By Brian Barth
It's not hard to grow a bit of basil or rosemary for when you need a pinch or two in your pasta sauce, but spices—the stuff that gives a real kick to chai or curry or goulash—now that's another matter.
Spices, by which we mean things like ginger and cumin, have a reputation as being harder to grow at home than herbs, but to a large extent, it's just that we're not used to it here in North America. Ask any homesteader in Southeast Asia for a tour of the garden, and you'll find plenty of spices.
What's the difference between a spice and an herb? Technically, herbs are seasonings that come from leaves. Spices are seasonings that come from any other part of a plant. Ginger is made from a root; cumin, coriander, and fenugreek are ground-up seeds; and saffron comes from the colorful stigmas inside a tiny flower.
But it's true that a number of spices are impractical to grow here, such as those that come from large tropical trees (like cinnamon and cloves). However, some tropical spices, like ginger, grow on small plants that can be cultivated during the warm season in North America. And many others are temperate species that are easily grown in average garden conditions. Here are growing instructions for a few you might consider trying yourself.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) – Zones 6 to 9
Saffron, one of the world's most expensive spices, is the stigmas of a fall-blooming crocus bulb native to the Middle East and commercially cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin. The saffron crocus is typically grown from bulbs planted 4 inches deep in mid to late summer; a location with full sun and rich, well-drained soil is best.
Flowering occurs throughout the month of October. Each flower contains just three colorful stigmas which must be plucked by hand (or tweezers) and dried before use. You need a sizable patch to make much saffron, but it is a beautiful plant worth growing as a groundcover in a rock garden or at the front of a flower border.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – All Zones
This tropical herb is hardy to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit but ceases to grow below 50 degrees. In the Deep South and in Southern California it may be grown year-round outdoors as a perennial, harvesting the roots as needed. In colder climates, start ginger indoors in late winter, and transplant outdoors once nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees.
To grow ginger at home, cut up a hunk of store-bought ginger into 1- to 2-inch pieces, making sure there is a pointy "node"—the part of the root capable of sprouting into a leafstalk—on the top of each piece. For best results, use the freshest-looking organic ginger you can find, as conventional ginger may be sprayed with growth inhibitors that prevent it from sprouting. Leave the pieces on a plate at room temperature for two days to let the cuts callous over (become dry) before planting.
Plant the pieces with the node pointing up about 4 inches deep in rich, well-drained soil in a partly sunny location. Cover the pieces with just an inch or two of soil at first. Once the ginger has sprouted above the height of the hole, fill in the soil back to the original level; the new roots will form in this area just below the soil. (If growing indoors you can do this part in a 1-gallon pot). Water and fertilize frequently to produce large, flavorful roots.
In colder climates, you'll be able to harvest "baby ginger" in early fall when the weather cools off. In areas with mild winters, the roots should mature to the size of what you find in the grocery store by December. If you have space indoors, you can keep ginger plants year-round in a 5-gallon pot. If you do, just be sure to mist the leaves at least once a week to provide a humid environment.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – All Zones
Turmeric is closely related to ginger and is grown in the same fashion. One minor difference is that the roots are more tuberous in shape, without pointy nodes; instead, the nodes are the little knobby lumps that protrude from the root, so make sure you have at least one of these on each piece you plant. Also, turmeric does best when planted just an inch or two deep—simply place it beneath the soil at this depth and fill the hole back to the original level.
Coriander (Coriandrm sativum) – All Zones
Coriander is the seeds of cilantro, the common annual herb. This cool weather plant may be grown in both fall and spring but does not survive the heat of summer. In spring, sow cilantro seeds directly in the garden immediately after the average date of the last frost in your area, choosing a sunny or partly sunny location. Alternatively, in mild winter areas, you can also sow cilantro seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the average date of the first frost in fall, and it will overwinter and produce seeds the following year.
Harvest the leaves all you want (without removing the entire plant) through the spring. In late spring or early summer, cilantro will put up small white flowers, which will soon turn into seeds that look like tiny green peas. After the seeds have turned brown, clip off the stems and cinch them into bouquets inside a brown paper bag to finish drying indoors. Many of the seeds will fall off into the bottom of the bag, but once the stems are completely brittle, dislodge any remaining seeds by rubbing the seedheads between your hand, letting the seeds fall into a bowl.
Store the dried seeds in a glass jar. You may use them whole or grind them into a powder with a coffee grinder as needed. (Purchase a dedicated coffee grinder for this purpose, as the flavor of the spice will be forever embedded in it).
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) – All Zones
Cumin is in the same plant family as coriander and is grown and harvested in much the same fashion. It is a heat-loving species, however, and requires a long, hot summer to mature. For best results, sow cumin seed indoors in flats 4 to 6 weeks before the average date of the last frost, and transplant the seedlings to a sunny place in the garden about 2 weeks after the average date of the last frost. By early fall, the seedheads should be turning brown and are ready to harvest.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) – All Zones
Fenugreek leaves are occasionally used as seasoning, but the plant is mostly grown for its seeds, which are used extensively in Indian cuisine. Growing and harvesting requirements these heat-loving species are nearly identical to cumin. One tip, however, it to start fenugreek seeds indoors in biodegradable peat pots, which may be planted directly in the ground, as the process of transplanting from plastic pots tends to damage its delicate root system.
Paprika (Capsicum annuum) – All Zones
Paprika is nothing more than the dried and ground flesh of a bell pepper. "Sweet paprika" comes from sweet bell peppers, while "hot paprika" comes from varieties that pack more of a punch—though truly hot peppers, like cayenne and jalapenos are not used to make paprika.
The best pepper varieties are thin-skinned because they are easiest to dry; the typical thick-walled grocery store bell peppers are prone to turning slimy and rotten faster than you can dry them. "Leutschauer" is a traditional medium-hot paprika pepper from Hungary. "Dulce Rojo" is an example of a sweet paprika pepper.
All peppers are heat-loving plants that must be started in late spring, and grown through the summer. Allow the fruit to mature until it is deep red. In the dry climates of the western U.S., thin-walled peppers are easily dried by hanging them in bunches from the kitchen ceiling; in the rest of North America it's better to slice them and dry them in a dehydrator, or in the oven at the lowest possible setting (around 140 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). Once the peppers are dried to the point of being crumbly, remove the seeds and grind them into a powder with a coffee grinder.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
<div id="7a571" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aad9dcf60e7385e6553ff23ffc1ae75d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293527664389693447" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1</div> — Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)<a href="https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/statuses/1293527664389693447">1597236002.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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