Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to Germinate Banisteriopsis Caapi Seeds

Banisteriopsis caapi is a perennial vine native to the Amazon rainforest known for its role in South American ayahuasca ceremonies. These spiritual ceremonies have gone on for hundreds of years in the Amazonian Basin and still exist today to some degree. Today, banisteriopsis caapi is one of the most sought after plants by collectors of entheogenic plants. Its allure is fueled not just by a fascination to grow a plant, but to cultivate a powerful symbol, to possess something that harnesses the spirit of an ancient tradition and the mysticism of the rainforest.

In the recent decade, cuttings of banisteriopsis caapi have become somewhat readily available from specialty plant vendors. They can be grown indoors or out, and the right environment can allow established caapi vines to grow a foot per week. But for many growers the real experience, the real sense of accomplishment, involves creating a plant from scratch. Germination of banisteriopsis caapi is something that should be on every serious growers to-do list, but that only a small percent get to succeed in.

The real limitation, and what many new growers are not aware of, is that banisteriopsis caapi seeds have a low germination rate, which decreases to none in just a few months. By February I would expect the caapi seeds to be non-viable. Vendors who sell seed year-round are feeding on this naivety, and so it may seem to many growers that germination of banisteriopsis caapi is difficult or that it requires some special trick. The real trick is getting fresh seed. Banisteriopsis caapi seed harvest generally occurs in October or November. It can range a bit depending on yearly climate. It is wisest to plan your growing around those months to ensure you start with good seed, and it is worth paying more money for fresh seed. Since you are growing in the fall, it is likely that you will need to use grow lights, although nothing fancy is required. We typically arrange ahead of time for our caapi seeds to be shipped as soon as they are harvested. The freshest banisteriopsis caapi seeds are still green, although brown seeds will still germinate. In fact, even green seeds will turn brown in between planting and germination.

Once you have obtained your fresh banisteriopsis seed, it is time for sowing. Prepare a well-draining soil mixture. We have had success germinating banisteriopsis caapi with several different soil compositions, but we recommend using potting soil mixed with about 25% perlite. Avoid using seed starting mixes or soils heavy in peat because you want something richer that would resemble forest soil. In forests, the rainforest especially, there is vast supply of plant material to enrich the soil. As mentioned before, it is also important to have a well-draining soil because banisteriopsis caapi seeds are somewhat prone to fungus attacks. By removing excess moisture, it reduces that risk. Fungus attacks that do occur can be treated with chamomile tea, or you may even choose to use it to water your plants initially. Chamomile has natural antifungal properties. It is a good choice because it is organic.

We like to start many of our seeds in aluminum baking trays. Banisteriopsis caapi is no different. We like aluminum trays because they allow us to plant a good amount of seeds in one container, but any pot will do. Banisteriopsis caapi seeds resemble maple tree seeds both in texture and because they have a wing. Attached to one end of the wing is the actual seed. Side-by-side, the heads of the two seed types are obviously different. Even if the wing is bent or broken, it should not affect your ability to germinate banisteriopsis caapi seeds. It is this seed end that you want to press into the soil, leaving the wing in the air. There is no need to bury the seed too deeply. Just the thickness of the seed head itself is a perfect depth.

Once we have planted all our banisteriopsis caapi seeds in that way, we usually cover our tray with clear plastic wrap. Do not keep the wrap on tightly because restricting airflow is a bad way to avoid fungus. We have had success germinating banisteriopsis caapi with or without plastic over the top, but the plastic allows for better moisture control. You want to maintain constant moisture while germinating banisteriopsis caapi seeds, but you should be ready to remove the plastic any time the soil starts to look wet. As the moisture evaporates from the soil and condenses on the plastic, it rains back down into the soil. This can cause too much moisture to gather at the surface, which you want to avoid. By removing the plastic before the water builds up, you can dry the soil out before it affects the seeds. It should be about two weeks before you see anything. Be patient, and do not give up. You may get new banisteriopsis caapi seeds germinating days or weeks after your initial sprouts. Our picture shows young banisteriopsis caapi sprouts from a November 2009 planting (with anadenanthera colubrina in the far right).


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Propagation and Cloning of Phalaris Grass

Growing phalaris grass is easy enough for any grower to do successfully. Occasionally, people will have trouble getting grass seed to germinate right away, but here are some tips for getting the most phalaris grass growing as quickly as possible.

You can grow phalaris in clumps or in patches. For clumps, you will want to choose a large, deep pot. For patches, aluminum roasting pans work well. With each pan, you will be able to start a patch of phalaris grass larger then the area of the pan by creating plugs.

Phalaris basically only needs steady moisture to get going. While phalaris seeds can be germinated outdoors, you should be able to speed things up by starting indoors. Some outdoor grows seem to be halted because moisture control is tougher to accomplish. Diligent watering is required, which can be offset by strong sun or wind. Wind also has a tendency to blow your seeds away.

Start out by moistening all of your soil. Then press it flat without any significant compacting. Sow your phalaris seeds on the surface of the soil and press them into the moist soil so they can soak in the moisture more easily. You may cover your seeds with a thin dusting of soil, although we typically do not. We do recommend covering your soil with clear plastic wrap because it allows for better moisture control, which, as mentioned before, is the key to the quickest germination. In a side by side, comparison with phalaris brachystachys seeds, we found that a pot that we covered with clear plastic germinated 1-2 days more rapidly with a higher percentage than seeds in the pot that was not covered.

