hallie: Tara-tarara. Nature fact.

Chris: Let’s say I’ve gotten really excited about the idea of getting a houseplant after you told me about all this great stuff.

Hallie: I hope so.

Chris: What do I need to do other than purchase it?

Hallie: What do houseplants need?

Chris: Yeah, I want to put in the corner of the room that I use for my office.

Hallie: Okay. Plants need light and water and carbon dioxide and nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium.

Chris: I can definitely supply carbon dioxide.

Hallie: Great.

Chris: I would probably have to remember to give it water. How often would I need to give it water? I guess it probably depends on the plant.

Hallie: Correct.

Chris: You say it needs light. Is the light from my overhead enough?

Hallie: Probably.

Chris: Probably, really?

Hallie: But maybe not.

Chris: Maybe if there’s a window in there, that’s a good thing, but maybe the light is good enough, but I have no idea how to get it nitrogen phosphorus or potassium. Do I give it bananas?

Hallie: I wouldn’t know. Personally, I would not do that at all. If you planted in potting soil, it has a lot of nutrients in it. If you plant it with compost, then that improves the nutrition as well, but also you will probably want to have some kind of liquid fertilizer. Eventually, it will need it. There are different options. There are mineral versions, there are organic versions. You can just go to your local nursery and say, “Hey, I have this plant. What do you recommend?” They have a myriad of options. You can buy it at a large hardware store, like a big box, but I always recommend shopping local because they typically have a wider selection and they will also have great knowledge on what would do best for your houseplants.


Chris: Wait, if I have say a slightly bigger houseplant that I have to put on the floor, maybe it’s a ficus or something that takes up a large area of a pot, can I put my composting material directly on top of that and just have it compost on top of the plant soil and then sort of mix it in over time?

Hallie: Yeah, you can top dress with compost.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: But you can also just mix it in when you’re potting it up, if you’d like, and that typically helps the bacteria and the fungi and whatever else is living in your compost to just disperse. I mean, they’re very small little guys. If you put them on the top, it’s going to take them a long time to get down to the bottom. If you mix them in your own self, then it just helps them get around to all the different parts of your plant. But if your pot is already planted, you don’t want to repot it. You can totally just top dress with compost.

Chris: Okay. That makes sense.

Hallie: I wanted to talk about some of my favorite plants and specifically outlining what they need, what they’re good for and then after that I was going to talk about some of the common issues and some of the best practices for having houseplants.

Chris: Lay it on me.

Hallie: Number one, pothos ivy, you know this plant. It’s what your houseplant, Gary was. It doesn’t need full sun. Very expressive. They really let you know when something’s going on. Not all plants do that. Really easy to propagate, easy to grow and water. They’re great.

Chris: Actually, it’s Jerry.

Hallie: Okay. Sorry, Larry.

Chris: [Laughs]. Actually, it’s Jerry.

Hallie: Terry, got it.

[Laughter].

Chris: But I feel like I’m cutting you off a little bit here. I feel like there was a point where the little jar of water that I was growing him in wasn’t good enough anymore and I needed to do something else with them, like move them to a different container or to some dirt or something. Does that make sense? Should I have done something with them?

Hallie: Yeah, pothus ivy can grow 100% hydroponically. Austin has hardish water, so usually there’s a good amount of nutrition in the water itself.

But if you want the plant to continue creating new leaves, and growing as opposed to just growing small amounts and then shedding the old leaves, so really increasing the amount of leaves and the size of the plant, then you probably will have to add additional nutrition into the water just so that it can fill all themselves up.

Chris: But you don’t move it to a bigger container or anything like that. I don’t know.

Hallie: You might eventually need to do that just based on gravity, mostly like physics if physics-lly it’s not holding up, but you can have a tall plant with a small root ball in a small container, but you just have to make sure that it’s getting the nutrition and the water it needs without burning it. If you had a lot of leaves in a small root area, you would have to water it probably more frequently with the low dilution because otherwise it wouldn’t be getting enough nutrition and you could have the potential of burning the leaves if you added more nutrition. Increase the dilution of it. Does that make sense?

Chris: Yes.

Hallie: Cool. Next, Rosemary. Rosemary does need full sun, so you got to have one of the big windows for it, but it does not need a lot of water. Also, smells very nice and it will flower and you can also eat it, which is a bonus.

Chris: It goes great on chicken.

Hallie: Three, piece lily. I was informed one time by someone who worked at a florist shop that this is a plant that you get people when they know someone who has died. It’s like a condolence plant, but it’s not just that, but just so you know, they might make a comment when you try and buy it. It does not need direct sun. It’s one of the best plants for low light. It’s a really, really good office plant because it’s nice and big, but it grows really slowly and it doesn’t get super tall. It’s super manageable and it has nice flowers.

Chris: Flowers are great. Love a flower.

Hallie: Number four is the bromeliad. The flowers on this one have super nice color depending on what you get. You can get a pink, a yellow, an orange or red. They do need high drainage and they can tolerate high sun, but they’re super lovely. The fifth one is a dieffenbachia. These are good for small plants, but they can also get really big, which is super nice. They do need good drainage, but they’re also super good for low light.

Chris: Cool. Lots of options.

Hallie: Those are my faves. There’s a billion gillion houseplants, so you don’t have to get one of these. Please send us pictures of your house plants on Twitter, even if they’re not one of these six plants, but especially if they are, please send pictures.

Chris: Five plants. You talked about five plants.

Hallie: One, two, three, four, five. I talked about five plants.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Next, I was going to talk about some of the common issues. With houseplants, you can get some pest problems. Some of the most common pests are white fly, spider mites, scale. The most common time to get pest for your houseplant is when you buy a new plant and it’s already infected. You can have one of your existing plants get infected with a pest, but it’s just not as likely because the pest has to be introduced somehow and it’s your house, so you’re usually not bringing spider mites in to your own house other than on a plant. When you buy a plant, this is another reason to be really critical. When buying your plants, thinking through where you’re buying it from, do you trust them? Are you sure it’s clean? Inspecting plants before you bring them home. I oftentimes if I buy a new plant, I’ll keep it away from my older plants, like my existing plants in the house, just to make sure I don’t see any symptoms or issues before introducing it to the rest of the house.

Chris: Do they follow you home?

Hallie: Wait, what do you mean?

Chris: Spider mites. Like maybe you’re walking home from work and the spider might say, “Oh, I bet he has a nice houseplant.”

Hallie: [Laughs]. Probably not. If you get an infestation in your plants just start by pinching off as many of the insects as you see. That might be able to curb the infestation before it really takes off. But if it kind of takes off, you want to separate the infested plants from those that are not infested and you just have to research treatment methods based on what the infestation is. It depends based on pest. Sorry, I can’t give more specific advice.

Chris: I was going to say if the pest is new to you, you probably have to research what even the pest is before you research the treatment method.

Hallie: Yeah, unfortunately. Other issues you can get disease. Typically, it’s a fungus. Sometimes it’s a bacteria that will affect a houseplant. Similar to a pest the most frequent time to get this is with a new plant. Similar to pest, you’ll want to cordon off the infected plant. There are several common diseases that can plaque houseplants. One of them is powdery mildew, which can really easily be treated by spraying a solution of water and baking soda onto the leaves of the plant. If you get a fungus in your potting soil, you just have to replant the plant in brand new soil, toss out the old stuff. But also if you see mushrooms in your houseplants, don’t worry about it. It’s probably just compost mycelia that is now fruiting, so it’s fine.

Chris: Are they talking to the plant?

