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Why can't we breed watermelons without any remaining seeds in the flesh?

Why can't we breed watermelons without any remaining seeds in the flesh?



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Watermelon is just starting to come in season in the northeastern U.S., and having a seedless watermelon is convenient. The only downside is, the "seedless" almost always still have the immature, sterile white seeds in them.

What is the mechanism for breeding these watermelons so that only these white seeds remain? What is the genotype that results? Could the genetics be modified so that there are virtually no seeds (short of any minor aberrations) left in the flesh of the fruit?


The seedless watermelons, like bananas, are a crop that are specifically bred to be trisomic (three copies of a chromosome). The consequence is the seeds are non-viable.


Life Garden

Parsley
This plant is a biennial. In the first year you’ll be able to harvest some of the fresh leaves, but you won’t be able to obtain seeds until year two. Overwinter at least three or four plants. In southern states, mulch heavily with straw or cover plants with a cold frame. Up north you’ll need to bring a few plants inside your greenhouse during the winter months. The next spring, the plants will start to flower and produce seed. Once the flower heads are dry and brown (but before they start to shatter), clip the stalks from several plants and place them upside down in a paper lunch bag. After a couple of weeks, the seed heads should all be shattered. Separate the seed from the chaff , place them in your zip-loc bag, label and store. Parsley tends to have a low germination rate, so be sure to gather lots of seed.

Peanuts
Peanuts are in the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, moon flowers, eggplant and tobacco. Peanuts are ready for harvesting when the leaves turn yellow. Gently pull the plants out of the ground being careful not to break the roots, as the peanuts are distributed throughout the root system. Each plant should bear 40-100 peanuts. Sun-dry the uprooted plants for about a week, and don’t allow them to get wet. After the shells are dry, cut or pull the peanuts from the root stalks and store them in a cool, dry place. It is not necessary to shell the peanuts before you store them, but if space is a consideration, feel free to do so. It is best to leave the red paper-like skin intact. Be sure to discard any peanuts that show signs of decay or rot.

Peas
Peas are self-pollinating, therefore there is little danger of cross-pollination. As previously stated, when selecting individual plants to use for seed stock, look for healthy insect and disease resistant specimens with high production and good taste. Allow the pods to ripen on the vine or bush for four to six weeks beyond the time you would normally harvest them. When ready, pick the dried pea pods and spread them evenly on newspaper in a warm, dry area away from direct sunlight. After a couple of weeks, open the pods and release the peas into a bowl. Put the pea pod residue into your compost heap and store the peas in a plastic bag or jar with proper identification. Keep them cool, but do not freeze.

Peppers
When selecting peppers for seed harvesting, pick the fruit when mature but not overly ripe. Collect the seeds and lay them on a cookie sheet or wax paper for two or three days, stirring them periodically to keep them from sticking. After about three days they will be dry and ready to store in your labeled zip-loc bag.

Pumpkins
Save as you would Squash.

Radishes
Radishes will cross with both wild and domesticated varieties, so it is best to grow one variety at a time when you are seed saving. Grow 50-100 plants and choose ten for seed production. The flowering seed stalks grow 3-4’ tall depending on the variety you will see delicate white, yellow or purple blossoms. Bees adore these flowers, so plant some radishes early in the season before the bees emerge in search of food. You will be rewarded by frequent pollinators in your garden throughout the growing season! Harvest the seed stalks when the pods turn brown and the plants begin to dry. Tie several stalks together and hang on a nail in a shed or barn where there is decent air circulation and no danger of exposure to direct sunlight. After a month, get a large bowl and crush the pods to release the radish seeds. The seeds require no further processing simply label and store for the next planting.

Rutabagas & Rape (Canola)
Procedures are the same as for Turnips.

Sage
This herb is easy to grow and has both medicinal and culinary uses. Sage flowers develop into seed pods that open up as they mature. Keep an eye on the plants. When you see that the seed is beginning to be released from the pods, cut the stalks and place them upside down in a paper bag. As the seeds ripen, they will fall out of the pods. Bag, label and store.

Sesame
Sesame is a heat-loving crop, so it only grows well in the south. It is ready for harvesting 90-150 days after planting, depending upon weather and soil conditions. To obtain the highest quality seeds, the crop must be harvested before the first killing frost. The sesame plant will tell you when to expect the harvest, as the leaves will change from green to yellow and finally to red. As this color change occurs, loosely tie the tops of the stalks together in bundles of about eight. A couple of days later, make a second pass and tighten the strings so that the sheaves are almost upright. In approximately two weeks – when the leaves begin to fall off or as soon as the sesame begins to rupture – it’s time to cut and thresh. (We’ve all heard the phrase, “Open sesame!” Its origin derives from the manner in which seed pods from certain sesame breeds loudly pop open and scatter their seeds to the wind.) When harvesting, cut the bundled sesame stalks in 30” lengths. Put a sheet down in an area where there is a slight breeze and thresh by beating the sheaves of the sesame plant on the ground. The heavier seeds will stay in a pile while the chaff will blow away pick out the larger debris by hand. Sesame seed can be stored at room temperature and will last several years without a loss of viability. Keep from freezing, as this can damage the seed.

Spinach
Spinach is wind-pollinated, so plant only one variety at a time. Seed can typically be harvested approximately eight weeks after germination. In northern growing zones, start this cool weather crop in the early spring in the south and southwest, plant in August in order to gather seed prior to the fall frost. This annual cultivar has both male and female plants. The ideal ratio for your backyard garden is one good male plant for every two female plants. Male plants produce the pollen, while female plants bear the seeds. If you have an overabundance of male plants, feel free to harvest the leaves while waiting for the spinach seed to mature. There are two types of male plants. The first (which should be pulled up and destroyed i.e., eaten!) is small and quick bolting. The other type is called a vegetative male. It produces more foliage and lots of good pollen. Female plants produce small, inconspicuous flowers that have no petals. Remove (eat) early bolters and those that flower before the rest of the crop, as well as plants that aren’t as strong or as colorful as you’d like. Removing plants with undesirable traits helps to prevent producing seed that will carry these traits into your next planting season. Once you have identified your best plants, harvest only the outside leaves for eating since you want these plants to remain strong. Allow both the male and female plants to flower. Once the female (seed bearing) plants become fully brown and dried out, carefully pull up the seed stalks and continue the drying process in a shed, barn or covered enclosure where you can hang the stalks upside down for a few weeks. (Again, you’ll want to pick seed from plants that have the leaf characteristics you like: color, structure, shape, and taste are good benchmarks.) After the drying process is complete, either thresh the seeds into a container or pull the seeds off by hand. Label, bag and store in your Liberty Seed Bank.