Once your phalaris seedlings begin growing, you should then sprinkle some loose soil in between each blade to provide support. You no longer need the plastic cover once you are sure most of your phalaris seeds have germinated. Allow your phalaris clumps or pans of seedlings to fill in thoroughly under artificial lights. You may also keep them outdoors in a shady area, but you must take care not to let the soil dry out. You will also have to worry about other seeds getting into the soil. In some cases, a screen may be helpful to keep them out. When growing phalaris grass, it is important to develop a good root system before any transplanting into the ground. While they are indoors your phalaris seedlings do not have to worry about competitors, and it is a good idea to give them a good foothold before introducing them to an environment where invaders exist.

When you are sure that your root system is well-developed, it is time to start your phalaris patch. If you only want clumps, your job is pretty much done by putting them in the ground. For patches, it is best to till the soil to loosen it and remove any competing weeds. Then, go ahead and divide up your tray in to a number of smaller clumps. A 4”x 4” clump should be suitable. Now, plant your phalaris plugs in your prepared area using a spacing approximately half the thickness of the clump. So, a four inch clump will be given two inches of space. Keep the area well-watered, being sure to remove any weeds or other grass species. The spaces in between your phalaris plugs will eventually fill in as the roots spread out, and you will have a large phalaris grass patch. You may then go on to separate clumps out from the patch and plant them in a similar manner to expedite the expansion of your patch even further.

This process is possible because phalaris grass rhizomes spread and send up new blades. Each phalaris seed has its own genetics, but every blade sent up from the root system of the same seed is part of the same phalaris plant. In a batch of phalaris grown from seed, you will have several different sets of genes mixed in from each of the different seeds. Now, let’s say you have a blade that grows especially fast or has unique coloration. If you isolate an individual blade, it will multiply so that every blade has the same code. You may then proceed to clone this grass by making plugs from the patch that develops using the method described above. The resulting patch will have phalaris grass blades that all have the same characteristics. The seeds of these blades may have similar genes, just like a parent has similar genes to his or her child, but they will still have some variation. Phalaris “Big Medicine” and “Yugo Red” are examples of reed canary grass specimens that have been reproduced by cloning. To have true specimens of these varieties, you must have gotten them as clones.

Nobody would say phalaris is hard to grow in the first place. But now you should be equipped to maximize your potential and create a patch that will be exactly as you want it to be, whether in terms of size shape or genetics.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Poor Man's Spore Syringe Tek: Making Syringes Without a Glovebox


Clean Spore Print
91% Isopropyl Alcohol
Paper Towels
New Zipper lock Bag (Quart sized or larger)
Sterilized Syringe(s)
Shot Glass or alcohol lamp
Match or lighter

The following procedure is an inexpensive method for making clean spore syringes without the use of a glove box. We used this technique for shiitake, but it can be applied to other mushrooms as well. Here is an overview of the process: You will be sterilizing water in a syringe, getting your print inside a clean bag, then injecting the sterile water from the syringe right into the bag and sucking it back out with the spores.

You will need an empty sterilized syringe to start off with. Fill your empty syringe with water and pressure cook it at 15 psi for 20 minutes. This will ensure that the water in the syringe is sterile. Water may be replaced with your choice of liquid growing medium if you would like the spores to germinate right in the syringe. You should be extra certain of the sterility of your print if this is the case. When sterilizing your syringes in the pressure cooker, make sure to keep them with the tip facing up or you will lose all of your liquid during the process. The caps should be placed loosely on top of the needle points so that you do not poke yourself when trying to grab them. You can use a quart size Chinese soup container to hold your syringes because it can withstand the temperature. Be sure to allow your syringe to cool fully before use.

Now that your syringe water is at a safe temperature for your spores, go ahead and soak your paper towel with rubbing alcohol. If you cannot find 91%, 70% will work. But try to use the highest possible concentration. Use the alcohol to sterilize the outside of your spore print. Keep it in between the folded halves of your alcohol-soaked paper towel. Then go on to sterilize the opening of the zipper lock bag. Most bags will do, but you want to try to get one that is not too thick, and you will see why later.

Once the outside of the bag is sterilized, you have to get your print inside without letting any air in. This involves closing all the doors and windows in your house and reducing body movement. You may want to spray the air with air sanitizer if you have it. The key is to only open up one side of the bag enough to get the print in. Before acting, prepare the print in the paper towel so that it will face the entrance of the bag properly and be able to drop right in. You want to be able to just open up the two halves of the paper towel and let it drop in. Once the print is in, close the bag up quickly and just give another quick wipe along the entrance with your paper towel.

Now is the part where a thinner bag with help you. You have to unfold the print while it is inside the bag. The ease of this part of the process will depend on your personal skill and how the print was prepared. Eventually, you will become good at it. The key is to be gentle and not use your fingernails too roughly so that they penetrate the bag. You will want the print situated at the bottom corner of the bag when it is finally opened.

Now that the print is open, you will need to sterilize your needle. Fill up your alcohol lamp or shot glass with isopropyl alcohol and light the top so you have a flame. If using a shot glass, you will have a better flame if it is filled to the very top. The flame will also give you some idea of how still the air is in your room. (You can utilize this earlier in the process when you are inserting your print into the bag as a gauge of your air movement.)

Next, you want to sterilize the tip of the needle so that the entire thing burns red hot. If you get one area to turn red, come back to it every second or two while you’re working on another area of the needle so that it stays hot. Don’t go too close to the plastic either, or it will melt. You may hear popping if there is any water inside the tip. When your whole needle is sterilized, cool it down by folding it in an alcohol soaked paper towel.

Hold your sterilized syringe in the towel and bring it to the ziplock bag. While it is safe inside the alcohol-soaked paper towel, use another part of the alcohol-soaked towel to wipe the part of the bag where you will be inserting your needle. (By the way, you may need to add alcohol to the paper towel as needed during the process).

