"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."-Wordsworth

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Energy Conservation in the Heat of the Summer

I am down in the desert of San Diego county visiting family for a while and thought I would expound on my top 10 ways to save energy down here (in no particular order):

1. Swamp cooler: Never heard of it? Then you've probably never lived in the desert. A swamp cooler is a wonderful invention that re-circulates moist air through cooler pads into your house. It costs a lot less per hour than air conditioning and takes less energy. Good for when it's hot but not humid.
2. Turn off unnecessary lights: Currently I am sitting in the unlit kitchen quite comfortably thanks to natural light from the windows. Not only does it make energy sense it also keeps the house cooler.
3.  Hang your clothes out to dry on a clothesline. It only takes a millisecond to dry (ok so I exaggerate a little...)
4. Water plants in the early morning or late afternoon: Watering at high noon is fruitless, as most of the water evaporates. Also, remember most of our neighborhoods are on a water-restriction schedule. Make sure to follow yours. Here's a link to a website on the SD County water restrictions. It also gives some good tips to reduce your water use. Water Restrictions
5.  Solar panels: if you can afford them, use what resource you've got the most of: sun.
6.  Grow native plants in your garden that are hardy and water-tolerant. Less maintenance required, less water. A win-win! Contact your local Native Plant Society if you have questions. They will be able to provide guidance and maybe even someone to come look at your current garden for natives and invaders.
7.  Hang out in cool spots in town, like the library. You get air conditioning for free and there is lots of entertainment there!
8. Believe it or not, that Google search takes a little bit of energy each time you hit that button. Don't search or surf aimlessly when bored. In fact, when bored turn the computer off and go do something active and fun instead! (Swimming is popular this time of year.)
9.  Make sure your house is insulated so that hot air stays in during the winter months and cool air during the summer.
10. When refueling with a big container of water, make it a cup or reusable water bottle, not a plastic disposable water bottle. You pay for the bottle when you buy it and it adds to the waste that is forever on this planet.Check out this link to learn more about the evils of bottled water. www.greenyour.com

Resist the urge to sit in your fridge. Believe me-you won't fit. It wastes a lot of energy leaving the door open. Not like anyone would try to do that or anything...(Read-I've tried.) Feel free to add your energy-saving tips and comments. That's all for now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nature's Complexity: The Winter Wren's Song

Let me direct your attention for a moment to re-focus on the amazing-ness of nature. I was sitting by my window today and heard (and saw) an American Goldfinch sitting on a tree. So I opened my window and played its song on my computer...lo and behold more goldfinches arrived. It reminded me of a lecture I heard in my ornithology class not too long ago about bird songs.

We were learning about songs and calls. Did you know that birds don't produce sounds using the same organs as we do? In humans we produce sounds via our vocal chords. Birds don't have vocal chords. Instead, they have a syrinx, which is where two bronchi (tubes) come together. They make their calls and song by expanding and contracting the membranes of the syrinx and vibrating them. Because they have paired bronchial openings, birds can often sing in more than one frequency at the same time!

A good example is the winter wren. When you hear these little birds they sound so much larger than they appear. Their song is very rapid-fire or bubbly-sounding and highly complex. Below is a link from a great website that shows sonograms of different birds alongside their songs and even slows the songs down so the human ear can more fully appreciate their complexity. It blows my mind!

If you want to hear a crazy bird sound, you need only search out the Greater Sage Grouse or a Ruffed Grouse. The male of these species produces his "song" by rapidly moving his wings and creating a vacuum which creates sound from the air rushing in and out of his air sacs. This is called a non-vocal sound. Below is a link to the sonogram and song. If you click the arrow on the Ruffed Grouse title it will take you to a video of the mating display that goes along with this sound. I also added a youtube of a Greater Sage Grouse in action, as this cannot be missed!

If I find any more cool birds, I will post them here! Stay tuned!