Hallie: Yeah, they’re probably talking to the plant. It’s great to have fungi in your soil, but if it’s like a fungal infection, if it’s causing issues, then repot just shake off as much of the soil from the roots as you can. Try to get it really clean and then repot.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: If your plant is wilting, yellowing, showing general signs of poor health, then it could be being watered incorrectly. Both over-watering and underwater can show similar stress signs, which can be frustrating. However, you probably know how much you’re watering it. If you think you’re watering it too much, water it less. If you think you’re not watering enough, then water it more. Both cases of over and under watering, it’s because the roots aren’t functioning properly. They’re not able to take up water. If you’re under watering it, then the water is just not there, so the roots begin to die off and they’re not able to take that water up, but if you’re over-watering it, then the roots become anaerobic. They don’t have enough oxygen and so the roots begin to die off and they can’t take up water. That’s why it looks similar, but usually if your roots are becoming anaerobic, it’s being overwatered, then you can just feel the soil. If it’s still wet, then it just really needs to dry off. You might need to pull your plant out and repot it, but usually just changing the watering regime is good enough. You can’t also have incorrect light. If your plant is yellowing, it’s not getting enough sun. If it’s being scorched, if it looks like it’s being burned, like there’s brown spots on the leaves, then it might be getting too much sun. That’s the run through of issues. Some of the best practices to avoid these issues, always consider your environment when deciding which plant to get. We talked about this in the vegetable gardening episode as well. Don’t get a full sun plant if you’re planning on putting it under a fluorescent light. Don’t get a partial sun plant and put it next to a window, it will get scorched. Consider how often you want to be watering your plants. Think about your own preferences with how you want to be interacting with your plants. Always plant it correctly.

You want to make sure that your root ball is higher up in the pot. This is one of the main mistakes that I see people make. With houseplants is they plant the root ball too low and then it’s hard to get oxygen into the root ball zone. Make sure it’s planted nice and high up in the pot.

Chris: The root ball, I guess is just the roots of the plant and if it’s too low, it can’t get oxygen. Which sounds weird. I don’t understand why that is.

Hallie: Well, I mean, we’ve talked about soil in the past. Potting soil is different from ground soil obviously, but potting soil still has a lot of oxygen in the roots. The soil in the ground is like 50% pore space, usually. Potting soil usually has a little bit more than that, but our plants are used to growing in soil in the ground and so they need that pore space. Usually, it’ll get filled up with water and then the water will drain quickly and then it will get filled up with air again. If you don’t have air in your root zone, then you get, like I was talking about earlier, you can get anaerobic conditions with your roots.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: If they’re not getting enough water, then the roots can begin to rot. You can begin to have fungal issues. You need to have some air movement, which does not seem intuitive it’s true, but it’s still important for good plant health. The exception is if you’re growing something hydroponically, obviously it’s already anaerobic, but it’s a different situation. Make sure you’re always using high quality compost and/or a good potting soil or core or whatever you’re using.

If you’re planting in a jar or a mug or a cup or something without drainage, you can do that, but you will need to repot the plant regularly at least once a year. If you plant it in a pot, you might start to see like a white crust appear on the top of your potting soil. That’s salts building up from your tap water. Tap water is not purified. If you water your plants with like 100% purified bottled water, then you won’t see that, but it’s a waste. It’s fine. It’s not hurting the plant, but it can become unsightly. It can be a good practice to repot once in a while after you start to see that salt buildup.

Chris: You keep talking about repotting, is this like an as needed thing or should you report periodically? You were talking about, I guess the mugs and cups and jar plants repot at least once a year as a good guideline.

Hallie: Other than that it’s as needed. Honestly, you could have plants in the same pot for decades and they can do fine. One trick if you’re dealing with bigger plants, it can be easier to leave them in like the plastic pots that you get at the store just because if you need to repot them, you can really easily cut those pots out. If you just take that flimsy plastic pot and put it whole hog into like a nicer looking planter, but not actually replant it into the planter. Those planters can be super heavy. If a bigger plant needs to be repotted and it’s like planted into the planter, it can just be a real pain to get that done. That’s one of the main issues I think with repotting is if they’re really big, so it might just be easier do that, but yeah, other than that, it’s just as needed. There’s not always a regime. Some plants need more maintenance in repotting, but it’s got to be like a plant by plant rule. There’s not kind of a rule of thumb that you can go by.

Chris: Not even a green thumb.

Hallie: Not even a rule of green rule of thumb.

Chris: Green rule of thumb.

Hallie: [Laughs]. That’s pretty much it for tropical houseplants. I also included a little bit at the end. If you want to be doing like food crops indoors, pretty much always, they will need a lot more light so you can buy grow lights. You can just use any fluorescent or led bulb and usually it says like how many lumens they are, and there’s really helpful resources online for knowing how bright you want a light to be a grow light. I would opt for led if you’re between fluorescent led, because fluorescents can get really hot, which unless you’re growing something like, I don’t know, peppers or tomatoes or something that you probably won’t want, especially if your plants are growing up and they might end up touching the bulbs, that can be really damaging to the leaves if they end up touching like a hot fluorescent bulb, but yeah, you can grow whatever you want inside. Why not?

Chris: All right. So grow something. There’s some maintenance, but it sounds pretty easy and it’ll make you a happier, better person in the end.

Hallie: Yeah.

[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].

A silver dollar plant in a pot

40: Houseplants

In this episode, Hallie and Chris discuss houseplants. They discuss a brief history of houseplants, as well as some of Hallie’s favorite varieties and tips for keeping them! Also, Hallie clearly knows much more about Girls Scout cookies than Chris does.

Read the full episode transcript.

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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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36: Vegetable Gardening 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 and this week we’re talking about vegetable gardening.

[Background music].


Hallie: This week I wanted to talk about vegetable gardening. I have gotten many more requests in this spring than I ever have before from friends and acquaintances and family wanting advice on how to start a vegetable garden.

Chris: Gee, I wonder why that is.

Hallie: They’ve got time on their hands and vegetable gardening is super fun, so I thought we could spend a little bit of time talking about what makes a vegetable garden a vegetable garden, some of the history about it and some of my top tips, some of the success factors on how to vegetable garden. Dad, have you ever vegetable gardened?

Chris: You know my mom was a gardener, an avid gardener.

Hallie: I did hear that once you lawn mowed her artichokes. That’s kind of like vegetable gardening.

Chris: I mean she put it in the middle of the yard.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Two teenage me artichoke leaves look a lot like dandelion leaves, all right? I don’t know why anyone wants to plant an artichoke in their yard. Anyway, I do remember growing baby corn once and that was kind of fun. But for the most part, every time my mom tried to get me to help her in the garden, it just seemed like a whole lot of work that I didn’t want to do.

Hallie: Yes, it is work. It does take effort. That’s true.

Chris: Why do you want to put all that effort in?

Hallie: For fun and enjoyment.

Chris: Is it fun though? Is it really?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Okay. It does seem kind of peaceful.

You know your mom and I had a garden plot in the community garden once and we didn’t use it a lot but when we, did we did get some delicious food from it.

Hallie: Right. That’s a big benefit is the food is drastically better. I have a short list of the vegetables and fruits that are just a whole different thing if you get them garden fresh or farm fresh versus if you get them from the store like peaches, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes stuff like that where it’s drastically better.

Chris: It seems like some of it could be and some of the stuff I have had is that was one of the times where you would pick up the tomatoes and you would just eat the tomatoes like an apple and we thought you were crazy but you really liked tomatoes.

Hallie: They’re so good. Have you ever had a garden fresh strawberry?

Chris: Yeah, some little tiny ones that were pretty good.

Hallie: That stuff will blow your mind. It’s insane. It’s like the best food in the world.

Chris: Good stuff indeed. That’s what got Shepherd Book onto Serenity.

Hallie: True. Very true. Except I don’t know how garden fresh that strawberry was but still true.

Chris: Look everyone, she has trouble with the Star Trek and Star Wars reference.

But she remembers the Firefly references, so go me.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Dad, they were like nine episodes and stuff that I had to keep track.

Chris: 14.

Hallie: What I want to know and talk about first is when people started vegetable gardening.

Chris:
Isn’t that the dawn of agriculture?

Hallie: Yeah, that’s the hard thing. When you talk about histories of gardening and histories of agriculture, academically they get conflated a lot of as this is the same thing. Largely, they are. It’s all about people growing their own food. The difference from what I see in the distinction I’m going to draw for the purposes of this episode is agriculture is really more about growing food for a larger need for economic profit, whether that’s from specific profit or from trade, whereas a home garden is negligible economic impact. It’s typically just for home consumption. That’s kind of the distinction I am going to be drawing for this episode.

Chris: It’s food for fun, kind of like entertainment. Kind of like Benihana.

Hallie: Not necessarily really. You can have a vegetable garden to feed your family and we’re going to talk about that, but you’re not growing it to support yourself and to make money off of it basically.

Chris: Got it. All right.