From this point on, you want to act very slow and think out each movement before you act. Stick your entire needle into the bag through the spot you just sterilized with the alcohol-soaked paper towel. Do not worry about the direction the needle is facing. Instead, be sure that it does not go through the bag at any other point or it will let in unwanted air. If this happens, you may still succeed, but it is undesirable. You want the entire needle in the bag so that none of it is left in the open air to pick up contaminates. Once the needle is in, be sure to keep your alcohol-soaked paper towel over the entry hole so that no new air can get in. At this point you want to squirt out the contents of the syringe into the bag. You may squirt right on the spore print to remove the spores more easily, but that is not needed. The beauty of this technique is that you can rub the spores off with your finger right from the outside of the bag. Once the water is saturated with spores, slowly adjust your needle point to face the corner of the bag. Allow the water to collect in the corner and draw the water back into the syringe.

With this technique, you can usually get all of your spores into a single syringe. If you would like to do additional syringes on the same print, just be sure to keep the hole covered with your alcohol-soaked paper towel while you sterilize the next syringe.
That’s all there is to it…

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Treating Pests on Houseplants: A Complete Regimen

With the onset of cool weather, it may be time to bring your non-hardy perennials indoors. Unfortunately, this is also a risky time of year for your plant collection because you run the risk of bringing pests indoors where they can infect your entire collection. Simple inspection is often not enough. In this guide, we will learn how to treat pests and keep them from ruining your houseplants as they come in for wintertime.

The presence of pests outdoors does not always manifest as a problem because they have the room to spread naturally. After all, they were designed to exist in nature. As houseplants, they are in an artificial environment. They are limited only to the plants you have in your collection. Whereas you may only get a few bugs on each plant outside, your favorite houseplant might have to support an entire population by itself. Aphids can be especially prolific, coating the entire surface of your plant. Although, we have been able to restore plants from these conditions using the methods in this guide, it is much easier to fight off the population before it explodes. This is especially true for flying insects that do not have wings until they mature.

Pests or even eggs can reside anywhere on your plant, including in the soil. They can be picked up in any environment, and nobody is immune to their wrath. It is important to know how to fight pests in all their hiding spots. Even careful inspection can fail to reveal them. But inspection is still a good place to start your battle. Many pests dwell on the undersides of leaves or in the nodes where the leaves meet the stem. Pests are especially fond of the new growth on a plant, so always focus your inspection there as well. Check up and down the stem for insects like scales. Chewed leaves are an obvious sign of some pests, such as whiteflies. Also be on the lookout for deformed leaf growth. While there are other reasons for this, it can also be a sign of insects. Remove the affected leaves as long as it is not one of the only leaves or does not apply to almost all of the leaves. Also be sure to scrape or pick off any pests you can.

Whether or not you spot pests, it is a good idea to rinse the plants thoroughly under a strong stream of water. Smaller plants can be placed under a running faucet for several minutes. Larger plants can be sprayed with a hose or put under a bathtub faucet. Be sure to concentrate on the undersides of the leaves and any crevice that could potentially house pests. This manual removal of the pests is often more effective than trying to kill them with pesticides, and it does not tend to harm the plant as long as you are careful. If you are lucky, this simple treatment may be all that is needed.

Now that your plants have been washed, and have no visual evidence of pests left, it is time to quarantine them. By keeping plants separated, it allows you to identify which ones may still be infected without any risk of a crisis among the entire population. If you only have a few plants, you can keep them in separate rooms. It is likely that flying insects would have been washed away by this point in the process so you do not have to worry about much cross contamination this way. If you have more plants than rooms, there is another approach.

Individuals in a large collection can be isolated by putting them in terrariums or humidity tents. A humidity tent is usually just a fancy way of talking about a clear plastic bag placed over the top of the plant and secured around the base of the pot with tape or a rubber band. As long as there are no gaps in the bottom or holes in the tent, it contains any infestation inside. Throughout the period that your plants are in the tent, it is important to give them regular doses of fresh air to avoid mold or fungus attacks or you will have an entirely new battle to fight.

After you have given the plants a few weeks to “incubate,” you will be able to identify which plants need further treatment. As we mentioned earlier, in a contained environment, it is more likely for a problem to escalate and reveal itself. It is ideal if you have a separate location to bring the infected plants to at this point just as an extra measure of caution. But you will be keeping them in their tents anyway until they prove safe to interact with the rest of your plant community.

Now that you have identified your problematic plants, it is necessary to provide further treatment for them. Since you have literally grown new pest specimens, you will want to go back to washing the plant. Change the humidity tent or sterilize it with rubbing alcohol and allow it to dry fully before reusing it.

There are a number of commercial pesticides, but we always recommend organic ones that will minimize damage to the plant and avoid introducing chemicals to your home environment. A sprayed solution made of cigarette tobacco soaked in water is effective in many cases. We have also had great success with Safer’s brand insecticidal soap. It works on a large range of pests. A concentrate is available, to which you add water and dilute it to a useable level. There are also various home recipes for insecticidal soap, which typically involve dish soap and canola oil. It is generally considered safe to ingest plant material that has been treated with insecticidal soap of this kind, as long as it is washed well. Insecticidal soap works by coating the bodies of insects and blocking respiration. The only drawback is that it must be applied directly to the body of the insect to be effective. This can be especially tough for plants that have numerous places to hide. Therefore, a regular schedule of washing the plant and applying the soap is usually needed until the problem disappears. You may even opt to make a bath and dip the plant inside if the battle persists. Before intermingling the plant with healthy houseplants, be sure to give it some time by itself without treatment, to see if the problem resurfaces.