The Music of Nature: Celebrating Nature at Hand. http://www.musicofnature.org/home/

YouTubeVideo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9zKd3dfz8I&feature=related

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Story of a Corn-Fed Feedlot Cow

With the banana project on hold, let me talk instead of corn-fed beef and its origins. I just read an excerpt from Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for a class. It detailed the interesting process behind feed lots. Here are the main points and reasons I feel corn-fed beef should be avoided. Prepare yourself, and I suggest not eating while reading the following:

1. Cows are fed a mixture of corn, liquefied cow fat or blood, a protein substitute consisting of urea and molasses and a slew of antibiotics including Rumensin (an acidity buffer) and Tylosin (which lowers the incidence of infection of the liver). They are also fed estrogen.

2. Cows are kept lying and standing in their own feces all day long.

3. The corn itself is raised as a monoculture, raised and reaped by gas-guzzling machines. So our corn is backed by petroleum companies.

4. Even if cow products are not fed to cows, the chicken, fish and pigs are fed cow products and hence the circling back to feeding cow products to cows. The result of such cannibalism can be seen in Mad Cow Disease.

5. The cows are not made to eat mostly corn (Why?-because it's cheap). They are made for foraging. So we are force-feeding them food just to fatten them up faster. Veterinarians are kept very busy on the feedlots, dealing with bloated cows (which if untreated will suffocate due to an inflated rumen pressing against their lungs) and acidosis (literally killer heartburn due to the acidity of the corn). Cows only live about 150 days on the feedlots because any more could ruin their livers.

6. Due to the extensive use of antibiotics in animals, diseases are becoming antibiotic-resistant and we must therefore find more and more antibiotics to respond. These animals would have a lower incidence of sickness simply if their diets were changed.

7. The massive quantities are manure produced at these feedlots simply sit in lagoons on the property because they are so high in nitrogen and phosphorous that they kill any plants they are applied to. The waste which in smaller quantities could be used as fertilizer now just sits and sometimes ends up in the watershed due to leakage. Aside from high levels of nutrients, this waste also contains hormones, heavy metals, and chemicals. In essence, a natural fertilizer is turned into toxic waste.

8. Leakage of such manure into our watersheds causes dead zones, which are oxygen-poor areas with nothing but algae thriving there. The excess algae can suffocate everything else in the water.

9. Eating cattle in general is terrible inefficient use of resources. The ratio of feed to flesh is extremely high.

10. Feeding cattle a mainly acidic diet selects for new strains of high acidity-resistant bacteria, which would do some serious damage to our usually well-defended highly-acidic stomach. Normal bacteria are usually killed by the acidity in our stomachs, but if new bacteria evolve to tolerate such acidity they could be consumed by us and then cause an outbreak.

And so I’ve sufficiently freaked myself out enough to continue my practice of avoiding beef altogether. I hope this brief summary has made you think about what is in your McDonald’s hamburger.

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollen (Chapter 4)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Contra Loma Park

This last week I spent wandering from friend to friend in the bay area. On my way from Antioch to Sunnyvale I had extra time before I had to meet a friend, so when I hit major traffic I decided to just stop at the nearest park. This is how I wandered into Contra Loma Park in the East Bay area. I had already been to the Black Diamond Mines, just an exit or so away the day before and expected more of the same rolling green hills with cows. So I was pleasantly surprised when I turned the corner of the cow pasture to find a huge lake.

Looking like such a tourist I walked around the lake, binoculars and all. I stopped multiple, multiple times to take pictures (some of which I have added to this post). I was so excited to be able to go bird watching! I got to see multiple Anna's Hummingbirds, Red Winged Blackbirds, Cormorants, ducks and Killdeer. I saw several American Kestrels- those cute little predators with the beautiful rusty red and powder blue. I saw what I think was a Cooper's Hawk and multiple massive Turkey Vultures gliding over the green hillsides. I stopped to photograph the many wildflowers that included California Poppies, Lupine and Phacelia. I stopped to watch the bumblebees covered in orange pollen flitting between poppies and watch ducks take off from the lake in their awkward splish-splash way. The park was clean. It even had bathrooms with soap!  (Presence of soap in a park bathroom is a big deal.) I walked past a fenced-off lagoon which I heard would open soon as a place for people to swim.

