Archive for the ‘Plants & Gardening’ Category

New Year

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Well the world did not end and it seems there wasn’t anyone crazy enough to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m just old enough to vaguely remember Y2K and the Hale-Bopp comet and I’m grateful December 21st shared little in common with those events. The date seemed to have passed by without much notice at all and ensured that Christmas was safe, even if the American economy isn’t 😀

I had a nice Christmas with my family. I got an iPhone, a FitBit, a whole bunch of lab supplies / lab books, and some clothes. It will be good having an iPhone because right now I really need 24/7 internet access and I’m still developing an iPhone game. I’ve been very busy with other things so I haven’t had a lot of time to program and create graphics, but the game is coming along well. It’s more work and more fun than I ever expected it to be! I also got a DNA kit to have my genes sequenced – technically it will look for genetic markers that correlate to specific disease risks and may give me some insight into my ancestry. I had to fill a vial with spit and then mail it in, and it will take a month or so to process, so I’ve got some waiting to do.

In the meantime I successfully hand-pollinated two of the three blue orchid blooms, which are already beginning to swell (and the flowers of which almost immediately died). Plant science is probably boring to most of you, but I’ve always loved plants and my new lab supplies will help me emulate much of the work I did at the University of Maine working with transgenic rice and Arabidopsis. Unfortunately I lack a laminar flow and a thermal cycler (for PCR). As a result, contamination is a significant problem when I’m plating media at home, and whatever results I obtain won’t be especially scientific since I can’t actually do any genotypic analysis. Still, there is a lot I can do with what I have, including my two microscopes, plant hormones, agrobacterium cultures, and some colchicine. NOTE: Colchicine is a chemical that can halt cellular mitosis by interfering with spindle / microtubule elongation. It is very useful for essentially “freezing” phases of mitosis and also inducing mutation in plants. Even though colchicine used to be derived from plants, it is extremely toxic and I don’t recommend using it without experience with toxic chemicals. Always read the MSDS if you’re going to work with an unfamiliar chemical.

I will publish some of what I’m doing on my Plants and Labwork page in the future. Most of my work will probably consist of plant tissue culture / cloning, which is fairly accessible even to people like me who don’t have multimillion dollar laboratories. One of the most common examples is African Violet, which readily develops new whole plants from partial tissues taken from a donor plant. This species and several others require little to no hormonal treatment to induce such growth. I’m also going to attempt growing orchids from seed on plated media. The vast majority of commercial orchids are clones (“mericlones”) originating from tissue cultures. Human comprehension of orchid seed germination, which is the result of a symbiotic relationship with a fungi, is relatively recent. In the early days of orchid collecting, nobody understood how to germinate orchid seeds. Orchid seeds lack endosperm, which can be thought of as “food” for the seed during germination. As such, they rely on various fungi species for germination and these fungal species are very specific to the orchid species itself, no pun intended. The prevalence of mericlones has more to do with cost-effectiveness, product consistency, and logistics, however; most orchids require at least 7 years from seed to flowering. Between plant genomics and paleogenetics, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather devote my life to.

Winter Blooms

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

So I finally made a Twitter account. For now, I’m using my web / graphic design company name, @Seashore Design, so feel free to follow me! I might make an Instagram, but I’ve got Flickr and my site for now.

I’ve been super busy lately with a lot of things, especially the iPhone game I’m developing. I’ve been working on it since the Summer and even while I was in Florida, and I’m hoping to have it in the App Store before the holidays. It’s gonna be pretty awesome! It’s a platformer game based on pomeranians, but that’s all I’m saying for now.

I’ve been working out several times a week and it’s paying off 😉 …

One of the orchids I brought back from R.F. Orchids in Florida has just bloomed. It’s my favorite type of orchid – the Mikasa Blue Vanda Orchid. I had one once but it died before flowering. It’s the only true blue orchid species. It’s really more of an indigo, but it’s natural. Those neon blue Phalaenopsis orchids that have been appearing in stores are actually white and have been chemically dyed. My Encyclia orchid’s seed pods are starting to mature. I cut a couple off today because one was turning yellow and that apparently indicates it’s about to break open and release thousands of dust-sized seeds. I got the Encyclia from R.F. Orchids two years ago and I hand-pollinated it. I’m going to try to germinate some of the seeds, though I’ll need to cultivate a type of mycorrhizal fungus if I’m to have any chance at all – orchid seeds can’t germinate on their own.