A complete treatment of houseplants for pests includes treating the soil. We recommend diatomaceous earth for soil treatment. Diatomaceous earth is a highly absorbent white powder composed of the skeletons of algae-like organisms. The sharp surfaces of the particles act like glass to cut up the bodies of tiny insects. The absorbent power of the particles also sucks moisture from insect bodies. Some growers will mix diatomaceous earth in with their soil before potting. Others will water their plants with a solution of diatomaceous earth and water. However, the most common application is to put a layer of about ¼” across the top of the soil, leaving no spaces for bugs to surface without running into the diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth may be sold as an organic pesticide. There is also a food grade powder, which can be used to kill parasites in the body. Diatomaceous earth is also used to filter swimming pools. Any of these will work fine. Once the diatomaceous earth has been laid across the soil, it has a tendency to absorb moisture from the soil and cake up. This is beneficial because it reduces gaps where pests might escape. It is best to water plants from the base of the pot rather than the top because you are likely to wash the layer away.

Many of us have lost prized specimens to pests. Hopefully, this winter we will all be better equipped to handle these situations. Pests can even be picked up in the house, especially as plant immune systems are reduced. It is important to provide adequate light to keep your plants in good fighting condition. Always remember to isolate and treat. Never leave a plant to be treated while it is still among healthy plants that can potentially be infected. Pests may be persistent. But if you are too, they really don’t stand a chance.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009


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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Growing Psychotria Viridis from Seed and Cuttings

Although we will be talking about psychotria viridis, the same techniques that are used for viridis can also be used for related species like p. alba, p. nervosa and p. carthagenensis. Psychotria viridis can be propagated by both seeds and cuttings. While stem cuttings work well, psychotria species are unique in that they can even be cloned from a single leaf. This allows plants to be multiplied much more rapidly. While leaf cuttings are generally the preferred method of propagation, we will discuss the various ways to start new psychotria plants.

Psychotria viridis and its relatives are notoriously hard to grow from seed. The seeds are generally only viable for a few months, and germination tends to be very slow. With such a long germination period and the presence of fruit around the seeds, psychotira viridis seeds are prone to rot. For the sake of freshness, it is ideal to have seeds in the berry, although seeds that have been removed are fine too. If you are starting out with your psychotria seeds in the fruit, you will want to remove all of the fruit from the outside of the seed.

Each psychotria berry should contain two seeds. If you allow the seeds to dry in the berry, they tend to stick together to form what looks like one round seed. If this is the case, you will want to separate the seeds. You can sometimes accomplish this by squeezing the seed pair until they split. Otherwise, you may need to locate the seam between the two with your thumbnail and press in. The dried fruit will be black on the outside and may flake off easily once the seeds are separated. If not, you should scrape off as much as you can because it will provide more of a foothold for bacterias and molds.

One you have clean psychotria seeds, you will want to soak them in a mild bleach solution. A 10% solution should work fine without harming the seed. Again, the intention is to provide as much of a sterile starting point as possible. Soak your seeds for about 15 minutes.

Once the psychotria seeds have been soaked, they are ready for planting. Some growers find that it is advantageous to use a non-organic growing medium such as sand or rock wool. By using something like this, it deprives the environment of nutrients that molds and bacterias could enjoy. The seeds need only to be planted about 1/8" deep. Keep the soil moist and be patient. You can expect to wait one or more months before you see anything.

If you are not up for the challenge of growing phychotria viridis from seed or do not want any genetic diversity in your crop, you are better off using cuttings to reproduce. Of course, you would already need to have a phychotria viridis plant to do this. Technically, stem cuttings can be taken from any stem material. But it is ideal to use thinner stems that have new growth on them. It will also improve your success to remove larger leaves because they will sap the cutting of needed moisture. While you may use something like spaghnum moss, perlite or vermiculite to root cuttings in, simple water will do the trick. You may add a bit of rooting hormone if you have some, but it is not required. Keep your plant covered with some sort of clear plastic whether it be a plastic bag or a Chinese soup container.

Stem cuttings will give you a larger plant than the other methods, but they require more starting material. With that same stem cutting, you can probably make several leaf cuttings. Leaf cuttings are also the simplest cuttings to make. Some psychotria viridis grow guides suggest to remove the leaf so that you take off with it a piece of the stem's skin. We have not found this entirely necessary. If you can manage, then do so. But if you fail, do not panic. Since the tip of the leaf is the first to lose water, it is common to cut off the tip.

Another optional trick is to snap the leaf's center vein in one or more places. Just take the leaf between your thumbs as if the vein was a stick you were snapping. You want to segment the central vein without breaking the leaf apart. It is then possible for shoots to come from each of these segments. Once you have prepared the viridis leaf, all that is needed is to bury about half of it in any direction. In other words, you can place it upright or on its side. Just like with a stem cutting, you want to cover it with clear plastic and give it a few weeks. It will not be long before you have your own psychotria jungle.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Germination Instructions for Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a tree whose leaves increase circulation in the brain. It is a popular herb in Chinese medicine and has been linked to improving memory and cognitive functions. The unique fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree make it a popular ornamental as well. It is even grown as a bonsai.

The germination of ginkgo is a little tricky, but there are a few tips that will increase your success. Freshly picked seeds are covered in a malodorous fruit. The ginkgo fruit contains small levels of urushiol, a skin irritant that is found in poison ivy and poison oak. To avoid this, obtaining cleaned seeds from a seed company is recommended.