Hallie: Again, people have been gardening for a long time on account of needing food. I can’t go into all of the histories of gardening throughout all of the world, so I’m going to talk specifically about the US and a lot of US history is informed by British history and British culture. We’re also going to be talking about the UK. This is a very white Western look at the history of gardening. But we don’t have infinite time on this episode. Maybe we can do more histories of gardening from other places in the world in other episodes.

Chris: I really look forward to that.

Hallie: A vegetable garden also called a vegetable patch or a kitchen garden or a potager.

Chris: A what? A potager?

Hallie: I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s pronounced. I’m going to be honest, I had not read that word in this context until researching for this episode, so I could be pronouncing it wrong.

Chris: I don’t feel like I’ve ever read that word and now I think it’s a great word that should be used more.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s a lovely, lovely little word if it’s pronounced potager.

It’s probably good if you pronounce it a different way too.

Chris: I don’t want a vegetable garden. I want to put a potager.

Hallie: Maybe it’s potager today.

Chris: Oh, well then I don’t want one of those.

Hallie: Or a potager.

Chris: Definitely not.

Hallie: [Laughs]. People have been gardening for a long time, but in the 1790s in the UK or I guess at that point just England after a war broke out with France, there was widespread food scarcity and so the allotment movement began. Here in the US we call them community gardens. In England they call them allotment. The government created land specifically for people to use as a vegetable garden in a community garden style. That was a branch from agricultural policy at the time in the 1790s. It wasn’t really seen as distinct from agricultural policy, although as allotment policy went on in the UK into the 1800s that was seen as a separate thing as food became more readily available and allotments became more of a recreational activity and not so much about food access.

Chris: It almost sounds like so many things come out of extension.

It almost feels like shades of that where like there’s this agricultural policy and like, oh, we need to get more people involved, so hey, let’s go create a little thing.

Hallie: There was not enough food. There was scarcity from the war and so they said, “Okay, well if we give people who don’t currently have access to land some area of land that they can farm, then they can grow their own food.” It was really built out of response to this specific policy and then from there it became a more popular thing and food access became less of an issue until it became more of a recreational policy.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: It also became in the later 1800s in England much more something for the gentry to do. It became much more popular for the upper-class to have walled vegetable gardens or decorative vegetable gardens or kitchen gardens off of their manner or something like that. Not often something that they would tend to themselves. But Queen Victoria had a very large vegetable garden and it just became something that was more seen as a status symbol for people with land to be able to have garden fresh vegetables and that also trickled over to the US as well and that became more of a thing as US was taking influence from that England Victorian culture.

Chris: Did any of them have a secret garden?

Hallie: Probably. I think that book was written in the early 1900s, so it’s probably influenced by this walled garden movement.

Chris: Just about every piece of British literature that I’ve seen her read there’s a gardener involved somewhere somehow.

Hallie: Right. One thing that I’m not really including in this episode is the larger idea of a captive state and a landscape garden and topiary and mazes and things like that that were a bit a bigger influence in that land culture of the upper echelons of the Victorian England.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Hallie: [Inaudible] specifically vegetable gardens, but gardens and keeping them generally was a huge thing.

Chris: In these fancy walled gardens and later in these I guess sort of recreational public gardens, what kind of vegetables did these people like to grow?

Hallie: Well, there was a lot of different things, a lot of stuff that we still grow today. Fruit trees were very popular. There is a technique of growing fruit trees where you basically prune them back to a wall so they’re kind of trimmed along a wall and that was very popular at the time with these walled gardens. But of course, potatoes and onions and a lot of the vegetables that we eat today, but there also were a lot of vegetables that we don’t know about today that were just lost whether they were regionally native. They’re from that area and now we don’t eat them.

They’re not in the cultural menu I guess of fruits and vegetables that are known or if they were just some specific cultivar variety that is no longer grown and so we don’t know about it. When I was doing research for this episode, there were a couple of examples of like here’s a weird kind of garlic that had its own name and was considered a separate vegetable. But it was grown then and now we don’t even know about it. We’ve never heard of this word before. We lost a lot of those really unique vegetables.

Chris: Oh, I don’t like losing food. That’s makes me sad.

Hallie: Luckily, there are some really cool botanical gardens that are doing great preservation work and if people wanted them, we can probably have a revitalization effort for some of these weirdo garlics out there.

Chris: Okay. It was in the UK and it was later also in the US.

Hallie: In 1902, the US had its first school garden which was in hell’s kitchen in New York. Another kind of different thing when considering vegetable gardening is that urban versus rural. For a lot of rural people throughout history, it’s been very common to have a small garden because maybe it’s harder to get into town, but between the 1910s and the 1930s here in the US we had the great migration where a lot of rural black folks moved up into urban cities up in the North to escape the Jim Crow South and they brought gardening with them and urban vegetable gardening became a part of that culture up in the North for many African American communities in these urban cities.

Later on in the early 1900s, we had World War 1 and food again became an issue both here in the US and in England, so we had things like victory gardens which were also called war gardens, which basically there was less food and so the government was creating propaganda to encourage people to garden so that food could be sent overseas to soldiers for soldiers rations.

Chris: Do you remember watching VeggieTales?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: You remember the episode where they was vegetables fighting each other?

Hallie: That was a lot of the episodes, Dad. I feel like the premise of VeggieTales.

Chris: But they weren’t just arguing. It was like a whole battle. I don’t remember the whole thing.

Hallie: [Inaudible] episode.

Chris: Oh, that could be, but you’ve said war garden and it makes me think of that.

Hallie: Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to picture. Now, it was pretty much just like a community garden. Municipalities would put land aside for specifically community gardens for people to access so they could grow their own food.

In England, allotment land tripled which is like a lot. It’s huge. Then from there we went into the great depression and gardening again was a food access issue and from there, a few decades later, we had the World War II. Again, food access was an issue as food was once again scarce as we had this big warfare and so victory gardens researched from there. But after that, there was still gardens. There was not any state sponsored propaganda and lawn culture in suburbia here in the US became much more in Vogue and so you saw fewer gardens. It was just less common. Not that they disappeared entirely. Lots of people had vegetable gardens, but ever since the 2000s, it’s become a little bit more popular and we’ve seen a dramatic rise in home gardening and home food production as people think more about climate change and the environmental impact of their food and the ways that they eat.

Chris: What kind of food did they grow here? I imagined it’s mostly a lot of the same stuff like onions, potatoes, garlic, leafy greens.

Hallie: In which timeframe?

Chris: Well, you just went through half of the 20th century.

Hallie: I did.

Chris: Let’s cover that whole thing. I guess it’s all good staples that are relatively easy to grow.

Hallie: It’s very similar to what we were talking about earlier. We see a lot of the same things. We see a lot of good staples, but we did lose a lot of those specific varieties, what we call like heirloom varieties that were common and they were bred for specific regions or micro regions. Even you would have these heirloom varieties that would do really, really well in just this one part of Central Texas or just this one part of Northern Ohio or something like that.

Chris: Okay. Cool.

Hallie: We did see a loss in that. Beyond that, pretty much vegetables were popular depending on where you were geographically and what was culturally relevant to you. That definitely influenced how people grew and just what the gardeners preference are. That’s one of the hugest factors in how people garden is just what the gardeners want to eat.

Chris: Nowadays, obviously it’s not as much of a food access issue. Although I imagine for some people, maybe it is, but it sounds like it’s maybe getting a little bit more popular.

Hallie: Yeah, for sure and it’s much more of like an awareness issue. People are thinking about the nutrition content of their food. If you eat fresher foods, then it can have a higher nutrition and thinking about the carbon footprint of your food that you buy at the grocery store versus what you can buy at your house. I think that’s much more the focus of gardening we see now according to the National Gardening Survey, that 18 to 34 year olds account for 29% of all gardening households, which is huge. That’s a higher percentage than we saw in previous generations. I think young people are getting involved, they’re getting interested because they are aware.

Chris: Well, that’s awesome. Awareness is good. Awareness if you know your situation, what you need, where you are and what I’m aware of right now is that it’s time for a break.

Hallie: A break.

[Background music].

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Welcome to the break. Listener, we would love it if you would take this podcast and while you’re discussing podcast with your podcast listening friends or your non podcast listening friends, tell them about this podcast. Say, “Hey friend, I love this podcast and I think you’ll love this too” because we think if you love this podcast, then they will also love this podcast. Spread it as you would spread seeds in your garden.