Squash
One can divide squash into two different categories: winter (hardshell varieties such as acorn or butternut) and summer (soft skin varieties such as straightneck, spaghetti and zucchini). To save seed, harvest winter varieties when the fruit is ready to eat. Let it ripen three to four weeks off of the vine. Summer squashes, however, should be left to overripen on the vine for a couple of weeks, and are ready for harvesting when the rinds have become somewhat hardened. Once the winter or summer squash has properly ripened, cut the fruit in half and scoop the seeds and pulp into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with water and separate the seeds from the pulp. Remove excess pulp from the solution, as well as any seeds that float. Rinse and drain the seeds, spread them out on newspaper or a cookie sheet to dry, and stir occasionally over a two week period. To determine if your seeds are properly dried, attempt to bend one. If it bends instead of cleanly snapping, it is not dry enough. Repeat this trial every couple of days until your seeds are ready to store. Label, bag and bank.

Tomatoes
I used to think that saving tomato seeds was simply a matter of gathering a few from my favorite varieties and letting them dry on a paper towel for a couple of weeks. But in order to get the hardiest plants and maximum production from your saved seeds, it is best to subject them to a fermentation process for a week or so. This will help to inoculate young seedlings against harmful bacteria and viruses they are sure to face in the soil. It is said that fermenting will increase tomato production by about five percent. (And since in my home tomatoes are a food group of their own, this is important!) When saving tomato seeds, pick tomatoes that are totally ripe, but not overly so. As always, the entire plant should have great conformation: check the thickness and strength of the vines, the greenness of the leaves and the abundance, taste and plumpness of the fruit.

The saving process is really quite simple. Select at least three tomatoes of the same breed. Cut them in half across the midsection and squeeze the seeds, gel and juice into a small glass or jar. Mash up the mixture, then add an equal amount of water and lightly stir. Cover the container with plastic wrap (with a few air holes poked into it) and label the glass with the exact heirloom variety. Do not rely upon your memory! Set the mash in a dark cupboard and stir gently once a day. Bubbles will appear and a yellow or white moldy crust will develop. Once you see the white mold, pour it off, drain the water and remove any floating seeds. Utilizing a fine mesh strainer and running water, thoroughly rinse the seeds. Write the name of the variety on a paper plate and spread your seeds out to dry away from sunlight or excessive heat. Stir them occasionally and keep them separated. Drying should take about a week, but allow some extra time if it is humid or rainy. When done, your dried tomato seeds will be somewhat spongy. Properly label and bag the seeds, storing them in your bank for the following spring.

Turnips
This member of the cabbage family will cross with Siberian kale, Chinese mustard and Chinese cabbage, but not with collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, other kales or other cabbages. Turnips are self-infertile, which means that they do not self-pollinate. They are also biennial, which means that they grow and mature in the first year and produce seed in the second. There are a couple of methods used for growing seed. First, you can over-winter the entire plant in the ground, and it will produce a flower stalk the following spring. Turnips are relatively hardy, but should be heavily mulched if you leave them in the ground over the winter. However, in extremely cold areas (zones 3 and 4), they should be over-wintered in pots in a greenhouse and transplanted in the spring. A second method for northern growers is to dig up the turnip roots in the fall, trimming the tops down to a couple of inches. Store the roots in a box filled with clean sand or sawdust, making sure the turnips aren’t touching each another. A root cellar or free-standing shed or garage which has a temperature range of 35-40°F would be ideal. Replant 2’ apart in the spring when the soil warms.

Do not harvest leaves for food from plants destined for seed production. To prevent inbreeding depression and ensure a good amount of genetic diversity, it would be best to gather seed from at least twenty plants. Plants should be spaced two feet apart and will produce a 3-4’ flower stalk. Seeds ripen best well while still on the plant, so leave the pods in place to mature and dry. When the pods turn dry and brown (and the seeds inside are full and dark), they are ripe. If you see the pods starting to crack open, it is definitely time to gather them. Don’t tarry as the scattering process is generally very short and birds love the ripened seed. Cut the flower stalks and hang them upside down over a sheet of paper, cloth or plastic to catch the seeds. Seeds are viable for several years, so you can alternate which variety of turnips you allow to flower each year. When fully dry, open the pods by hand over a bowl to collect whatever seed hasn’t already been released. Use a light breeze to blow away the chaff, then place the seeds on a cookie sheet to finalize the drying process. After about a week, label, bag and store. Replanting tip: turnip seeds like cold, winter-like temperatures for several weeks before germination. Therefore, store turnip seed at least four weeks in a refrigerator prior to sowing.

Watermelons
Even though you can collect hundreds of seeds from a single watermelon, in order to prevent inbreeding you should identify three or four quality melons from different plants. Be sure to choose vines which are both hardy and known to produce exceptionally tasty fruit. Let the melons ripen on the vine two weeks past table ready. You’ll know the watermelon is “past table ready” when you can smell a slight fruitiness. The bottom of the watermelon may be cream-colored or pale yellow. Don’t gather seeds from a melon that has developed a crack in its outer rind. Once your melons are ready, pick them and cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and rinse the pulp away using running water and a colander or sieve. (You might want to do this outdoors!) Place the rinsed seeds in a bowl of water and pour off any that float. Save only the hard black or brown seeds discard any that are white or undeveloped. Drain the seeds and spread them out on a cookie sheet or newspaper. Put the seeds in a warm, dry area out of direct sunlight for three weeks stirring periodically to promote even drying. To determine whether or not your seeds have dried sufficiently, perform the bend test. If the seeds bend instead of breaking, they still have a way to go. When the seed snaps or shatters when flexed, you are ready to package them.