Ginkgo biloba seeds have a long germination period and a tendency to pick up mold on the outer shell. The presence of mold on the outer shell does not automatically indicate that the seed is dead. It will be fine so long as the mold does not reach the embryo. To ward off mold while waiting for germination, sterilize the ginkgo seeds in a mild bleach solution (1:8, Bleach: Water) for a few minutes and rinse well. It might seem counterproductive to introduce bleach to a living seed. However, the solution is diluted, and the seeds should only be soaked long enough that the bleach soaks into the outer shell and not beyond.

The next goal is to allow moisture and air to reach past the shell. Nick the sides of the shell along the rim or that goes around the circumference of the seed. Do not damage the embryo. (There's a very thin brown membrane around the embryo too, which does not have to be penetrated).

Ginkgo trees grow in areas where freezing is normal. Ginko seeds are, therefore, used to these temperatures and have adapted to respond to seasonal changes. The change from cool to warm temperatures after the winter lets the seed know it can begin growing. If you are not planting your seeds outside during the cooler weather, you will have to artificially create this experience for the seed. The process is known a moist cold stratification. Cold stratification is easily accomplished by storing the seeds in the fridge for a month. If your seeds have not been pre-stratified, you should do this before exposing them to the warm temperatures needed for sprouting. This can be done before or after nicking.

Assuming your gingko biloba seeds have been cold stratified, they are now ready for germination. Place the nicked seeds in moist, preferably sterile sand and place them in a zipper baggie. Situate them so that the seeds just barely stick up through the sand. Adding a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to the water used to moisten the sand is another option to prevent mold.

Keep the planted ginkgo seeds at temps of about 70-75 degrees. When the seeds sprout you will see the green stems press up against the bag. When you see leaf development, transplant your ginkgo seedlings to a mix of more sand than soil. Keep the soil moisture equal to that of the sand in the bag and keep out of direct sun and heavy water.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Preparing Fast-growing Columnar Cacti for Winter Dormancy

Many cacti growers are curious about the proper way to prepare their cacti for winter. Others may not even know that they need to make any changes at all. In this guide, we will discuss the reasons for cacti dormancy and how to properly prepare your cacti for dormancy.

When an oak tree loses its leaves in the winter and ceases growing, it is dormant. Likewise, cacti also experience dormancy when certain conditions for growth do not meet the requirements needed for it. Preparing cacti for dormancy is especially important for fast-growing ornamental columnar cacti such a San Pedro Cactus or a Cereus Peruvianus. If growers do not prepare in advance, the aesthetic appeal of their cacti will suffer.

Cacti dormancy is triggered by a drop in temperatures. For some people, preparing cacti for winter is limited to bringing their collection indoors. In climates that permit cacti to be left outdoors all year round, they will experience a temperature drop and cease growth. After you bring your cacti indoors, unless you keep your house rather cool, your cacti will never receive the message that winter is here and will not completely enter dormancy. While it might seem alright to have your cacti skip dormancy and grow year round, it comes with a price.

During the winter, you may gain some height, bit it will not be they type you want. The problem is that you will not have enough light in your house. Even with the best grow lights, it is unlikely that you will match the power of the sun. And since cacti thickness is dependent on the amount of light it receives, your cacti will suffer uneven growth. While stretching may not be such a significant problem with slower-growing cacti such as ariocarpus or lophophora, a tirchocereus will respond quicker and stretch.

The process of stretching in low light conditions is called etoliation. Etiolation occurs because the cactus is trying to reach up in an effort to find light. It is recognizable by a very light green color. Severe etiolation, such as when a cactus has been in a box, can even result in white growth. Even with proper preparation, you will usually notice a bit of this color at the tip of your cacti. The key is to minimize this to keep growth uniform. As the cactus resumes growth the following season, small amounts of etiolation will be covered up. You can often tell how many seasons a cactus has been growing by the ridges formed as this cycles occurs. Some growers play around with etiolation to create oddball cacti. An etiolated cactus is not necessarily unhealthy, but it can create weak points if you plan on growing tall specimens.

So how do we prevent etiolation? The key to preventing etiolation is to keep your cacti in a very cool place until you can return it to the outdoors. Most growers accomplish this in a cool basement or garage. A temperature in the low 50's to high 40's is ideal. Be sure to keep your cacti out of freezing temperatures, although larger cacti can handle brief stints of temperatures on the border of 32 degrees F. It is also important to note that dormant cacti do not require light since they are asleep. This makes storage easy, allowing you to reserve your light for other plants.

While this seems easy enough, your preparation should actually begin well in advance. This is because dormant cacti will not need water during the winter. While cacti are in dormancy, their immune systems are diminished. The presence of water they are not using gives disease a chance to gain a foothold. Unless your cacti are seedlings, you should NEVER water them during the winter dormancy period. Seedlings should not be put into dormancy because they would not normally begin growing so close to winter. It is not natural for them. Furthermore, artificial lights can accommodate the full requirements for seedling growth.

Despite that you may not be actively watering your cacti, they may still be at risk. Your cacti may be in large pots with lots of soil that can hold lots of water. Therefore, it is a good idea to ensure that your soil is dried out before the temperature drop. Begin by moving your plants to a covered location, such as an awning, sometime in September or October at the latest. This will allow the plants to dry without the rain interfering. By the time you bring your plants in, they should be dry enough. Use the natural cooling of the weather to induce dormancy naturally, then maintain that coolness.