Hallie: Maybe you’re talking about what a superfood is. Maybe you’re talking about how to start a vegetable garden.

Chris: Maybe you’re talking about confusing Star Wars and Star Trek References.

Hallie: [Laughs]. We really, really love making this show and we’re trying to make it for the people who are also interested in these ideas and these conversations.

We would really appreciate it if you shared it out. We don’t pay for any advertising or anything for this show, and so word of mouth is really the only way that we’re growing and we would just love to have more people here who can contribute to the conversation and who can have fun with us here in this little podcast community that we’re trying to build.

Chris: Honestly, I hope we never pay for advertising.

Hallie: Who knows? I could totally see us getting a billboard. Let’s get a billboard along the highway.

Chris:
Oh, there you go.

Hallie: Do you want food? Do you eat food? Check out this podcast. Just a picture of me with like two thumbs up like, hey.

Chris: An extra shout out to our patron listeners, especially to our starfruit patrons, Lindsay, Vikram, Mama Casey, Patrick and Shianne.

Hallie: To our newest patron, Andrew, thank you so much for joining us.

Chris: Hello, Andrew. Welcome.

Andrew: Hello.

Hallie: We’re really thanking you for coming to join us over on the Patreon.


Chris: All right. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do have a nature fact for you. Pollinators can pollinate vegetable gardens, can they not?

Hallie: They indeed can.

Chris: Common pollinator is the bee.

Hallie: Correct.

Chris: An animal that is frequently mentioned in conjunction with bees are birds. The word that has bird in it is Thunderbird and the Thunderbirds are who flew over my house today and it was awesome.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Very good.

Chris: It was cool. It was a nice little fly over San Antonio and Austin.

Hallie: Dad, real quick. For non-arrow minded friends, can you explain what a Thunderbird is?

Chris: Okay, so the Thunderbirds are a group of pilots in the air force that fly fighter jets for show basically. They are some of the best pilots in the air force and it’s a nice job after a long career of flying fighter jets and they do stunts and they do fly overs and they were doing a flyover of San Antonio in Austin in honor of healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s issues with the cost associated with this. Part of the reason the Thunderbirds exist for the air force and a similar group the Blue Angels for the Navy is for like recruiting and promotion and stuff like that, so whatever. Sure there’s a carbon footprint, but man, when a group of fighter jets fly over your house, it is awesome.

Hallie: Tara tarara nature fact.

Chris: I hope other people got to see them.

Hallie: They were extremely loud. Do you want to start a vegetable garden?

Chris: Oh, hold on there cowboy. I bet someone wants to start a vegetable garden. Sometimes I think about starting a vegetable garden.

Hallie: Well, think about it. For this exercise, we’re going to talk through what it takes.

Chris: Okay. Do I even have a spot where I could do a vegetable garden? I don’t know.

Hallie: You absolutely do.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: I know because mom has grown vegetables at your house.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yes, definitely.

Chris: Not that I’ve eaten. Maybe out there.

Hallie: Oh my gosh. She did that last year.

Chris: She listens to the podcast. I’m sure I’ll hear about this.

Hallie: I’m sure you will.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: The key factors in figuring out what you can grow in a vegetable garden are one temperature, the number of cold days, the number of super, super hot days that you get because you can’t really do a ton with that. You can if you want to build out some infrastructure and have like a little greenhouse or something like that, but that’s the key factor. Another key factor is how much sun that area gets. You can’t really do a lot if an area does not get a lot of sun. You could get some utility lamp but who wants to do that and also tons of energy. Then the third key factor is your preference. Those are like the three things that are kind of hard to address and change.

Chris: Are those in that order on purpose?

Hallie: No, not really. They’re all important. I would probably start with preference. I would probably start with what is it that you’re interested in growing and then thinking about how the temperature and the light situation in what you have affects what you can grow. You also do want to consider your soil. It is possible to grow without soil, right? If you’re in a container or something like that, you’re probably going to be amending your soil regardless. If you’re doing an in ground bed, you will need to be thinking about what my soil is, but you are going to be amending it. It is a factor but it’s possible to work around it. I mentioned in ground gardens, that’s basically where you put plants directly into the ground. You’re still going to be doing things like digging it up and amending the garden and tilling and stuff like that, but you have other types of gardens.

Chris: When you say amend the garden, do you mean adding compost, adding nitrogen or doing what those things?

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much adding compost mostly is what I mean.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: You want to amend your soil if you’re doing an in ground bed because it’s very helpful to have compost that’s adding microbial life and adding organic matter, which can increase your water holding capacity. You could also do a raised bed garden, so this is slightly up above the ground. You can, if you want, dig down into the ground. But one of the big benefits of having a raised bed is that you usually don’t have to till down into the dirt very far. You’re adding six inches an inch or six inches a foot, two feet to your garden bed and so you’re not having to do the work of digging it out. But that also means that you’re having to bring more dirt in and you’re having to bring in potting soil or garden door or whatever it is that you’re using in order to fill up this box. It can be a little bit more expensive.

Chris: Okay. You have to have the box or build the box in the first place, which sounds like even more work.

Hallie: I would say getting the dirt is harder. Building a box, you just go to Home Depot, you get four pieces of wood and you nail them together.

Chris: Four?

Hallie: One for each side. It’s a square.

Chris: You don’t need a piece of wood on the bottom?

Hallie: No, you don’t want a piece of wood on the bottom.

Chris: Oh, so you’re just building dirt up higher basically.

Hallie: Pretty much.

Chris: Okay, cool.

Hallie: You can also do container gardening, which is not open to the ground and it’s really helpful if you have a balcony or a deck or something like that where you want to just put something out but you don’t want to deal with the actual soil and do something larger or if you’re in an apartment and you don’t have a lot of space. It’s also helpful if you want to do something that your temperature of your region might not really be as accommodating too. Like I’ve done strawberries before in places where it might’ve been too hot to do strawberries, but I can just pull them in on like the really, really hot days and then put them back out later.

Chris: Because you’re a wizard.

Hallie: Because I did a pot and I can put it in a pot and then it’s all good.

Chris: Oh, okay. It’s like a potted plant. I thought I was going to ask if it was like hydroponics.

Hallie: No, just a potted plant.

Chris: You store soil. I’s just not the ground.

Hallie: It’s not really what we call soil. It’s what we call soilless media. That would be like potting soil, which is 100% organic matter. That’s like a pot mass or coconut core, which is the outside of the coconut or something like that. That’s like an alternative medium that doesn’t really have any minerals in it.

Chris: It’s called potting soil, but it’s not soil.

Hallie: It’s not. It’s soilless.

Chris: Okay. I feel like maybe we talked about this in our soil episode. But this is getting too deep in the weeds for me, so to speak.

Hallie: I think we did, but remember we talked about soil and most of it is just broken down rock. A potting plant doesn’t have any broken down rock. It just has broken down plants.

Chris: I see.

Hallie: It’s much lighter because it’s like just this light, fluffy carbon stuff, which is nice, so it’s really a lot easier to move. It’s cheaper. A lot of benefits to using potting soil. You can also do an indoor garden, which would be something like having container pots put inside or I’ve seen spice walls before where people have a little container by their kitchen if they have a window and you can just put all your little herbs and grow little herbs.

Chris: But you have to have a window with sun.

Hallie: Or buy a lamp from Home Depot or [inaudible] or wherever.

Chris: Okay. If it does the job. Sure.

Hallie: Another type is permaculture. This is a type of in ground planting where you’re planting directly in the ground, but the idea is that you’re planting it to be a more permanent landscape. Usually, it’s not in rows like a typical vegetable garden and typically you’re trying to build it out to be longer lasting. It typically includes fruit trees or fruit vines and the beds that you have typically don’t get tilled every year. It’s like a landscape as opposed to just a vegetable garden.

Chris: It’s like part of the decor almost.

Hallie: For sure. Another type of garden, the last one I’m going to talk about is a hoop house. This one is the most amount of infrastructure of any of the ones on my list. This one we did a lot when I was living in New Mexico because it gets really, really cold in New Mexico. You have a very, very short summer season, so it gets cold really quick and then it stays cold for a long time. Having a hoop house, which is basically what we did is we bought really long PVC pipes and then we put like steaks of rebar in the ground and then we would bend the PVC pipe in like a U shape over it. Then we would just do that like 10 times and then put a tarp over it, basically like a see-through plastic so that the light could get in. But basically it was much warmer inside of this little house that you built.