All together it was a great experience and I highly recommend the park. I saw multiple other paths that went off into the hills which I did not follow- some of them great bike paths. The people I passed were all very friendly and greeted me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Natural Cold Remedies

So I have gotten sick lately, which is why the banana research has come to a screeching halt. Yesterday I received a care package of hometown grapefruit from my awesome mother and was so stoked! Today I slurped half of one down, feeling much better already. This led me to wonder if in fact grapefruit has healing properties, aside from its high dosage of Vitamin C. Online I found that it is a good detoxifier and that it is suggested you not only eat the flesh but also some of the white pulp of the grapefruit to promote immunity. That being said, grapefruit can also interfere with certain medications such as terfenadine and astemizole- which are both antihistamines. It also interferes with some cholesterol lowering drugs and a list of other drugs. So I suggest thinking about what you are taking before you consume a lot of grapefruit juice. The site I found this info on is listed below.(1)

Aside from that, I suggest (as my mother has always taught me) to gargle salt water. I think it actually does clear your throat. And as always drink LOTS of fluids. If you don't feel much like eating focus mostly on drinking fruit juice and water, with some soup mixed in. 
I suggest warm baths to clear your head or microwaving a wet towel to put on your head. Heating pads work wonders if you are sore also. 

I've heard spicy foods work to clear to sinuses. Steer clear of milky substances, as they promote phlem. Tea works wonders as well- warm liquids help out. But since tea works as a diuretic make sure to keep drinking water. Keep away from too much coffee as it is a diuretic as well.

Sleep!...sleep! I can't emphasize it enough. 

Alright then, I am off to sleep and/or hydrate!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bananas and the Total Perspective Vortex

Let me begin my discussion of bananas with something seemingly unrelated. Please bear with me. I will connect back to the topic of bananas. I may skip around a lot because A) that is the current system my brain is running on and B)I've had too much coffee. If it gets annoying, just skip ahead to BANANA BIOLOGY, keeping in mind the basic idea of approaching all aspects of banana production.

I am currently reading Edward O. Wilson's "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" for my Natural Resources class. Wilson writes of how all disciplines of study- biology, the social sciences, ethics and environmental policy for example, really all intersect and should be utilized together. He calls this basic connection between all knowledge consilience. In one chapter he draws a figure to describe the intersection of these fields. I have re-created it in order to make my point clearer. Keep in mind this figure is a reproduction of his and I do not own it in any sense. (Currently I am trying to figure out how to put this picture up)

With a cross-shaped intersection between the four categories in the figure we see imposed divisions between the fields. If concentric circles are drawn in the middle of this cross we see how one could consider each field. As each circle gets smaller the problem between balancing the core of each issue increases.

I feel I have been struggling with consilience my whole life without being able to name it. It causes a certain feverish onset of chaotic thinking in which I jump around to different topics. I seem to be a bit of a non-linear thinker, but sometimes I connect seemingly unrelated issues together with non-linear thinking. Take something that happened to me recently: I was talking to a friend of mine who is a child-development major. She told me she wanted to rennovate a park near her house in order to make it kid-friendly. We both got excited about the project, talking about planting a little patch of native plants or making a community garden in addition to cleaning up the park. In that moment I felt the excitement of combining our two specialties together to synthesize something awesome! It would involve community organizing, a little work with policy, working with volunteers and working with our hands.

To me the process of consilience in thought reminds me of a torture machine in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. This machine, called the Total Perspective Vortex shows its victims everything in the universe and puts their small lives in perspective. In the book everyone died after exposure to the Total Perspective Vortex. I see consilience as cousin to this machine-though not deadly it can certainly be confusing and humbling. Making connections can lead in many different directions, just as this blog is heading in many directions.

I have always felt a passion about many topics of study and see no reason why integration between branches of learning cannot and should not occur. Therefore
in approaching the subject of bananas I want to address all of these fields- what production of bananas is doing to the environment and how environmental policy is involved, the ethics behind the industry, how this affects people and the basic biology of bananas.

And so, thank you for your patience as I waxed a little poetic on the topic of consilience. On to bananas! I will update this post as I obtain more information.

