Sunday, January 16, 2011

Master Gardener class, week one: Botany

Reading the Botany section in the Master Gardener book made my head hurt, but the class turned out to be quite entertaining, largely due to presenter Greg Stack, a very engaging speaker. As suspected, I know a lot about how and why things work, but not what they are called, making it difficult to talk about, or to follow conversations. Here's my notes from the first session, and a recipe for the last of the root vegetables that you harvested last fall!

Greg brought the class in a lot with tongue-in-cheek quick definitions like this one:
Botany in a nutshell is how to identify and use a plant, plus how and why it grows, without ever actually growing anything. Horticulture is growing perishables for food and fun using intensive cultivation. Agriculture is growing commodity crops for storage.
One of many new words-of-the-day was autotrope, meaning something that makes its own food (i.e. plants), completely destroying the premise of whether plants or Zombies will get us first, which is quite annoying to those of us waiting for the plant apocalypse, when they finally assert their supremacy, turn the tables and eat us instead.

So plants--
* make their own food
* release more O2 than they use
* have rigid cell walls for support (as opposed to exo- or endo-skeleton)
* are immobile (anchored to their support medium)
* slow to respond to environment
* continue to grow at maturity, unlike us, although several of us looked at our waists and disputed this one.

He reached the number one I-don't-understand section for me which is the difference between monocots and dicots. I'd heard these terms, which essentially seems to be grass and everything else (so why not just call it that. This is why I'm not a botanist).

Botanists like to group things. They like to group the same things in different ways. There are the Linnaean taxonomic groupings, which they are now conveniently changing on us, just to make sure us laypeople remember that we are not smart enough to be scientists. There are also groupings by habitat (tropical, subtropical, temperate, desert, alpine, prairie) by growing condition (wet, dry, temperature tolerance), by life cycle (annual- and sub groups summer annual and winter annuals, biennial, perennial), by superficial characteristics and by microscopic characteristics.

Kill me now. It's only 10:30.

Of course, you need to know these things because things within groups share not just observable characteristics but it can also give you clues as to problems, care, and use.

I was alternately impressed and annoyed at people who knew what Solidagos are (what Solidago is?), and who seem to know Latin, so they can immediately translate taxonomic names. I guess it would be childish to roll my eyes.

A radicle is an immature root, there's a word for immature stem as well but my brain hurts. Okay plumule. And actually, I've heard the term radicle used a lot, so it's good that I now actually know what it's called as opposed to having to pretend I know, since everyone knows I'm an experienced gardener.

Once he got past the naming and on to how all the structures actually work, I found it more interesting. I feel like I'm looking at my houseplants with a whole new level of understanding, and a whole lot less terror. I keep looking at all the little bumps and holes on twigs and thinking "that has a name. Weird (wish I could remember what it is)." I also like that I now know the term for what I've been calling "corn feet." And that every silk on a corn ear is attached to a kernel. No pollen, no kernel, that's why you get holes on an ear.

Anyway, here's what I've got left in the larder from my last harvest. Enjoy!

Beyond mashed potatoes
Per every 2 diners:
One medium to large potato
3-5 radishes
1 each: small to medium parsnip, rutabaga, turnip
Optional: 1/4 cup celeriac or celery root
1 pat butter
1/4 cup (or so) milk, half-half, or cream
white pepper and sea salt to taste

Peel, roughly cube, and boil all until soft (you can easily slip a knife in). To cube vegetables, just cut them up along each axis-- length, width, height. Mash into a lumpy mass with a potato masher or fork, then add the butter and milk/cream. Continue to mash with the masher/fork or whip with a hand mixer on low. I don't mind lumps in my mashed potatoes, but some people like them really smooth.

Serve with meat loaf, or pan fried pork, fish or portobello mushroom.

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