Chris: Now, just as an extra weird little piece of trivia for the people that know us, a hoop house has nothing to do with a hoopy house, nor is it where your username on Discord comes from.

Hallie: It is not where my username comes from. My internet username is Nat Hoopy, which is a Douglas Adams joke that is extremely obscure and I thought it was really clever at 15 for thinking of it.

Chris: For a 15 year old, it was pretty dang clever I got to say.

Hallie: Thank you very much.

Chris: I was impressed. You have all of these options. They all require sun and they all require water I’m guessing.

Hallie: Well, they don’t all require sun, right? There are famously a lot of people who grow plants indoors with no sun. You can just get a light bulb. You need some kind of UV radiation.

Chris: They get busted by the FDA. No, the DEA.

Hallie: You can deal with whatever you want. Cannabis is not the only thing that can grow with lamps. Plants just use sunlight for the photon energy to convert CO2 and water into starches and so they can get that energy from tons of stuff including just plain old lamps. If you want to get one that’s kind of higher voltage and you can find more information depending on what plant you’re growing, just so that it’s going to be giving off more light. LEDs are also really popular for this because they don’t get as hot, which can also damage a plant. But you can grow stuff inside without any sun.

Chris: All right. There are some alternatives, but there are no water alternatives.

Hallie: Correct. You have different options with irrigation. You have drip irrigation, which basically uses less water per amount of food. It’s like an efficiency question that’s very popular with a lot of people because water bills can get high if you’re watering a garden as well as people living in a house.

Chris: That makes sense. Got to water the people.

Hallie: You can also have some issues with drip irrigation just because you’re putting the water right at the base of the plant. If you have something like a root vegetable, then sometimes your root vegetables turn out looking kind of weird because they’re contorting themselves to grow directly where that water is as opposed to something like a sprinkler where all of the ground is getting saturated, so the taproot can just grow in the natural way. If that makes sense.

Chris: I feel like I’ve seen some funky looking carrots and maybe this is why.

Hallie: Well, there’s a lot of reasons to have funky looking carrots. Maybe there was a rock in the way and so it had to grow around a rock or something like that.

Chris: No, I have no idea.

Hallie: Maybe the dirt was super constricted and so it was just growing weird. There’s tons of reasons. Sprinklers are a good option for something like root vegetables if you want. They can also be a good option if you have a lovely ground cover. If you have a permaculture setup, you can just sprinkler it if it’s something that’s maybe not fully grown in and you’re trying to encourage it. Sprinklers are also often used for leafy vegetables because leafy vegetables can be super tender. Stuff like lettuce and arugala are prone to overheating, but they’re also like summer vegetables. Sprinting them with a bit of water during the day can help cool them off.

Chris: Oh, nice. Like a nice little mister on your skin.

Hallie: Exactly. People love it. Plants love it. It’s great. You can also have something called subsurface irrigation, which is pretty cool. I’ve used this in one form, which is called the olla, which is spelled O-L-L-A. It’s a Spanish word. An olla is basically like a terracotta pot that’s unglazed so it’s still permeable, right? There’s no hole at the bottom. It’s just a complete pot and so you bury it with just the top out of the soil and you fill it with water and then you cover the top. Because the clay is permeable, the soil matrix has a higher water potential than the pot of water and so the water moves out into the soil matrix. I’m pretty sure I got that correct. But I could be mixing it up.

Chris: You bury the pot on top of where you plant your seeds?

Hallie: Right next to it basically.

Chris: A little watering pot. That’s great.

Hallie: It’s like a little watering pot. It’s great. Usually, you’ll want to water your plants in for the first couple of weeks while they’re getting used to the olla because they don’t always know where it is and so it’s kind of off to the side and they have to kind of grow towards it to like pull the liquid out of it to pull the water through the pot. If I’m using an olla that I usually overhead irrigate for the first couple of weeks in addition to doing the olla occasionally just so they don’t get too wilted until they figure out where the olla is.

Chris: Nice.

Hallie: You can also do rainwater collection, which is great for drip irrigation. You can use it for olla and sprinklers and stuff too, but it’s really easy to use for drip irrigation because you just can use gravity because you’re not needing a lot of pressure to get the water out of the little drip emitters. I think that you just need to put your rainwater collection tank something like a foot and a half up above where the drip emitters are going to be then they just submit on their own. You don’t need any kind of pump or anything like that.

Chris: Nice. Even though presumably it just rained.

Hallie: You could just turn it off and catch the water and then in three days when it hadn’t just rained, then you could turn it on and use the tank.

Chris: Three days later after a rain you’d need to water again that soon.

Hallie: It depends on what you’re growing. You could keep its water in the tank. You can keep it for however long you want.

Chris: Fair enough. All right. Well, cool. Is that all about water?

Hallie: That’s my water stuff. The steps for actually planting you can either direct seed or you can transplant direct seeding where you put a seed in a pot or in the dirt or in a raised bed.

It’s going to be cheaper but it can be less likely that you actually get a plant because when you’re transplanting you see the plant, you know you have the plant. When you’re direct seeding, not all the seeds will grow.

Chris: That makes sense.

Hallie: It can also be hard if you have a shorter season. When I was in New Mexico, we would also often use transplants because you’re a month ahead. It takes like a month less to get the food at the end than if you’re direct seeding because you’d have to wait for it to grow from the seed versus just using the transplant.

Chris: Wait a little longer for that extra little germination to take place. Not germination but the little sprouting.

Hallie: You got it. [Laughs].

Chris: I got it.

Hallie: You have to think about your seed spacing and some other stuff, but usually the seed packet has a ton of very helpful information in terms of how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart to plant the seeds. All of that information should be on your seed packet. You can also opt for a transplant. If you opt for a transplant, it’s going to be more expensive, but you know that you have a plant for sure. If you’re doing a transplant, once you plant it, you’ll want to water it in. Just watering it so that it’s kind of nice. It’s like welcome to your new home little plant. Here’s some water for you. You’ll be happy here. You always want to do that right away. Otherwise the plant can just get really dried out and have a little bit of shock and it might not make it.

Chris: Make it feel at home.

Hallie: You can also grow your own transplants in your own house if you want. You can do this with little egg cartons. You can buy a plug trays, you can use whatever, but you can just put a little seed in a little bit of potting soil and you mist it once a day or twice a day, you put it near a sunny window or you get a light so that the little guys grow. Once they’re tall enough, then you want to start putting them out for a couple of hours each day increasingly. That’s just so that they get used to things like wind because otherwise if they’re inside and then you just plant them in the garden, then it’s really easy for their stems to break because they haven’t had to build up any extra cellulose to be sturdy or anything like that. That process is called hardening off. You just put them out gradually more each day and they just get stronger and stronger and then you’re ready to plant them.

Chris: Wow. I had no idea plants were so complicated like that.

Hallie: That’s all of the notes I took. Do you have any questions?

Chris: All right.

When I was a teenager, your grandmother made me dig holes for her tomatoes with a pickaxe because it was in Dripping Springs and there was limestone a few inches down and so I had to bust holes through the limestone. Was that actually necessary?

Hallie: She could have built a raised bed, but if she wanted to go in ground, yeah.

Chris: Oh, okay. She wasn’t just making me do work.

Hallie: No, out towards Dripping Springs there is a lot of limestone and there’s two inches of topsoil and then it just goes straight down to what we call parent material, which is rocks. What she was doing was because limestone is a softer rock, she was just carving it out so that she could add in compost and gardening soil and these other things as an amendment.

Chris: Just super quick, do people need to worry about pest mitigation?

Hallie: Everyone likes vegetables including pests so you will get them. It will very much depend on where you are in the world and what vegetables you’re growing. It might be something that you have to think about. If you’re growing indoor plants, it’s going to be less of an issue than if you growing outdoor plants. But everyone should at least do a cursory Google to see what are the biggest pest problems for gardeners in my area so you can kind of be prepared, but it’s all a learning experience and it’s all about figuring out what pests are in your area and what they look like.