Regardless of the variety of seed you are saving, Texas Ready recommends saving at least three times the amount of seed that you figure to plant the following year. This will help to protect you against crop failure due to drought or disease, rainstorm or rabbit. It will also give you seed to share or barter with, should the need arise.

We hope this Seed Saving series has been helpful to you! Subscribe to our blog if you would like more information on survival and urban gardening, heirloom seeds and related topics. And when you’re ready to invest in quality heirloom seed for your garden, be sure and check out Texas Ready’s Liberty Seed Banks at http://www.TexasReady.net!

– The Seed Lady

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Let's Build: d100 magic items that didn't quite meet their intended purpose.

Include the magic item's purpose, and it's actual function.

a helmet made to increase vision range, but actually works like a microscope.

Soul Render: This Dark sentient sword was made by an evil wizard with the purpose of destroying the souls of its victims ensuring none of the Wizards enemies would ever come back to seek vengeance. but instead the blade just seems to have a disdain for shoes. and is kind of a perv. has a thing for feet. +1d8 for attacks made against shoes.

Earstud of Positive Perception. While you wear it, everyone else has +1 to their charisma check while speaking to you.

Ring of animal skepticism

A Wizard's Spellbook that was enchanted to repel liquids. The enchantment is so strong that it can't be written on.

A ring of purify food and drink that consumes whatever it is meant to be purifying.

A carpet of flying that is sentient and has a fear of heights.

A shortbow that was meant to ignite the arrows it fires. The enchantment is so strong that it instantly disintegrates any arrow that is knocked.

A bag of holding that links to a different dimensional space each time it is used. You might want that sword you put in months ago, and instead pull out someone else's dead kobold collection.

A sword that was meant to glow in the presence of goblins. In actuality it glows in the presence of one particular goblin

Gold pieces that we're meant to duplicate themselves. What they actually do is eat up all the other gold peices they come into contact with and then turn into one big gold piece of equal value.

A wand that was meant to detect mimics. Instead it has a 50% chance of turning chests into mimics when used.

A cloak meant to turn it's wearer invisible. It actually just makes the person wearing it think that they're invisible

A pot that was meant to make gold but can only make bronze pieces

A hat that makes the wearer instantly become drunk when worn. It was supposed to make drunk people sober

Gloves meant to allow the wearer to wield flaming weapons, but just puts the fire out. Does not put out fires on non-wieldable items.

Dagger meant to find veins in order to find the best place to stab. Now owned by a dwarven mining guild to find veins of ore.

A potion of polymorph, but whoever consumes it changes into a random beast every 5 minutes for the duration.

A potion of growth, but only their [1]head, [2]arms, [3]legs, or [4]torso double in size.

A potion of lust, but it instead makes the owner lust after the drinker, not the other way around.

A ring of flying that makes the wearer hover 1 foot in the air, but does not propel the wearer.

A great enchanter was fed up with the limits set in place that only let him attune to 3 items. So he created a extremely powerful amulet that broke those restrictions, he wears the amulet proudly everywhere. An amulet of attuning: an amulet that opens up two more additional attunement slots (players have a set 3 attuning slots), but the amulet takes up 3 attuning slots. In short doesn’t change anything just takes up a slot.

A flametongue, but the hilt lights up instead of the blade.

A wand of mass teleport that, when used, smooshes all teleportees into a Kafka-esque meat lump of a creature. Has an INT score equal to double the average and retains any spell classes and spells known by the individuals fed into it. Other stats: Speed:5 initiative 0 AC 16 (natural armor) Hp: 300 (xd20, x being the number of people teleported Str 8 Dex 6 Con 18 Int (varies) wis 16 Cha 14 (-10 to all CHA skills due to body horror) Loses previous weapon proficiencies. Make the players roll wisdom saves at the beginning of the day to determine dominant personality, or RP an arrangement. NPCs included roll against players, but are rendered insane by the transformation. Can be restored only by Wish.

A ring that was supposed to let the wearer see in the dark, but instead just continuously casts magelight above the wearer.

A ring of speed, meant to increase movement by 5ft, but instead just makes the one who wears it hyperactive.

Winged shoes, meant to give the person the ability to fly, but it only works for the shoes, so the person is dragged merciless behind, and if anyone ever manages to get high up, they better have a tight knot!

A bag of holding, but once every week (or month) it just suddenly spits everything out

A never-wet towel, that instantly dries anything it touches, but the towel itself is always soaking wet and dripping on the ground

A magical cooking pot meant to cook without a fire, it heats itself up to 150

200 °C so it can't really be touched

Cleansing liquid of healthy fasting. Universal anti-venom potion that actually removes all liquids that can be considered somewhat toxic from your body. That includes saliva, tears, bile, stomach acid, etc.

Heated missile. Self-guiding arrow that allows to shot at creatures even behind a cover, but it picks targets on its own.

Fusionous Jiletté. The sharpest sword in the world. So sharp that it even cuts with its handle, so it can't be wielded.

Alfred's easy door opener. Thief's toolkit that can open any lock but does that by blowing the door away (it's actually a set of dynamite sticks).

The most comfortable saddle that makes riding as comfortable as just resting. For your horse only. The saddle is actually extremely painful to sit it.

A lamp of djinn summoning that conjures a regular pigeon with a small letter attached. Pigeon flies in a random direction and behaves as a regular animal for all means and purposes. If caught, players can see that the letter is addressed to mr. Djinn Genie from the town of Airplane and invites him to find the sender.

A cap of breathing underwater. It is just big enough to store some air inside of it, but has no magic properties.

A handful of small dry yellow seeds called Corn Pops. Advertised as a delicious food from far lands that can "keep you completely full for several days!" When eaten acts as a pop-corn in a microwave once reaches your stomach. Very painful process and it's almost undigestible, so it'll stuck inside of you for (1d6+1-Con Modifier) days making you sick.

Ring of charms. Makes you extremely susceptible to charming (disadvantage on throws).

Croogle's liquid knowledge. Potion that allows you to learn new languages really fast. Unfortunately, you forget language(s) you know even faster while under the potion effect.

Morgan's Free ointment. Should prevent you from being bitten by those pesky little bugs and it does. While simultaneously attracting all bugs from around, so that they want to sit on you.