While the concept of dormancy may seem complicated to some, the solution is anything but. Keep your plants cool and dry. Let the soil begin drying out in advance. The amount of light you provide is insignificant. So you might as well let them sleep in the dark.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Set Up Your Plants Before a Vacation

Depending on the size of your plant collection, leaving for a few days can turn out to be a burden. Aside from the personal attachment, you may have a considerable amount of money wrapped up in your collection. And while you might find someone to sit your child or pet, you might have a harder time finding an understanding plant sitter. But before you run to start a career in this new profession, there’s a solution for those previously rooted to their homes.

They sell these glass globes that hold water. The user sticks the tube end into the soil. As the soil dries, it draws it from the globe as needed so that a continuous supply of water is available. These are probably a viable option for those who have one or two plants. But what about the serious collector?

The solution lies in the topic of my fifth grade science project: transpiration. As a plant uses up water, it exits through its leaves and goes into the atmosphere. But if you can harness that moisture and recycle it, you can create a hydration system for each plant. Sounds high-tech huh? Well if a fifth-grader can do it, so can you.

Seriously, get a box of freezer bags. Put one over each plant and seal the bottom closed with a rubber band. You can use clear garbage bags for large plants. The moisture will collect on the top, drop back into the soil and keep the plant hydrated. This is called a humidity tent. Providing you’re not leaving on an Odyssey, this should keep you good for over a week. Unfortunately, this method inhibits airflow, which will eventually take its toll. It not only deprives the plant, but it creates an environment favorable to mold. It is also true that not all of the moisture gets recycled back to the soil, meaning the plant will eventually dry out.

Additions to the process that can be useful include moving plants into lower light conditions, reducing temperature, cutting the tips off leaves or removing larger leaves. All of these will help the plant conserve water. While you don’t want to put the plant in a dark fridge, a small reduction in temperature or sun light will slow the plant down a bit as well as hinder the evaporation of moisture directly from the soil. It is important to note that certain plants would be more tolerant of this than others. Removing the tips or larger leaves would also help conserve water because these are the parts of the plant that tend to use more than they contribute. This is why you often see the larger leaves drop first. It is also why the tips tens to turn brown first.

One last addition to this technique, and this may even suffice as a technique on its own, is to place the pot in a dish or bowl of water. Water is allowed to draw up through the soil as it is needed. This is actually a good way to water plants. The drawback of using this for an extended leave is that the amount of water is critical. If the source water in the dish dries out before you return, the plant may still dry out. By adding a larger amount of water, you may be at risk of over-watering your plant. A result like root rot can be just as fatal as drying out.

It is essential to keep in mind that different plants have different needs. The humidity tent is quite versatile. But for some plants it may be best to employ a combination of these methods. But if you’ve found the solution to leaving your plants by themselves to be a mystification, I hope this will help.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Salvia Divinorum Cultivation Explained

New growers often worry about their salvia divinorum plants. The reality is that they probably worry too much. While salvia divinorum may seem like a finicky plant, the reality is that it is amazingly resilient. With just a little understanding about the plant, all growers can carry on without losing sleep or their plants.

Salvia Divinorum, a member of the mint family from Oaxaca, Mexico, is one of the most widely known and entheogenic plants. Salvia has a long history of shamanic use in the Sierra Madre mountains, particularly among the Mazatec tribe. These Mazatec healers were known as curanderos. In 1961, Gordon Wasson, who had developed an intimate relationship with these remote people throughout multiple journeys, was invited to experience the ritual brought on by the juice of salvia divinorum leaves. Wasson returned with his colleagues, namely Albert Hoffman, to collect specimens of this undocumented species. Wasson, along with Albert Hoffman, was the first to bring a live salvia divinorum specimen to the U.S. It is the clones of these original salvia plants that are the most widely distributed. They are known as the Hoffman and Wasson clone.

One other popular clone, known as the Blosser strain, is named after Greg Blosser. There are also several rarer clones such as the Cerro Quemado, Luna, Resilience, Julietta, Paradox and Owens. (There is one supplier in mind that carries all of these strains, but we cannot recommend them since we have ordered from them without getting everything we paid for despite numerous promises. ) The reason that so few strains of salvia divinorum exist lies in its virtual inability to produce viable seed. It may be that salvia adapted to being cloned so frequently that it no longer needed to rely on producing seed to reproduce. Following this theory, we can say that it has been domesticated.

Most often, salvia divinorum will not flower. The plant requires pure darkness at night, which is often polluted by artificial light. Flowering is also triggered by an even twelve hour light cycle. But getting saliva to flower does not mean it will produce salvia divinorum seeds. And if seeds are produced, they are hardly ever viable. Saliva divinorum is, therefore, reliant on cuttings to reproduce. This means that each clone is precious, and so it is essential to treat them with proper care.

The transition of a salvia plant from one environment to another is know as acclimation. The key to acclimation is to change all factors gradually. We read about conditions needed for salvia, but what is often unspecified is that we do not need to place it in those conditions right away. It has to be ready. That means don't put your plant into heavy light immediately, especially if it has been in a dark box. Keep salvia at ambient room lighting and move is closer to the light source over the course of a week. This is much like the way the intensity of the sun increases as the season begins.

The biggest headache and what sets salvia divinorum apart from traditional houseplants is its relationship to humidity. Salvia plants that come in the mail will frequently arrive in a humidity tent, which is usually just a clear plastic bag placed over the plant to seal in the moisture. The same goal may be achieved with various apparatus. While a salvia plant generally has sufficient humidity while inside the tent, most growers do not want to have their salvia inside a humidity tent forever. Since it is difficult to match the conditions it has come from, you will want to change the humidity gradually.