Chris: I’ve got one last question. I’ve been saving this one for last specifically. I pretty sure this was you that I’ve either heard say or seen posts about it on social media, which is something along the lines of growing your own food is a radical act. Was that you that said it and if so, could you comment on that a little bit?

Hallie: I have definitely said that in the past. I think it is a radical act. I think that thinking about how our basic needs are so separated from how we actually operate in terms of like food and water and things like that that are really based and how they’re kind of built within capitalism and this corporate system that’s kind of really, really decentralized and includes so many players. We talked about this in the COVID episode that we uploaded, but thinking about how immense that system is and how fragile it can be and how much of a toll it takes on other people’s lives and on the environment and on animal welfare and all of these different factors, I think that regaining some of that autonomy and regaining your place in your own survival and considering the way that extracting yourself from that system, even in a small way, can alleviate a burden that’s being placed on the environment or on someone’s human rights or something like that, is for sure a radical act.

Chris: Wow. I never thought about all that. That is pretty heavy. You heard it here first folks. You want to be radical, grow your own food.

Hallie: You can grow a radical which is a part of a plant. [Laughs].

Chris: No.

Hallie: Really good. [Laughs].

[Background music].

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

Hallie: This show is hosted by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey.

Chris: It is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey.

Hallie: Our music is Something Elated by Broke For Free.

Chris: Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod.

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

Chris: Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups and even custom art created just for you.

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

Chris: Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[Background music].

36: Vegetable Gardening

It’s time to get our garden on! This week, Hallie and Chris discuss vegetable gardening, including how they started and how to do your own. We learn the history of gardening (and gardening policy), Hallie’s best gardening tips, and which space-based TV show references Hallie actually gets.

Read the transcript.

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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

32: Plant Propagation 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 plant propagation.

[Background music].

Chris: All right. How do you propagate a plant?

Hallie: So many ways.

Chris: You plant it in the ground or you cut part of it off and splice it into another plant and that’s why speciation is all just made up nonsense because you can splice all the plants with each other and create new plants.

Hallie: No.

Chris: No? You can cross breed them.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Okay. But the splicing, isn’t why speciation is nonsense.

Hallie: We don’t really call it splicing. We call it grafting. You basically build a plant, but it’s still two separate sides of the plant. Like you can graft a potato and a tomato together and what you have is a topato or however you like.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The bottom part grows potatoes and the top part grows tomatoes. Right.

Chris: But it’s not a hybrid.

Hallie: Yes, it grows and then it dies and that’s it. It’s not going to produce a new plant because it’s not in the genes. Basically, what just happens is the tubes connect and so they can transport water and nutrients up and down the plant.

Chris: Okay. Cool. But that’s not propagation.

Hallie: It can be part of propagation, but that’s not mostly what we’re going to be talking about. A peek behind the curtain, I taught this as a class. Big shout out to one of my previous students who took our listener’s survey.

Chris: There you go. Hey, Melissa.

Hallie: Yeah, she’ll know all of this information hopefully. I taught a class called plant propagation and I thought it would be fun to try and fit an entire semester into 35 minutes of podcast.

Chris: If you don’t know all the information by now, Melissa, you should have paid more attention in class.

Hallie:
Okay. We don’t need to drag Melissa on the podcast.

Chris: I never paid attention in class.

Hallie: Melissa was an excellent student.

Chris: I believe it.

Hallie: We have sexual propagation and asexual propagation.

Chris: It’s like hot or not.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. Plants that are hot for each other. Plants that just don’t care and do their own thing.

Hallie: No, we propagate plants to serve our own purposes not necessarily to serve the plant’s purposes. Most plants that we asexually propagate can propagate sexually, but there are reasons why we choose to asexually propagate it instead.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Because plants are living beings that have sexual cycles and reproduce via pollen and ovaries and they create seeds.

Chris: There is still some [inaudible].

Hallie: It’s just like how many, many living things operate, including plants.

Chris: When you say we choose to propagate them, asexually I feel like we’re subjugating them to our will against their preferences, even though they are plants and they don’t necessarily have preferences. I’m like, oh, we are bending these plants to our will.

Hallie: Yeah, we do that with most things. [Laughs].

Chris: That is true. We are humans. That is what we do.

Hallie: It sucks to suck.

Chris: [Laughs]. I don’t think we need to drag all of humanity in the show.

Hallie: No, I’m not dragging all of humanity. I’m like sucks to suck to like all the other living plants. Maybe you should have thought about that and then become the dominant predator, apex species or whatever.

Chris: So because they didn’t work hard enough at evolution, they just have to deal.

Hallie: Yeah, I’m just saying. It seems like we got here and we’re crushing it.

Chris: I feel like that’s a little heartless.

Hallie: Nothing’s going wrong. We’re doing a great job. We have sexual propagation. We have asexual propagation. Sexual propagation meaning seeds. That’s how we further that plant. That can include things like seed breeding, which is where we grow plants for the purpose of trying to make a seed that will grow a better plant.

Chris: Seed breeding, which we grow a seed for the purposes of trying to make a better plant.

Hallie: We grow a plant for the seed in hopes that that seed makes a better plant.

Chris: We grow a plant for the seed. Oh, so we select for a particular plant that produces the best seeds.

Hallie: Basically, sometimes we have plants that are crossbreeds or hybrids and so in that, we can be growing tomatoes, but if we’re growing like seed tomatoes, then we’re never growing those tomatoes really for the tomatoes, we’re growing them to cross pollinate them and create tomato seed.

Chris: Kind of like when your mom and I got together because we knew we would make the best children.

Hallie: Gross.

Chris: It’s not gross. It’s romantic and sweet.

Hallie: No, it’s not at all.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Fine whatever. We’re selecting plants to have better or more resilient seeds or we’re selecting them for some particular characteristic to qualify as whatever good is for what we need it.

Hallie: Right. We breed plants. Oftentimes when we do that, it’s seed breeding that we do it for. There are different components of a seed. You have the seed coat, you have the endosperm, the cotyledon and the embryo. I feel like we’ve talked about this on the podcast before.

Chris: Those are all words that I remember. Cotyledon is the weirdest one. I do remember you talking about it.

Hallie: Inside of the seed, there’s a little embryo, which is what the plant becomes, but there’s also these cotyledons that become what you first see, when the little embryo pops up. It’s like two or one leaves. They’re not really leaves because they’re inside of the seed. They’re like a starchy reserve so that when the embryo starts to grow, it’s able to like pull starches out so it has energy. This is helpful to understand the different parts of a seed because sometimes we have to treat seed in order for it to grow.

Chris: Are these what microgreens are?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: I remembered another thing. I’m so happy for me.

Hallie: That must have been when we talked about it. If you want to go back, we talked about microgreens on the last superfood episode.

Superfood four I think we talked about microgreens and that involves talking about cotyledons, but around the seed is a seed coat. Sometimes when we are planting seeds, in order to propagate a new plant, we have to treat the seeds because there is something that makes it impossible for the embryo to actually grow. We do things like imbibing the seed, which is where you soak them in water.

Chris: It’s not about just getting them drunk.

Hallie: We don’t get them drunk. We can soak them in water by imbibing them. We can also stratify them, which is when we put them in the freezer for a couple of days and that will break a seed’s dormancy or we can also what we call scarify the seeds, which is where you basically file them down with like a nail file or something.

Chris: I’m so confused right now.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: I’m accepting what you’re telling me, right? We’re talking about getting the seed to start growing, one of the ways is soaking them in water.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They don’t drown obviously.

They just like the water and the other way you said it’s freezing them, which I associate freezing with going dormant, not with triggering production.

Hallie: Right. Basically, what you’re mimicking there is if you’re a plant and you produce fruit in the spring time and it’s lovely and it’s warm outside and the seeds go in the ground, you don’t really want those seeds to start growing until the next spring usually. So you’re basically mimicking a winter time period so they have a freezing. Then when that freeze ends, they’re like, okay, great. It’s warm now I will start to grow. Because if it was still cold or if it was still warm and there hadn’t been cold, these seeds are like, wait, it’s going to get cold and it’s going to get rough for me. I got to wait it out.

Chris: The freezer mimics the weather.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Dang!

Hallie: The seeds are not that smart. They can’t notice that it’s inside of a freezer.

Chris: Fair enough. Then taking a nail file to them.

Hallie: Yeah, scarification. Sometimes we just put them in a big tumbler and we tumble them around so that the seed coats get scratched.