Sapphire of Deep Blue. A magical gemstone that makes you extremely lucky when playing games. Well, just one game - chess (or an analogue of chess in your world that involves no luck).

Decanter of endless water, accidentally linked to the plane of earth and shoots out gravel when the command word is spoken.

a bag that produces infinite food but only human flesh

an armband that is said to give a power "held by no other" but makes you vulnerable to poison and acid

The Deathbringer - An enchanted warhammer that has been gifted with a +3 modifier to attack and damage rolls. However, whenever damage is done to a creature, the damage is instead taken by a random creature within 30 ft. of the attacker.

The Armor of Random - A piece of armor that randomly changes what type of armor it is every minute. One minute it's studded leather, the next it's chain mail, and the next it's a shield.

The Ring of Teleportation - A ring that allows the wearer to teleport to any location instantly. The wearer actually just blacks out, walks there, and then wakes up thinking they teleported there instantaneously.

A Bag of Devouring that eats itself if not fed regularly.

A Portable Hole that works, but you can only place it once and then there's a hole there forever.

Universal solute. It dissolves into anything including the container holding it.

An armor that attracts arrows and other projectiles. It is not cursed, instead it belonged to a paladin who really did not want to see any innocents hurt so he took the damage instead.

a spear that was meant to extend, it does this, but only by an inch every 6 seconds.


2 COEVOLUTION AS A SOURCE OF VALUE-ADDED BIODIVERSITY

A central challenge in communicating the value of biodiversity is the problem of large numbers. When considering the genus Solanum (Solanaceae), which includes the familiar tomato, potato, and eggplant, it can be difficult to appreciate 2000 variations on a nightshade theme from ecological or economic standpoints. Heiser ( 1969 ) addressed this challenge by profiling the impacts of ethnobotanically important lineages in the Solanaceae—chili peppers (Capsicum), tobaccos (Nicotiana), and jimson weed (Datura)—on human history. In contrast, Iltis ( 1988 ) highlighted the indirect effects of biodiversity on human welfare, describing how genes from a newly discovered Andean tomato species with no obvious agricultural value (Solanum chmielewskii) were used to enhance the fruit quality of commercial tomatoes through an introgressive breeding program. Iltis’ back-of-the-envelope calculation of the economic impact of this otherwise unremarkable plant ($8M per year c. 1987, due to increased sugar content) illustrates the challenge of predicting the ecosystem service potential of the 10th, 110th, or 1010th described species of any plant lineage. Biodiversity inherently captures genomic, metabolic, physiological, and morphological responses to Darwin's “tangled bank” of biotic and abiotic interactions, through countless iterations in ecological and evolutionary time (Thompson, 1994 ). As pointed out by Iltis ( 1988 ) and Myers ( 1997 ), it is folly to undervalue the planet's botanical diversity, given its compendium of solutions to environmental challenges, honed by natural selection.

The potential for ecosystem services can be addressed more broadly by considering coevolutionary themes across plant lineages and their impacts on human interests. Table 1 and Figure 1 outline several categories of coevolutionary innovations, along with their ecological and economic importance, as documented for three distantly related Angiosperm orders: Asparagales, Malpighiales, and Gentianales. Collectively, these lineages account for nearly one quarter (23% 48,650 spp.) of the species richness of flowering plants, including 4 of the 10 most species-rich families (Orchidaceae, Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, and Apocynaceae). At first glance, these lineages provide copious examples of convergence in coevolutionary innovations: extreme floral traits, novel perfume-, oil-, or resin-based floral rewards, obligate nursery mutualism, and escalating chemical defenses (Figure 1). Detailed study of the ultimate and proximate mechanisms mediating any of these convergent phenomena requires years of research (e.g., Waterman et al., 2011 ). For example, how do long-tongued pollinators drive the developmental-genetic elongation of nectar spurs (orchids), hypanthia (passion flowers), or corollas (gardenias) as functionally equivalent nectar tubes derived from different floral tissues (Puzey, Gerbode, Hodges, Kramer, & Mahadevan, 2011 Stuurman et al., 2004 )? Similarly, how do Satyrium orchids, Rafflesia, and Stapelia flowers all produce the same volatile sulfur-bearing molecules needed to attract carrion flies as pollinators (Jürgens, Wee, Shuttleworth, & Johnson, 2013 )? However, not all adaptive plant traits result from coevolutionary processes. Similar patterns of convergence emerge for adaptive ecological responses to abiotic challenges, including cactus-like growth forms with drought-adapted (CAM) photosynthesis, semelparous (monocarpic) life histories, and fire tolerance, which are outlined in Figure 1 and Table 1 for comparison. Similarly, while plant-pollinator relationships epitomize diffuse coevolution, some of the traits included in column B (heterostyly, dioecy, and pollen attachment Figure 1, Table 1) are not strictly coevolutionary in origin.

A. Obligate Mutualism Yucca-yucca moth pollination [1] orchid-mycorrhizae seed germination [2]

B. Plant-Pollinator specialization arms races extending nectar tubes of orchids [2], iris [3], and tongues of pollinators. Perfume- and oil-based pollination, pollen placement via pollinia (orchids)[4]

C. Chemical Defense: organosulfur compounds in Allioideae [29] alkaloids in Amaryllidaceae [34], Scilloideae [5] saponins in Yucca [1] cardiac glycosides in Scilloideae [5], resins in Xanthorrhoea [18].

D. Deceptive Pollination food-, sexual-, and brood-deceptive orchids [17]

E. Fire Tolerance in Xanthorrhoea grass tree [18]

habit in orchids [2,19]

G. CAM succulent Aloe [35] Agave [20], orchids [19]

Semelparity/Monocarpy in Agavoideae [20],

Geophytes Iridaceae [3], Allioideae [29], Scilloideae [5], and Amaryllidaceae [34].