I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged, too. I really enjoyed it, actually. It’s one of the longest books I’ve ever read at over 1,200 pages. I like Ayn Rand’s Anthem as well. She was a major proponent of the free market and pure capitalism, though she also believed strongly in secularism. The second movie of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy is currently in theaters. Can’t wait to see it! Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book, which I wrote down while reading:

An issue of guilt, he thought, had to rest on his own acceptance of the code of justice that pronounced him guilty. He did not accept it; he never had. His virtues, all the virtues she needed to achieve his punishment, came from another code and lived by another standard. He felt no guilt, no shame, no regret, no dishonor. He felt no concern for any verdict she chose to pass upon him: he had lost respect for her judgment long ago. And the sole chain still holding him was only a last remnant of pity.

No matter what her problem, this would always remain to her – this immovable conviction that evil was unnatural and temporary. She felt it more clearly than ever this morning: the certainty that the ugliness of the men in the city and the ugliness of her suffering were transient accidents – while the smiling sense of hope within her at the sight of a sun-flooded forest, the sense of an unlimited promise, was the permanent and the real.

Never think of pain or danger or enemies a moment longer than is necessary to fight them. You’re here. It’s our time and our life, not theirs. Don’t struggle not to be happy. You are.

A couple months ago I made a replica of the Rearden Metal bracelet. I bought a flat strip of aluminum from a local hardware store, cut and drilled it by hand, then smoothed and polished it and connected the pieces with jump rings…


Monday, June 11th, 2012

Summer’s here and we’re finally getting through the rainy season that hit us and threatened to wreck my garden. My family and I got to Monhegan Island over the weekend, which is just as beautiful as ever. I highly recommend it. I got some awesome photos that I posted in a Google Plus album: Monhegan Island 2012 As I said I probably would, I also posted the album that played at my grandfather’s funeral. Here is the link for the online album Memorial Album of Harland Nickerson

My hair’s longer than it’s ever been. I tried putting it down the other day and everyone says they like it better longer, though it’s a real pain to deal with. I posted pics in my Google Plus profile and Flickr. I might cut it, IDK. I love how my highlights came out and I don’t want to lose those.

June 5th was the once-in-a-lifetime Venus transit across the Sun. Despite the overcast sky here in Maine, there were several breaks that allowed me to get a clear shot of the Sun. I put the telephoto lens on my Canon EOS, added an IR filter, and set the shutter speed to 1/4000 of a second. I got some beautiful photos of Venus silhouetted against the Sun and one of the best ones is right here:

I’m really excited, too, because my garden, greenhouse, and indoor plants are coming along really well. My Tricyrtis (toad lily, which looks a lot like an orchid), which I grew from seed, just bloomed. I’ve got some red bell peppers growing inside – I never knew that green, red, and yellow peppers are all the same plant, just different maturation times. Tons of stuff in my garden coming up. And perhaps most exciting is that I succeeded in pollinating my Encyclia orchid from Florida – it’s now developing seed pods!


Friday, January 27th, 2012

The puppies opened their eyes recently. They don’t look like puppies, in my opinion; more like smug little bears. The brown and white one yawns a lot. They are of course still suckling, though Bebe is much less protective of them and checks in on them only occasionally. That said, if she spots any of the other poms going into the bedroom, there’s always pomeranian drama, lol. Puppy pictures are below ^-^

My plants are doing well. I finally decided to cut back the belladonna, which almost immediately grew new leaves from the 1/2″ stems I left. I’ve been wanting to start some Black Pearl Peppers (the leaves are black instead of green) and Easter Egg Radishes, the latter of which may help me with one of my graduate projects. I transplanted the belladonna outside when it was relatively warm the other day. I’m hoping the roots may survive the rest of the Maine winter, especially since the species is native to Europe. I also have some blue water lilies growing and although their stems are about a foot long now, their growth, much like that of the Colchicaceae plants, has virtually halted, though they remain healthy. I have them under a grow light, but I’m not sure it’s helping.