Chris: Like a rock polisher.

Hallie: Yeah, but basically this is mimicking being eaten and then pooped.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Sometimes you actually have to ferment seeds to make them grow, which is wild. But usually, if you have some kind of seed with a really hard seed coat, it’s either meant to be a mammal, grabs it and then chews it and then spits it back out or it goes through the digestive system and there are a lot of acids in there that can break that seed coat down and then it’s ready to be.

Chris: Got it. The nail file mimics the process by which the seed coat gets broken down. There are seeds which in the wild go through a fermentation process before they start growing. Is that correct or is that scaring as well?

Hallie: Yeah, fermentation is kind of similar. That’s basically mimicking going through a digestive track where you are exposed to a lot of high acids.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That is most of what I have for sexual propagation.

We can talk about asexual next, which is the wild stuff. Sexual is the most common and the cheapest, but there’s tons more to talk about, but that’s the basics. If you’re gardening, always check your seed packet in case you need to imbibe, scarify, or stratify your seeds.

Chris: It’s like the opposite of the human world where the sexual reproduction is the wild stuff.

Hallie: No, dad. If we asexually propagate humans, that’s the wild stuff.

Chris: Oh, that’s fair. That’s a good point. I never thought about that. How would that look? I don’t think that this podcast is the forum for that kind of speculation, but now I’m curious. I mean, cloning, I guess.

Hallie: That’s exactly cloning. Precisely, exactly. Yes.

Chris: Wait, is asexual propagation in plants cloning?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Oh.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Well, you know where things get really wild?

Hallie: Where?

Chris: In the break.

Hallie: Hey, let’s go.

[Background music].

Hallie: I have some excellent news. I would like to very much thank a very new brand new starfruit patron, Patrick.

Chris: Hello, Patrick.

Hallie: Welcome to our wonderful podcast family.

Chris: Welcome. We are so happy to have you along with starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Thank you guys so much for all of your support. If you would like to talk with us, our amazing starfruit patrons, all of the rest of the One to Grow On community, you can jump in our Discord group or our Facebook group where we are posting lots of memes and jokes and plant facts and plant questions. So many plant questions.

Lots of houseplant support, gardening support, plant ID, all these wonderful things you can find. You can either go to onetogrowonpod.com/discord for the Discord group or onetogrowonpod.com/group for the Facebook group.

Chris: Facts, fun, memes like dandelions.

Hallie: Yes, come join us. We would love to talk with you.

Chris: Also in March, we’re going to do things a little differently.

Hallie: March is national agriculture month here in the US and we are partnering up with three amazing food and farming podcasts to bring you a little bit of different content. We’re going to be airing some of their episodes so you can learn more about their shows and how amazing they are. We’re going to be talking about this a lot on social media, so you can connect to other very cool people online who are talking about agriculture and food in very fun and interesting ways and doing amazing stuff. We’re focusing on indie producers, so it’s going to be a lot of people who this is their passion, just like me and dad. They really are trying to bring the very best stuff. You can look forward to that. The next episode is technically just at the end of February, but that is when we will start and then the two episodes in March will also be part of this. Until April though, if you want to connect with us, we’re going to be on social media and we’re going to be on our Discord and Facebook, so come join us at onetogrowonpod.com/discord or slash group for the Discord and Facebook group, respectively.

Chris: In April, we’ll be back on the air. But now it’s back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do. All right. The past few weeks I’ve been obsessed with this new video, which is not plant related, but it is nature related. It’s about the sun.

Hallie: Oh, I love the sun.

Chris: I love the sun too. I guess it is plant related because we can’t have plants without the sun.

Hallie: It’s everything related. We couldn’t have anything without the sun.

Chris: That’s true. But the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope from the national observatory produced the highest resolution video and photos of the sun ever. The video is mesmerizing and you’ve got to check it out. We’ll have a link in the show notes, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s just about a 15 second video of what looks sort of like this hot boiling gas and each of these little boiling blobs on the video is about the size of Texas. They’re massive. Well, the sun is massive and each of these little cells is massive. We see this big white dot in the sky.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: This is just sort of this close up, detailed movement of this plasma gas and fire out here on this giant ball of fire in space. It’s amazing.

Hallie: That sounds so cool.

Chris: It’s really cool. We’ll have a link in the show notes if you haven’t checked it out. We’re glad that you’re here and excited about agriculture. Be excited about space too. Space is cool.

Hallie: Spaces is so cool.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Tara tarata ta! Nature fact!

Chris: Asexual reproduction. Production without sex.

Hallie: Oh, yes. Exactly or as you put it earlier cloning. This happens naturally in nature, which is where we got the idea to do it.

Chris: Real quick, the banana is a clone. All bananas are clones of one another. Is that something we did or is that something that the banana did itself?

Hallie: Bananas do do that. We basically selected for the banana we wanted and then propagated that a lot.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But bananas also do do that.

Chris: Sorry, still reading my book. I got to know.

Hallie: Examples of natural occurrences of asexual propagation includes things like tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, corms, tuberous roots, keikis.

Chris: That’s a lot of words. I feel like I know what a tuber is.

Hallie: Example?

Chris: That’s a potato.

Hallie: Exactly, that is a potato.

Chris: I feel like I know what a root is, a part of a plant. I don’t know why it’s in this example, but you also said corm, which is not corn.

Hallie: No, corms.

Chris: Keikis.

Hallie: Rhizomes and bulbs.

Chris: I have a friend named Keiki.

Hallie:  [Laughs].

Chris: I don’t know what it is here. We talked about rhizomes once.

Hallie: Which is?

Chris: It’s a kind of root sort of.

Hallie: Modified stem tissue.

Chris: I almost said modified group, modified stem tissue, but it’s usually underground, right? It shoots out and new things sprout out of it.

Hallie: It’s either right below or right on top of the ground. It’s like what grass has. That’s rhizomes. Bulbs example is like onions, irises, garlic. Those are bulbs.

Chris: Your grandmother used to get bulbs all the time and grow them, tulips.

Hallie: Corms are very similar to bulbs. We’ll just say that basically they’re the same as bulbs. Tubers roots, tubers, meaning akin to a tuber. They’re slightly different because technically they’re root tissue, whereas tubers are stem tissue. But other than that, they’re very similar.

Chris: Like bubotubers. I don’t know. Harry Potter reference, anyway.

Hallie: Do you know how we propagate potatoes?

Chris: We put them under the sink until they sprout little leaves on them.

Hallie: Basically, yeah.

Chris: Wait, really?

Hallie: Well, kind of, but not really. On potatoes, you have the little eyes, which is where if you leave them out for too long, they’ll start to grow. You can just take like a sharp knife and cut those eyes out and you leave them for a bit of time. Sometimes you put some sulfur powder on them and then you plant them and they grow.

Chris: That sounds so violent.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: You cut their eyes out.

Hallie: You cut their eyes out.

Chris: You cut their eyes out then you put some sulfur on them and then they grow. Is it pure sulfur or is it a mineral like a salt?

Hallie: It’s like a mineral salt yeah. You don’t always put it on there depending on how wet it is. The sulfur can help prevent bacterial infections if it gets really wet, but it’s not always necessary. You also do have things like keikis. Keiki is specifically a term for orchids, but it’s basically what we call an adventitious root. We have it on other things too. Have you ever seen like a spider plant? Do you know what a spider plant is?

Chris: You have said so many things that I just don’t know about. I’ve seen an orchid. I did not know they were clones of each other.

Hallie: Well, they’re not always. They do have flowers and so they can grow seeds.

Chris: I know you said something that sounded like advantageous.

Hallie: Adventitious roots. Have you seen a spider plant before? Do you know a spider plant?

Chris: I don’t remember.

Hallie: Spider plants have these long thin leaves, but they also shoot out little babies. They’re very common.

[Laughter].

Chris: They’ve got little leaves. A little baby is flying out.

Hallie: Pretty much. They’re a very common houseplant. If you Google a picture of them, you’ve got to have seen them somewhere, but they are a very common plant that is very obvious. They have adventitious root tissue. Basically, you have above ground plant stuff and they start to grow roots in hopes that they will take root somewhere.

Chris: The tissue that’s above the ground grows the roots and hopes that the roots will find the ground again. That is adventitious.