Allium (leek, onion, garlic)[29], Orchis mascula (salep)

Agave marmorata (mezcal)

Agave amica (tuberose) Vanilla planifolia [32], Crocus sativus (saffron) [33], Freesia perfume, Hippeastrum “amaryllis” [34], Gladiolus, Iris, Narcissus (flower bulbs), Agave sisalana (fiber)

Aloe vera [35] creme, Colchicum autumnale (colchicine), Drimia maritima [5] (diuretic, laxative), Brunsvigia bosmaniae and Trichocentrum orchids

A. Obligate Mutualism Epicephala moth pollination of Phyllanthaceae [6]

B. Plant-Pollinator specialization

Resin-based pollination in Clusia [7], Dalechampia [8], perfume-based pollination in Dalechampia [8], oil-pollination in Malpighiaceae [9], extended nectar spurs in Viola, tubes in Passiflora [36], unisexual flowers in Salix, Euphorbiaceae, Phyllanthaceae [6], heterostyly in Turnera, Linum [39]

C. Chemical Defense: latex in Euphorbiaceae cyanogenic glycosides in Passifloraceae [10,36], Manihot [37] resins in Clusia [7,23], Populus salicylates in Salicaceae [11]

D. Deceptive Pollination brood-site deception in Rafflesia arnoldii [21], world's largest flower

E. Fire Tolerance in Caryocar brasiliense [22].

F. Epiphytic/Parasitic habit in Clusia [7,23], Rafflesia [21].

G. CAM succulents in Adenia, Clusia [7,23], Euphorbia [24].

A. Obligate Mutualism ant-plant [12] symbiosis in Myrmecodia plants

B. Plant-Pollinator specialization heterostyly in Rubiaceae [3] and Gelsemium [27], extended nectar tubes in Rubiaceae [14,26] and Apocynaceae [45], pollen placement by pollinia [15] (Asclepiadoideae), cams (Mandevilla), catapults (Posoqueria) [14], and extended styles (Ixora)

C. Chemical Defense: latex, cardiac glycosides (Apocynaceae)[15,16], alkaloids in Rubiaceae, Apocynaceae, Gelsemiaceae [27], iridoid glycosides, and saponins in Gentianaceae [28]

D. Deceptive Pollination: brood site deception in Asclepiadoideae [25], nectarless Plumeria flowers [45], toxic nectar in Asclepias and Gelsemium [15,16,27]

F. Epiphytic/Parasitic habit in Hillia [26], Myrmecodia [12].

G. CAM succulents in Asclepiad-oideae [16,25], Myrmecodia [12]

Semelparity/Monocarpy in Frasera speciosa [28]

Cinchona sp. (tonic, quinine) [44]


Stage Two: Clean the slate.

Capture 3 large meteorites and send them on a collision path with the Earth that will take less than 1-3 years to reach the planet. One will be stony and 20-50 km the other two will be 10-20 km and iron-nickel based. Place the two iron-nickel meteorites on a different orbit that will miss the Earth but can be easily corrected to be an impact using thrusters similar to what the ship uses. The larger stony asteroid will be sent directly for the Earth. Ideally, the stony meteor will take less than a year to reach the Earth at speeds just under what the humans would find suspicious.

  1. This can be done concurrently with the epidemic. While the epidemic is at work there will be too much chaos to counter the impact. Most conservative theories think we would need as much as 3 years to a decade of lead time on a potential large impact to sufficiently stop it. We do not even have any technologies for this scenario prepared beyond pure theoretical concepts.
  2. When the first asteroid nears the Earth use controlled detonations to break it into smaller pieces which can each strike different regions or continents. 10-20 pieces should do the job. This will eliminate almost all remaining humans and much of the ecosystem.
  3. Place the second meteorite on a final approach for the Earth. This is the planet killer. Big enough and solid enough to send ejecta (earth, water,) into the sky and cause an Impact winter but not so big that the Earth’s water is ejected into orbit or the crust is melted. The impact should be a water landing in a fairly deep area to spread the ejecta via steam and water vapor, and reduce the chance of melting the crust. The impact winter will eliminate the majority of life reliant on photosynthesis.
  4. Repeat step 4 again with the third meteor one year later. At the end of one year most of the ejecta will have returned to the ground and sun levels will rise again.
  5. Continue repeating this process annually until all photosynthetic reliant life dies out. This will kill all plants, and most animals.

Experimental procedures

Plant lines and fungal strains

The following muskmelon (Cucumis melo L.) cultivars were used: Cha-T, Cha-Fom1 and Cha-Fom2 (a kind gift from ENZA Zaden). While Cha-T does not include any known resistance gene, Cha-Fom1 and Cha-Fom2 contain the dominant resistance gene Fom1 and Fom2 respectively (Risser et al., 1976 ).

Fom strains were selected based on diversity of race, VCG and geographical origin. Detailed information about these strains is listed in Table 1.

Marker detection

Genomic DNA was isolated from 7- to 10-day-old mycelium scraped off a Czapek Dox Agar plate. The tissue was disrupted by vortexing it for 2 min in the presence of 400 μl of Tris-EDTA pH 8.0 (TE), 300 μl of phenol-chloroform (1:1) and glass beads. After this, a chloroform extraction was performed on the upper phase. The presence of nine candidate effector genes (66 Focuc, 21 Focuc, 1 Fomln, 20 Fomln, 18 Fomln + Foniv, 99 Foniv, 100 Foniv, 1 Fomom + Folag, 99 Folag) was determined with PCR using primers described previously in van Dam et al. ( 2018 ). To determine the presence of the AVRFom2 gene, AVRFom2 primers (fp8657 and fp8658) were designed using Primer3 software (http://primer3.ut.ee/) (Table S4). PCR mix and program were used as described in van Dam et al. ( 2018 ). FEM1 primers were used as a positive control for gDNA quality and sterile Milli-Q was used as a negative control for each of the primer combinations instead of template DNA.