Start out leaving the humidity tent completely on and sealed for the first five days or so. You can air it out once a day just to keep fresh air inside. For the next five days, leave the tent on top of the plant with the bottom open so fresh air can mix with the moist air under the tent. After that, take the tent off for a few hours a day, increasing the amount of time each day until you no longer need the tent. At first, be sure to replace the tent whenever you're not around to monitor or when you see drooping. Even after that, don't be in a rush to get it into full sun. If you're moving outdoors, start the plant out in complete shade. As mentioned earlier, salvia is a remarkably resilient plant. Salvia can recover from a severe droop if you replace the moisture in time. If a severe droop happens, you can reduce the stress of recovery by removing larger leaves or cutting them in half.

Aside from the humidity change between environments, humidity can change between seasons and weather patterns without you realizing it. Many new growers tend to panic and overcompensate, which often does more harm. Salvia plants will often sustain themselves outdoors during the summer months. As salvia plants are brought in, they may suffer. This is somewhat natural. While your conditions may not be ideal for good leaf growth, it does not mean your salva divinorum is in danger of dying. During this time, do not worry so much about curling leaves or a few leaves falling off. It is much akin to native plants losing leaves in the winter months outdoors. Just like the suggestion to cut leaves off, plants will drop leaves on their own to reduce stress. It may be an indication that the environment is stressful, but it does not mean your plant is dying.

So what if your plant is losing a lot of leaves? Before you panic, make sure your roots are healthy. As long as the roots remain healthy and the stem does not dry out or rot to the point that there are no viable nodes left, the plant has a chance of recovery. Even stems without leaves have been known to recover. This is why good root care is vital. A good well-draining soil, usually made up of about 50% perlite is ideal for proper drainage and airflow. This will keep the roots healthy. To keep the soil free from bacterias and molds, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in the water will help. A layer of diatomaceous earth, which is made up of the the skeletons of algae-like organisms, will help prevent insects. Trimming any dead material from the leaves or stems will also remove places for molds to take hold.

As a general rule, salvia divinorum likes temperatures between 70-90 degrees F and likes partial shade to full sun. There is a lot of variation within these parameters. Growers tend not to understand why their salvia plant is not doing well even though they are falling within these guidelines. You will also find people reporting success with varying temperatures and lighting conditions. The important thing to understand about salvia divinorum is that light, water and temperature are all relative to each other. For example, a plant in full sun in 90 degrees will need more water than a plant in the house under artificial lighting. Adding that same amount of water indoors may cause a plant to develop root rot from standing water, whereas a plant outdoors may easily dry out if watered the same amount. It is true that evaporation in the soil plays a part here, but the plant will use more water too. Along the same lines, you may notice a plant that is burning (turning red) under lights that are less intense than the sun. This might seem odd considering salvia divinorum is from Mexico where the sun is stronger. That's because there is no set amount of light that is always appropriate for salvia divinorum because its needs are relative to temperature and the condition of the plant. By acclimating conditions gradually, you can help assure the plant's condition will change with its environment so that they can be more in tune with each other.

Another idea that new salvia divinorum growers struggle with is the idea of misting. Misting is an effort to increase the humidity. However, many experienced salvia growers have decided not to mist plants at all. In a situation where humidity needs to be raised, it is better to use a humidity tent draped over the top of the plant for a few days. A humidifier is more appropriate if you are willing to invest in one. Misting is really an artificial humidity, or possibly not really humidity at all. The droplets of water are much larger from a mister and have a tendency to collect on the leaves rather than absorb while suspended in the air. The collection of water can lead to rotting of the stem or leaves. It seems that regular misting causes salvia to become dependent on this moisture rather than it acclimating.

The common response to most new salvia divinorum growers is to see all signs of wilting as a lack of humidity. It is important to realize that wilting can actually be caused by too much humidity. Leaves that have become saturated will be heavy and droopy. This tends to happen to plants that are left in 100% humidity too long. This is exacerbated by lack of airflow and water collecting on the salvia leaves. Most often, this will happen to plants that are left in humidity tents too long. These leaves tend to be thinner and softer than "healthy" salvia leaves. They also tend to have a silky sheen. It is important to realize that it will be unlikely to save these leaves. Salvia produces new leaves that adapt to the new environmental conditions. You can often notice a physical difference. Old leaves, suited to tolerate past environments will tend to die off in the new environment. Therefore, if you receive a plant that has thin leaves that begin to fall off when you try to acclimate it, you should not panic. This is pretty common for plants that have been rooting in a humid environment for several weeks or months. This is normal to a large extent. Again, it is important to be sure to make sure you have healthy roots. Pay more attention to new growth than the original leaves. If you are getting a good flow of fresh growth, your salvia divinorum is doing fine.

Whether or not you think salvia divinorum is finicky, you should be better equipped to handle it now that you understand certain principles. Salvia divinorum needs to acclimate very slowly; be patient and do not panic while it goes through these changes. Keep your roots healthy; they are the lifeline of your salvia plant. The humidity tent is your friend; keep your mister for your seedling trays. Not all wilting is from lack of humidity; they can be saturated as well. New salvia leaves are suited to their current environment; old leaves are expendable as long as the roots and new growth is healthy. Lastly, give up on trying to find salvia divinorum seeds. Understand your salvia, and you'll have all you need to grow.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Germination of Cacti Such as San Pedro Cactus, Peruvian Torch and Other Spiny Friends