Two of my three orchids are shooting, an odd time considering the light is at a minimum right now. One of them, an Encyclia orchid I got from R.F. Orchids in Florida nearly two years ago, will bloom for the first time in its life. The flowers supposedly smell of chocolate, so I’m excited! I will post pictures when they bloom.

Among my Christmas presents were two microscopes – a dissecting scope and an objective microscope with 2,000X power. It’s my fourth objective microscope, but this one includes an attachment for dark-field microscopy, which is great for certain microorganisms with transparent bodies. I had to cut some infected leaf tissue from one of my Phalaenopsis orchids the other day and I was able to view the stomata, chloroplasts, nucleus, and nucleolus very clearly even though I don’t have any stains yet. Just by adjusting the diaphragm, I was able to observe changes in the cytoplasmic streaming of the chloroplasts.

Unfortunately UMaine doesn’t offer any courses in plant histology, so I’m on my own when it comes to using my microtome and figuring out what stains I need to order. There are a lot of good resources online, though. I’ll post pictures when I get some good ones. I also ordered a camera mount while I was in California, so now I can take time-lapse videos. I’m hoping to (very carefully) slice open a dicot plant seed in order to photograph the embryonic developmental stages (embryogenesis), which are very distinctive. This Summer I’ll likely take some time to document the cleavage stages of amphibian eggs and their embryonic development as well. In the meantime there’s limitless things to look at for fun, like my red and white blood cells, cheek cells, hair, and microorganisms, many species of which I can find in the standing water around my orchids. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to come across Daphnia, my favorite. I bet they will show up well under the dark field.


Friday, December 9th, 2011

Today I harvested all the ripe berries from my belladonna plant. The seed extraction was fairly easy, but it got messy. The belladonna fruits release a very dark staining blue-violet color when broken. The fruits are similar in structure to a tomato, unsurprising since they are both members of the Solanaceae family. However, the berries are much smaller than tomatoes, about the size of a marble or a grape, so it’s a little harder to separate the seeds. Once I got them out, it became easier because the seeds sank while the leftover fruit tissue floated. I used a colander and some coffee filters to isolate the seeds. There were many seeds.

I have saved all plant matter from the belladonna, including leaves and dead flowers. I don’t expect I’ll be extracting any of the compounds like atropine, but I figured I’d dry them out and hang on to them just in case. The plant is still going strong and there are more berries developing, but it’s definitely past its prime and I’m not sure how much longer it will last. Belladonna is a perennial, but I’ve been growing it like an annual.

My blue orchid just dropped its flowers, though the plant is thriving. It’s a Phalaenopsis so it will produce another spike before long. Chinese lanterns are doing well. I’m most excited about two Colchicaceae plants finally germinating. Only one seed of each species I planted, Colchicum autumnale and Gloriosa superba, germinated successfully. I discovered a protocol to extract colchicine from the bulbs of these plants, though the compound is much more toxic than the atropine in belladonna and can cause harm or even death just by touching (absorbing) or inhaling the compound (today my hands were purple from mushing belladonna fruits and I’m doing just fine). Colchicine is very useful in genetics, though, because it inhibits spindle formation during cellular mitosis and is therefore useful for preparing slides showing various stages of mitosis (because it stops the process). It can also be used to induce polyploidy in many plant species. Pure colchicine is extremely expensive, so I figured I’d try making my own. Photos are below.

Many glossy black berries distinctive of belladonna

Close-up of the berries

The blue-violet color and seeds released from a single berry

The tomato-like fruit structure of belladonna

Close viewing of the seeds shows bumps on the seed coat

All the seeds extracted from all the berries, drying on a coffee filter

The Chinese lanterns have grown quite a bit, but they have a long way to grow and need to be repotted soon.

I was having so much trouble inducing germination in these Colchicaceae seeds, I lost track of which one was which (which one was Colchicum autumnale and which one was Gloriosa superba). That said, the coleoptiles were quite distinct and so I suspect they are different species. I will have to wait for further growth before I can differentiate them. The mature plant structure of each plant is very different and there will be no mistaking them, even in the absence of an inflorescence.