Whole-genome sequencing and de novo assembly

Strains were grown in liquid NO3-medium (0.17% yeast nitrogen base, 3% sucrose and 100 mM KNO3) for 7 days, mycelium was harvested and freeze-dried. Genomic DNA was isolated by shaking mycelial powder in a TissueLyser (Qiagen) for 2 min at 30 Hz in the presence of 800 μl of extraction buffer (100 mM Tris pH 8.0, 50 mM EDTA, 1 M NaCl and 3% SDS). After 30 min of incubation at 65°C, 800 μl buffer saturated phenol:chloroform:isoamyl alcohol (25:24:1) was added, mixed and centrifuged at maximum speed at 4°C for 15 min. The aqueous phase was transferred to a fresh tube and an equal volume of buffer saturated phenol:chloroform:isoamyl alcohol (25:24:1) was added, mixed and centrifuged at maximum speed at 4°C for 15 min. DNA was precipitated from the aqueous phase with 0.1 volume 5 M NaCl and 2 volumes 96% EtOH, incubation at −20°C for 15 min and centrifugation at maximum speed at 4°C for 15 min. The pellet was dissolved in 250 μl R2 buffer from the Purelink plant total DNA purification kit (Invitrogen) by vortexing. The DNA was then further purified with the purification kit (Invitrogen), according to the manufacturer's instructions. Library preparation was either performed by the Hartwig Medical Foundation using either the TruSeq Nano DNA Library Prep Kit for NeoPrep (NP-101-1001, Illumina) (Fomln017) or the TruSeq Nano DNA Low Throughput Library Prep Kit (20015964, Illumina) (Fomln023) in combination with TruSeq LT single-index adapters or by the RNA Biology and Applied Bio-informatics department at the University of Amsterdam using a NEBNext Ultra DNA Library Prep Kit for Illumina (E7370L, New England Biolabs) (all other genomes) in combination with NEBNext Multiplex Oligos for Illumina (96 Unique Dual Index Primer Pairs) (E6440S, New England Biolabs). Whole-genome sequencing was then performed at the Hartwig Medical Foundation on a HiSeq Illumina Xten system. Genome sequences were adapter and quality trimmed with Trimmomatic (v0.39) (Bolger et al., 2014 ) using the options ILLUMINACLIP:TruSeq3-PE-2.fa:2:20:8:4:false and SLIDINGWINDOW:4:20 MINLEN:100. De novo genome assemblies were made using CLC genomics workbench v 8.5. Default CLC settings were used, except that contigs below 500 bp were discarded. FastQ Screen (v0.14.0) and FastQC (v0.11.3) were used for quality control of both the raw and trimmed reads. Furthermore, the results of the Contamination Screen of NCBI were used to remove any contamination in the initial assemblies using a custom python script. If a contig became smaller than 500 bp after removal of the contamination it was discarded from the assembly. Both the FastQScreen and the Contamination Screen identified contamination with DNA from other species in Fom017 (primates), Fom023 (primates) and Fom047 (Stenotrophomonas maltophilia). For the first two strains the contamination was restricted to only a few contigs, which were (partially) removed from the final assembly. For Fom047 contaminated reads mapping only to the Stenotrophomonas maltophilia genome were first removed using bbsplit (BBMap v38.76) (https://sourceforge.net/projects/bbmap/) and then a new assembly was made. Any remaining contamination was removed based on the results of the contamination screen. Strains of which genomes were sequenced in this study are listed in Table 1 and NCBI genome accession numbers of the genomes of other Fo strains used in this study are listed in Table S3.

Phylogenetic analysis of Fom strains

To generate a core phylogeny we searched for homologues of 440 conserved Fol4287 genes (van Dam et al., 2018 ) in 86 selected Fo genomes using megaBLAST with default parameters. We continued the analysis with 422 genes that had a single hit (e-value 0.001) that overlapped with at least 70% of the query sequence and showed at least 80% identity to the query in each genome. An alignment was made for each gene (including the query sequence) using the program MUSCLE (Edgar, 2004 ). A custom python script was then used to concatenate these alignments (https://github.com/marads/conserved_gene_tree_scripts). The concatenated alignment was subsequently trimmed using trimAl using the option ‘strictplus’ (Capella-Gutiérrez et al., 2009 ). A core phylogenetic tree with 100 bootstraps was generated using RAxML v8.2.12 with GTRGAMMA as substitution model (Stamatakis, 2014 ) and the trimmed, concatenated alignment of 422 conserved genes from which any columns with only undetermined data were removed as input. To visualize the tree we used ETE3 v3.1.1 (Huerta-Cepas et al., 2016 ) and a custom python script (https://github.com/pvdam3/ete3_plottree). Branches supported with bootstrap values below 80 were collapsed. Strain ‘F-nonpath-Barmshour’ was removed from the final tree, because it turned out not to be F. oxysporum.

Data deposition

The Whole Genome Shotgun project has been deposited at DDBJ/ENA/GenBank under BioProject PRJNA596396 and the raw reads have been deposited at the Sequence Read Archive under Project number PRJNA596396. See Table S3 for the individual accession numbers.

Identification of candidate effector genes

Prediction of candidate effector genes in Fom genome sequences was carried out as described previously (Van Dam et al., 2016 ) using the FoEC.py script (https://github.com/pvdam3/FoEC) with the following dependencies: NCBI blast (v2.9.0), signalP (v4.1) and Augustus (v3.3.3). Running this script led to the identification of 124 candidate effectors of which 74 showed no significant similarity to the previously identified 104 candidate effector genes described in van Dam et al. ( 2016 ). We continued further analysis with 40 of these 74 candidate effector genes, excluding genes missing a stop codon, with a mature protein length (=protein length without SP) below 35 amino acids or containing a SP that did not adhere to the following rules: (i) length SP between 15 and 30 amino acids, (ii) the SP contains a processing site: the last three residues are a small amino acid (G, A, V, S, T, C), followed by any amino acid, followed by another small amino acid, (iii) the SP contains a hydrophobic stretch of 9–20 consecutive hydrophobic residues (A, V, I, L, M, F, W, C, G, P) that starts at least after the first and at most after the eight residues, ends at most two residues before the last three residues, contains no hydrophilic residues (R, K, D, E, Q, N, H) and contains a maximum of three hydroxylated residues (S, T, Y). We made a final candidate effector list containing 144 genes: the 104 genes described in Van Dam et al. ( 2016 ) and the 40 new genes identified in this article.