Hallie: For the spider plants, how they do this is you have a one big, main plant and sometimes they will flower and grow seed, but they prefer to grow colonially so they’ll shoot out these little babies and these little stands that go like, boom! It’s still attached to the plant, but on the top part of the babies are leaves. Then on the bottom there’s a little bit of root tissue.

If you shoot the baby out and it lands on the ground, it starts to grow on its own.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That’s what adventitious root tissue is. When we are propagating plants for our uses, oftentimes we will take cuttings. A good example of this is the potatoes, like we were talking about. You just cut them up and you’re basically separating them and creating a new plant from a smaller part of a plant. But we can also create plants from cuttings by inducing root growth. The same way that it happens naturally with these keikis and these spider plants. We can take a cutting of something like a pothus ivy and then induce root growth. You did that remember with Jerry?

Chris: Yes, I took the leaf. I believe you said it was above the nodule.

Hallie: Node. You took I think it was two nodes of pothus plant.

Chris: I put that in water. How did that induce because I didn’t do anything?

Hallie: Right.

Chris: When you say induce root growth that makes me think that I should be doing something.

Hallie: Oftentimes, that is how it works. Pothus ivy is just very happy to just do whatever.

They just kind of do their own thing. With many plants, you have to add some kind of hormone. There are five major hormones that plants have. One of them is called oxygen and oxygen controls root growth. If you take a piece of a plant and you put a little oxygen on there, then it’s more likely to grow some roots for you because you’re kind of signaling with these hormones like, hey, here’s the place for the roots.

Chris: Does the oxygen have yolks?

Hallie: Oh my God!

[Laughter].

Hallie:
That was the worst joke you’ve ever made.

Chris: You said oxen. I thought about, babe, the blue ox out, plowing the field because you also said induce root growth and it made me think of Pitocin for inducing labor. But I guess in the broadest sense, the concept is not dissimilar.

Hallie: I guess in the very broadest of senses.

Chris: You’re giving some sort of hope hormone to get things going.

Hallie: That’s very true.

If you would like to do cutting at home of any plants, we advise that you use a sharp knife. We meaning like the larger plant community I guess. You want to use a sharp knife because one, it’s safer for you. Two, you’re less likely to have any issues with bacterial infection or fungal infection or something like that if your plant is less wounded if you get a nice sharp cut. It’s very similar to people. If you use a rusty old knife to do a surgery, it’s not going to be as good as if you have a clean sharp knife so you want a clean, sharp knife. You want to cut the base of your cutting at 45 degrees. This maximizes the area of exposed stem tissue on the inside gooey bits that touch rooting hormone. If you cut at 45 degrees, you have more surface area than if you cut it straight across so you get more rooting hormone contact. You also give it more room to build up starches and build up what we call callus tissue, which is the most dramatic. Meaning able to differentiate into other plant organs.

Chris: Got to maximize the gooey parts.

Hallie: Maximize gooey parts by cutting it 45 degrees for many reasons.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: You can cut many different things. You can also layer.

Chris: What do you mean?

Hallie: Layering is also kind of like the spider plant. Here’s what you do. Imagine this.

Imagine you have a bush. You can picture it?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: You have a bush. You take one of the stems. About midway up the stem, you take all the leaves off for like a two inch section. You take the stem, you pull it down to the ground and you bury that part that you took the leaves off of under the ground.

Chris: You don’t break the stem off. You just kind of bend it down.

Hallie: Bury it and then you let it grow for like two months. Then you cut it off and it’s got the roots on it.

Chris: The parts where the leaves come out turn into parts where the roots come out, I guess.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: You can put oxygen on that part when you bend it down and put it under the ground to tell them this is the roots area now.

Chris: Yolk docksin.

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: Then you cut the top of the stem off and then that sticks up and becomes a new bush.

Hallie: It’s like a whole separate plant.

Chris: Wow! That’s amazing.

Hallie: It’s very cool. You can also do air layering, which is where if you have a tree you cut into the tree to wound it and then you put a little oxygen on there and then you put some potting soil that is damp on it and then just wrap it in saran wrap and wait a couple of weeks. Then you can just cut the whole branch off.

Chris: Just to be clear, this only works with plants.

Hallie: It would not work with people.

Chris: Right. Can’t. Never mind.

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That’s layering. It’s very similar to cutting except for the plant stays attached until the end of the process. The last step is cutting it off. We used to do have micropropagation.

Chris: Oh boys. Like microgreens only with propagation not greens?

Hallie: It’s wild. Basically, this is in a very controlled, clean room situation. You’re in like a lab.

Chris: Not the wild kind of wild, but the crazy kind of wild.

Hallie: Like the crazy kind of wild where it’s just like wild. It’s like buck wild. You take a very, very small part of a plant. It can be leaf tissue. It can be stem tissue. It’s not usually root tissue because it’s harder to get leaves to grow from roots than it is to get roots to grow from leaves and you have to have both parts to get a whole plant. Basically, you take a very small amount of it. Probably, if you were to imagine if you did a hole puncher on a leaf, like that amount.

Chris: Wow. Just a tiny bit of plant tissue.

Hallie: A small bit of plant tissue and you basically put it in a grow room and it grows a whole new plant.

Chris: You don’t have to do anything to it?

Hallie: You do. You put it in algae and the algae usually has some oxygen. It’s basically like in a little Petri dish. Then once it’s grown up a little bit where it’s big enough where you’re able to pull it out, then you can pull it out and put it in some potting soil. Then you put that in a grow room with lights and water.

Chris: I feel like the oxygen would have to be really tiny to fit in the Petri dish.

Hallie: No, this is not a good joke.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I’m not engaging with this.

Chris: All right. You take a hole punch, punch a hole in a leaf. You put the little piece of plant confetti in the Petri dish and you make a new plant from it. That is pretty wild.

Hallie: It’s buck wild. It’s very cool. We do it a lot for science. Sometimes we do it for woody plants where you have a very high market value because it’s expensive to have grow rooms and stuff like that. You also need much more specialized labor. You could probably layer a bush. You understand the process. You could go out berry part of a branch and get any plant. But to work in a lab and to really handle those chemicals, it’s a lot of infrastructure. You need specialized labor. It’s very expensive. We do it for science. We do it for things that are more expensive so that you can afford to spend more, to get like really clean, good plants.

Chris: I have two thoughts. One is this means in that tiny bit of plant, there’s enough information for an entire new plant.

Hallie: Yes, there’s a concept for that actually it’s called total potency. It’s the idea that from one cell you could grow a whole plant.

Chris: That’s an amazing term. That plant has got total potency. That’s awesome. From one cell.

Hallie: That’s the concept.

Chris: My other thought is I assume it has, but has this not worked for the American chestnut?

Hallie: No, the problem with the American chestnut is not that we can’t grow more chestnut trees. It’s that if we do grow more Chestnut trees, then there is fungus that will then still get to them. It’s more an issue of breeding with the chestnuts than just growing more of them. This fungal blight is just so ubiquitous. We’re having a hard time getting resistance into the actual species.

Chris: Got it. Real cool. Now we know how to make new plants.

Hallie: Do you feel educated?

Chris: I do feel educated.

Hallie: Do you feel like you should have taken a whole semester to learn all of this?

Chris: I don’t know. Melissa, let us know what you think. I bet you knew all of this stuff already and I bet everyone in plant propagation this semester can listen to this episode and get A’s.

Hallie: Maybe so.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Knock, knock.

Chris: Who’s there?

Hallie: Petri dish.

Chris: Petri dish who?

Hallie: There’s oxygen in your Petri dish.

Chris: You said mine was a bad joke?

Hallie: I’ll leave the jokes to you. Fine.

[Laughter].

Hallie: It was off the cuff, okay?

Chris: So were mine.

[Background music].

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

Hallie: This show is hosted by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey.

Chris: It is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey.

Hallie: Our music is Something Elated by Broke For Free.

Chris: Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod.

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

Chris: Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups and even custom art created just for you.

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

Chris: Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[Background music].

32: Plant Propagation

It’s time to learn where plants come from! In this episode, Hallie and Chris discuss all the different ways plants make new plants and how we help them along. We learn how plant propagation works, how many kinds of roots there are, and why potato growing sounds like murder.

Read the transcript.

Check out the video of the sun Chris mentions here.

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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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