- Author: Janet Hartin
I love research results that can be applied to everyday life and wanted to pass along a couple of tidbits. Did you know that playing in the dirt (e.g. what adults call 'gardening') and getting your hands dirty can boost your serotonin levels, producing a feeling of calmness and increasing your happiness? This is because many soils contain a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which triggers this 'feel good' response. But the benefits don't stop there. Serotonin can also boost one's immune system which is a welcome outcome during flu season.
Another very interesting finding is that harvesting the fruits of your gardening labor, whether it be tomatoes or squash or even Brussels sprouts, can increase dopamine levels in your brain. This chemical rush results in mild euphoria. Researchers have even documented that just plucking an eggplant off a grocer's shelf can mimic this response. Evolutionary biologists are not at all surprised, attributing the more 'modern day' response to the onslaught of rural populations to cities and urban areas where fewer people actually grow their own food.
Have you ever heard of the term 'biophilia'? It was coined by Dr. Edwin O. Wilson, an entomologist studying the social behavior of ants and suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. I look forward to the day when there is adequate evidence that I can blog that biophilia is a fact rather than a theory! I do believe living things prosper together.
And, it's no wonder that school gardens are becoming so popular. K-12 students who engage in gardening are found to have greater self esteem, lower rates of depression and anxiety, improved social skills, a greater sense of cohesiveness and belonging, a lower body mass index and healthier diets. In many cases students engaged in gardening activities that are directly connected to mastering core subject matter even earn higher grades and perform better on standardized tests.
What does all of this have to do with our University of California Cooperative Extension programs in San Bernardino County? Our Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, Expanded Food and Nutrition (EFNEP) educators and 4-H members have banded together across professional disciplines to promote school gardens and healthy diets in several locations. As they say, a picture paints 1,000 words. You decide! I bet you can't help but smile (which is also good for your health) at the success of these events for both the students and the staff!
- Author: Janet Hartin
With only a few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and two very similarly looking plants, you may be wondering whether the gift a loved one gave you for Christmas is a Thanksgiving cactus or a Christmas cactus. (Many sold in local nurseries and large box stores this past Christmas season were actually Thanksgiving cactus, pictured below). While both are native to tropical regions of Brazil, host a wide array of flowers ranging from the more traditional pink hues to newer hybrids showing off white, red, yellow, and purple, they have different bloom periods. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), blooms about a month after the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). The Christmas cactus also has slightly different projections on its leaves, which are more scalloped and less pointed that the projections on the Thanksgiving cactus.
Is yours still not in flower and not in the holiday spirit? Both species require cool temperatures and longer nights for about a month in advance of their flowering period. Both plants bloom optimally when grown outdoors when cool night temperatures dip`into the 50s and shorter nights reduce daytime light to 10 -12 hours in a 24 hour cycle. They can also be grown indoors in pots if kept in a cool dark area with no light between 5 pm and 8 am. During daytime, they prefer bright, indirect light. Full sun can cause the leaf segments to turn dark red.
Both species require good drainage but, even though they are in the cactus family don't let this fool you! They need adequate moisture - particularly during boom- and cannot make it through long, dry periods without supplemental water. Unlike most houseplants, they prefer to feel snug in their pots, almost to the point of enjoying being slightly pot-bound.