You see them in your office or local hardware store, maybe even your local Mexican restaurant. But many people never stop to think that cacti actually start out as seeds. I mean it makes sense being a plant and all. But I get the same reaction all the time when I tell people I sell cacti seeds. "Cacti grow from seeds?!?"
The reality is that cacti do grow from seeds, and anyone can grow them. It's not that difficult and is more than rewarding in the end. I warn you though, the hobby of cacti growing and collecting can be nothing short of addicting, and there is a growing community of cacti growers, particularly the Sacred species, which includes San Pedro Cactus, Peruvian Torch, Dona Ana, certain Ariocarpus species and even Peyote, which is illegal in the United States but it extremely coveted and legal to grow elsewhere around the world.
With a growing interest in starting cacti from seed, I see many people asking about how to begin. This method will not work for every species of cactus, but is ideal for those of the trichocereus, carnegiea, astrophytum, obregonia, lophophora and ariocarpus genus. It will work for other cacti seeds as well. The first consideration to make is soil mix. While you can make your own cactus soil mixtures, this is not really worth it for the new grower. Unless your making a large volume of soil mix, it will be more expensive to buy the multiple materials needed when you could easily buy a commercial cactus potting mix. When it comes to commercial cactus soil, I prefer Shultz's and am not a fan of Miracle Grow. If it is the only option, it will serve the purpose. Some growers will add perlite (up to 50%), which is a white, porous volcanic glass that is used for drainage. Its nooks and crannies provide an enormous amount of surface area to hold water without letting the soil get soggy. If I am going to add perlite, I find that it is beneficial to use a mixture such as this for the bottom layer. For the top layer, strain out the larger debris so you end up with only the finer particles.
Your next consideration is the pot. This is not a hard choice. I prefer small Chinese soup containers and other take-out containers. Fill your pot with either cactus soil or the soil/perlite mix so that you leave at least an inch of room left. Use a mister to moisten your soil without it getting soggy. Put about half an inch of the finer (strained) soil above that. The finer layer serves to keep the seeds from landing on any debris that they will have a hard time anchoring their root into. Then mist the top layer before you add your cacti seeds. While the seeds of astrophytum are a little larger, those of trichocereus, ariocarpus and especially obregonia are particularly small. When you look at a san pedro cactus or a peruvian torch, you wouldn't expect that they come from such small seeds. Misting before applying the seeds keeps them from being sprayed away so that they become unevenly distributed. After misting, take your seeds and press them into the surface of the soil. You can crowd them because you will be able to separate them later. Do not cover them at all with soil because cactus seeds need light to germinate.
Cover the whole container with clear plastic wrap. If using a take-out container, you can simply keep the lid on loosely so that air will still get in. Keep your soil temperature at about 70-75 degrees F and provide window light until the seeds sprout. Eventually you can put them under fluorescent lights. The seedlings will not have to be transplanted for at least six months.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Germination of Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa/ Chocolate)

Theobroma Cacao, the Aztec's Food of the Gods, is one of the trickier plants to grow. Cacao plants are quite rare in the United States, and viable seeds are even rarer. This is because the seeds have an extremely short viability. Only seeds obtained in the fruit or those that have been recently removed are suitable for growing. Dried cocoa beans are often sold for edible and aromatic applications, but do not be fooled into thinking you will be able to grow these. More importantly, beware of vendors selling these seeds for growing. If the beans are dry when you get them, they are no good.

The above picture shows two ripe Theobroma Cacao seed pods that we at World Seed Supply have been working with. The fruit on the right was opened first in the condition it appears while the one on the left a was allowed to ripen to a similar color before opening. The majority of the seeds in that first fruit were actually germinating right in the pod when it was opened. It is important to slice around the perimeter of the fruit so that you do not damage the cocoa seeds in the center. It is a good idea to squeeze the slices cacao pod to break it fully apart rather than slicing too deep. Once you have the two halves, you will seed a conglomeration of about 15-20 cocoa beans stuck together with each individual seed coated by a white fruity material. This material is the second factor that makes growing cacao tricky.

The white fleshy material on the outside of the cacao seeds is problematic because it is tough to remove and is an ideal place to harbor molds and disease that could harm the seed during germination. Although a bit unorthodox, we began the process by chewing and sucking off as much of the cacao fruit as possible. This decision was made only with the knowledge that the fruit is edible, and it proved to be quite tasty. Afterwards, a very sharp kitchen knife was used to shave off more of the remaining substance without damaging the brown seed coat. While one seed was being worked on, the other seeds were left soaking in water to keep from drying out and to keep any of the reminaing fruit material workable. After the shaving, the seeds were rubbed extensively with a dry towel until they were relatively clean. Needless to say, this was quite a chore for 15-20 seeds at a time. Fortunately, the fruits were done on different days.

Once the seeds were cleaned, we placed them in a bed of moist spagnum moss. This is the long-fiber kind sold in craft stores and used for hanging baskets. This should not be confused with peat moss that is used as a soil component. As we said, most of the seeds in the first cacao fruit were germinated already. Some of them were already into the advanced stages of germination. A few of these ones were put right into jiffy mix with spagnum moss around the top to keep the seed head from drying out. Over the next week or so, those in the bed were gradually moved into the same conditions. As the second fruit was opened, they took the place of those seeds in the spagnum bed. It should be noted that the seeds were monitored for mold. It seemed that a bluish green mold was active, but they were rinsed with a mild peroxide solution as needed.

Eventually, all of the cocoa seeds were transplanted into the jiffy mix with 100% germination (minus one healthy seedling that was dropped). The seedlings were then placed next to a simple incandescent bulb. In the week or so following transplantation, the ring of spagnum moss around the seed head was kept moist until the seed head grew tall enough to rise above it. At this point, the seed head was misted occasionally. As you can see, theobroma cacao leaves are now beginning to emerge!

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