Disease assays

Disease assays were performed using the root-dip method (Wellman, 1939 ). Conidia were isolated from 5-day-old NO3 cultures by filtering through two layers of miracloth (Merck pore size of 22–25 μm) and resuspending them in sterile MilliQ water. Spore concentration was estimated using a haemocytometer and then diluted to a final concentration of 1 × 10 7 spores ml −1 . Ten-day-old seedlings were up-rooted, rinsed with water, inoculated for

5 min and then re-planted in individual pots. For race determination plants were planted in soil, while for expression analysis plants were planted in vermiculite. Plants were then grown at 25°C and 65% relative humidity in the greenhouse. To determine the virulence and race of Fom strains, plants were harvested 2 weeks after treatment. Each plant was cut at cotyledon level, plant weight was determined and a disease index was given from 0 to 4 (0: healthy plant 1: small brown lesion belowground and/or slight root rot symptoms only at the tip of the main root 2: root rot symptoms and/or stem lesions visible above ground 3: very clear root rot symptoms of the entire root system and large lesion extending above the cotyledons 4: plant completely dead or very small and wilted). At least four plants of each melon cultivar were used per fungal strain and each bio-assay was performed at least twice with similar results.

AVRFom2 in planta expression analysis

For in planta expression analysis, 10-day old melon seedlings were root-inoculated with spore suspensions as described above. Hypocotyls and roots were harvested 10 days after treatment. Hypocotyl and root material of five plants/treatment was pooled. Total RNA extraction and cDNA synthesis was performed as described previously (Schmidt et al., 2013 ). Primers for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) were designed using Primer3 software (http://primer3.ut.ee/) and are listed in Table S4. qPCR was carried out on a QuantStudio 3 Real-Time PCR system (Thermo Fisher Scientific) with the following two-step program: 95°C for 2 min 40 cycles (95°C for 15 s, 62°C for 1 min) and a melting curve step at the end. All reactions were performed in a total volume of 10 μl containing 1 μl of 10× Super Taq buffer, 0.2 μl of dNTPs (10 mM each), 1 μl of each primer (3 pmol μl −1 ), 0.05 μl of Super Taq polymerase (SphaeroQ), 0.02 μl of ROX reference dye (Jena Bioscience), 0.2 μl of Evagreen fluorescent DNA stain (Jena Bioscience), 5.53 μl sterile Milli-Q and 1 μl of 16× diluted template DNA. Three technical and two biological replicates were performed for each treatment to confirm the reproducibility of the results. Sterile Milli-Q instead of DNA template was used as a negative control for each of the primer combinations.

Transformation of Fo with AVRFom2

T-DNA plasmids carrying AVRFom2 (ST1) were previously generated by Schmidt et al. ( 2016 ) by amplifying the Fom001 AVRFom2 ORF and flanking sequences with primers fp5225 and fp5226 (Table S4) and placing the PCR products in pRWh2. Genetic complementation was achieved by agrobacterium-mediated transformation of Fom006 (no AVRFom2) and Fom017 (AVRFom2 ST2) with this construct as described earlier (Takken et al., 2004 ). Putative transformants were selected on cefotaxime (0.2 g ml −1 ) and hygromycin (40 mg ml −1 ) and monospored before further analysis. Complete transfer of the promotor, ORF and terminator of AVRFom2 ST1 in hygromycin-resistant colonies was confirmed by PCR using primers designed with Primer3 software (http://primer3.ut.ee/). Primers are listed in Table S4. Then, as described above, the fungal spore suspensions were used to inoculate five 10-day-old melon seedlings. Two weeks after inoculation, the fresh plant weight and a disease index score were used to determine disease severity.


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Episode 20 - Watermelon

Posted: Fri, 18 Sep 2009 00:44:00 +0000

On this episode learn how to choose, what might be the most difficult fruit to pick right, the watermelon.

The watermelon is approximately 92 percent water and for this reason it's important to choose watermelons that are heavy for their size, very heavy!

Watermelons possess many clues that you can feel, hear, and see which tell you whether or not they are ripe. Most important of these are a watermelon's shape, weight, and the sound it makes when tapped.

In order to perform the "thump" test (the test that allows you to hear if a melon is ripe) you must follow a few basic steps. First you want to make sure you are holding the melon away from your body. Next use an open hand to tap the watermelon as you would a bongo drum. Finally listen for a sound that is similar to a bongo drum except with a slightly deeper sound.

This technique is a skill as well as an art and the more times you perform it, the better you'll get at picking ripe watermelons.

All of these tips, tricks, and techniques require practice. Try to find as many of these tips as possible in each watermelon you choose but don't feel the need to find them all in each and every melon. The more clues you can find to a watermelon's ripeness the better your chance of getting that perfect melon will be. Get out there and practice but most of all enjoy!

Show notes (i.e. the script from the show)

I refer to the watermelon as the holy grail of fruit selecting technique because it's probably the hardest item in the produce department to pick out right and it's probably the number one item I was asked to help peolple choose.

I like to say picking out watermelons is 70% skill, 20% art, and 10% luck.

So let's learn the skills that you'll need to pick out your prefect watermelon.

The watermelon you are choosing should be symmetrical meaning that it should be the same shape all around the melon, no flat spot or one side being bigger than the other. The skin should be a dull green as opposed to shiny which could mean the melon isn't quite ripe.

Look for a pale, creamy, yellow spot on one side of the melon, this spot is where the melon sat on the ground while it ripened in the sun. A spot that is white instead of yellow is good indicator that it was not allowed to fully ripen and you want to avoid these melons.

Next pick up the melon and notice why its called a WATERmelon, it's heavy or at least it should be, very, very heavy especially for it's size. The watermelon is appropriately names since it is made up of 92% water!. For this reason each melon you choose should be heavy for its size. This is hard to understand at first but after you pick up enough melons you get used to what this feels like. So always make sure to pick up more than just one melon when shopping for that perfect fruit.

Other indicators of ripeness include a still attached dry stem and sugar spots or "bee stings." These look like little black, molasses spots on the melon or small areas of dry patches.

Finally and maybe the most difficult part, this is where the skill meets the art, the all important tap or thump test.

I know you've seen that person standing in the produce department over a large bin of watermelons tapping, thumping, flicking or listening to many different melons. But what are they listening for? Would they know the right sound when they heard it? Probably not.