Bananas are interesting plants because they appear to be trees, but are actually large herbaceous plants. The reason it is called herbaceous is because after a banana plant fruits the above-ground portion dies back. Bananas produce many roots, rather than one big taproot like a carrot does. When harvest is over on a banana plantation the above-ground portion of the plants are often cut down.

The flowering portion of a banana plant, or the inflorescence, is composed of "male" pollen-bearing flowers at the base which are fully enclosed in a bell of bracts. Above that is an area of hermaphroditic flowers, then above that are the female flowers. Formation of the inflorescence begins in an upward direction, then as the inflorescence elongates it turns downward.

The main kind of banana grown for economic purposes is Musa acuminata. This is used as a "dessert banana," versus others that are used mainly in cooking. Of this banana there are different breeds. The bananas we eat from the store are greatly larger than wild breeds, due to our choice of breeding to make the bananas larger and longer. Wild bananas are generally finger length and full of seeds. The dessert bananas we eat today do not require any pollination- they just produce an edible pulp. The number of seeds in our bananas has also been reduced via breeding.

Soon to come:

The name 'Banana' comes from the Arabic 'elbanan' for 'finger' because wild bananas were the length of a finger.

BANANA SOCIOLOGY- Currently I am having difficulties determining what is fact and fiction when it comes to this and the following topics. I will continue to add on as I find more resources.






This is a link to the first Chiquita banana commercial. I claim no rights to it, just pointing it out. It took on the task of explaining bananas to people who didn't know how to eat them or ripen them.
Chiquita Commercial

Banana History


(1) Robinson, J., and C.A.B. International. Bananas and plantains. CABI, 1996. Print. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Consciousness and the Story of the Solitary Grape

I have been researching bananas for my first issue topic on my blog. In the process I have found that the thing I am striving for the most out of this experience and the concept I want to stress the most is consciousness. How people use or ignore this newly-acquired consciousness is up to them.

I want to be conscious of what I am buying, conscious of the effects of my actions. I want to inspire people to want to know where in the world their food is coming from and how it is grown. I want them to think about how food production affects people’s lives- especially those growing the food. And I want to feel grateful for what I have access to, in order to recognize what many do not have.

I once went to a seminar in which each participant was given a single grape. We were told to eat it as if this was the last grape we would ever eat. In the span of a few minutes I looked at this grape, I chewed it slowly and focused on considering its flavor. This was the part of the seminar that I remember the most. I won’t say it was the best grape I ever had, giving in to cliché, but it was certainly the most conscious I have ever been while eating. I feel like most of the time eating involves shoveling down whatever you require to continue on with your day- maybe while watching tv or reading. Tomorrow I will challenge myself to consider what I am eating in the silent lack of entertainment such as tv or books.

I will continue on with the banana research (which is turning out to be way more involved than I thought) and hope to have enough to create a posting by Sunday. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who is this green girl and what is her mission?

Hello to anyone who has stumbled upon my little blog. I'm starting this up as part of my mission to educated myself and others on the topics of gardening, botany, sustainability and life in general. I am a current botany major interested in taking what I have learned about plant biology and applying it to others fields to examine how we use plants (and other resources as well).

The idea for this blog began while I was reading Wendell Berry's "Bringing It to the Table," for a natural resources class I am taking. Wendell talks about what it means to be sustainable, how we can farm sustainably in the setting of a small family farm and how consumers can affect the farm environment simply through choice of products. I highly suggest this book if you think little about the food you buy or wish to know more. Berry's suggestions are basic in their principles- relying much on older farming techniques utilized before our huge industrial revolution. I will definitely be pulling ideas from this book to examine in later posts.

Having examined my thought processes when I began college and compared them to now I realize how much more I think about where my food comes from and what I am supporting by buying it. Slowly I have learned how to cook and how to shop. Eventually I want to grow my own organic garden, when resources become available. Though I am a botany major I tend to kill things, so it may be a long learning process. I don't know that I can ever claim that I am fully living a sustainable life, but I am making little baby steps in that direction. That's all for now! Whitney

P.S. Coming soon is my first issue post- on the origin and production of bananas.