The answer is simple but perhaps a little hard to perfect. The melon should sound like a bongo drum when tapped. Make sure to hold the melon away from your body and using an open hand, tap it like you would a bongo drum. Listen for a deeper sound than you would hear from a bongo drum. A solid sound or one that sounds too hollow should probably be passed. You may also notice that the bottom of the melon, the part that you are holding with your other hand, the one not doing the tapping, vibrates. This is also a good indicator of ripeness.

In the end, try to put all of these indicators together into one melon however do not expect to find them all in each melon. Try to get as close as possible with the main indicators, heavy, symmetrical, and a bongo drum sound mixed with vibration and you should get yourself a good tasting watermelon each time!

Episode 19 - Mangosteen

Posted: Sun, 05 Apr 2009 00:37:00 +0000

On this episode of the Produce Picker Podcast we take a look at a particularly exotic fruit, the Mangosteen.

Learn how to pick, open, and eat a Mangosteen. This delicious fruit is relatively new to the U.S. and is still hard to find. However, if you are able to buy one of these, it's worth a try.

The Mangosteen has a citrus like flavor and is quite refreshing. The inside looks like a white tangerine but has its own unique taste.

Much like the pomegranate, blueberry, and cranberry the Mangosteen is very high in antioxidants which is sure to make a much sought after fruit in the future.

Ask your local produce person to order you some Mangosteen today and give them a try, you won't be disappointed.

Special thanks to my friends at Frieda's Produce for sending us a case to sample and feature on our show!

Episode 18 - Banana Tips

Posted: Sun, 28 Dec 2008 06:52:00 +0000

On this episode I demonstrate three of my favorite tips regarding bananas.

Can you put bananas in the refrigerator? How about putting them in the freezer?

Learn how to extend the life of your bananas and a tip that is simple yet somewhat magical. It really works!

These tips and more on this episode of the Produce Picker Podcast.

Choosing and Storing Potatoes and "New" Potatoes

Posted: Mon, 24 Nov 2008 01:28:00 +0000

Make sure when choosing potatoes that the skin of the potato is not sprouting, wrinkled, or soft (see right) .

Whether you're choosing a brown (i.e. russet, baking), white potato, or yellow (i.e. yukon) potato check to make sure that the skin does not appear to be green (see below. Bottom right potato shows greening) .

When potatoes are exposed to light, as they are in grocery stores and farmers markets, they begin to build up toxins. This process will manifest itself on the potato as a greening of the skin. It may appear that the green color is coming from under the native color (i.e. brown, yellow, white) of the potato. A potato that is sprouting, wrinkled, soft and/or appears to have a green coloring under its skin is bad. Eating too many green potatoes can actually be toxic to your system and make you sick. So next time you're choosing potatoes make sure to take a good look at its skin coloring and avoid the green. If you find that you have a section of your potato that has a green coloring you can go ahead and cut out this section before cooking or simply discard the potato.

fun fact: Bagged potatoes often come in a tinted, brown colored bag. These bags are designed to help reduce the potato's exposure to light thus reducing the chances that the potato will become toxic (green).

Have you heard the term "new" potatoes? Often times people think this refers to the size of the potato. A "new" potato actually means just what it sounds like, new. These are potatoes that have been harvested earlier than normal which often results in a thinner, softer, more tender skin. While these potatoes are generally smaller in size, the term "new" potato does not necessarily mean each "new" potato will be small. Sometimes called "creamers" and/or "fingerlings" (see right, do you see any bad ones?), "new" potatoes come in many colors such as red, purple, yellow, and white. Often times you can tell a "new" potato because its skin will flake off easily. Run your thumb accross the surface of a "new" potato and you'll notice that the skin comes off easily or parts of the skin may already be missing.

Make sure to store your potatoes in a cool, dry and dark environment. Avoid putting them in the refrigerator (many people do this) as it will only make the potato have an uncharacteristic sweet flavor (because the starch turns to sugar) and can result in them turning a dark color once cooked. Potatoes that are stored properly at around 50 degrees can last up to a couple of months!

Check out www.producepicker.com to become a friend of the show at your favorite social site! Or follow me on Twitter.

images provided by Flickr community (ideath, chickeninthewoods, Laura Bell) via creative commons license .

Episode 17 - Persimmons

Posted: Tue, 11 Nov 2008 22:57:00 +0000

It's Fall which means it's time for Persimmons!

In season from September through December, the Fuyu persimmon also known as Sharon fruit should be chosen while still firm. Fuyu's should have a nice overall orange coloring with a smooth, tight skin and a green, leafy top.

If your Fuyu persimmon is still a little green in color, let it ripen on the counter until it has reached an overall orange coloring but not so long that the skin becomes shriveled or starts to become soft. Fuyu's are best eaten while still firm. They will have a consistency something close to an apple or pear.

The two most commonly found persimmons are the Fuyu, which you can see in this episode, and the Hachiya (right) which is generally used for cooking.

Use the Fuyu persimmon as a garnish in salads or deserts or simply eat out of hand after washing and peeling away the skin.

*no cameras were harmed in the making of this podcast. In fact, I didn't even really hit the camera with the persimmon at all)

Hachiya persimmon picture courtesy flickr user: bsterling via cc license.

Episode 16 - Picking Pumpkins - A Halloween Special

Posted: Sun, 26 Oct 2008 20:36:00 +0000

In this episode of the Produce Picker Podcast we leave the kitchen and go outside to the pumpkin patch to find out how kids pick perfect pumpkins!

Join us on this special Halloween edition and send us your pictures of your perfect pumpkins!

Food Newscast

Posted: Tue, 16 Sep 2008 05:06:00 +0000

Time for another edition of Food Newscast - Your source for fresh fruit and veggie headlines.

This episode features a two little girls being banned for running their own produce stand, farmers markets now accepting food stamps, people looking for economic relief in their own backyards, and the irradiation of lettuce and spinach.

Produce Picker on Emeril Green this Thursday!

Posted: Wed, 03 Sep 2008 02:45:00 +0000

Thursday September 4th at 8:30pm EST is the day!

The Produce Picker Podcast will be featured on this Thursday's episode of Emeril Green. The title of the episode is called "Vegging Out" which is a reference to the ingredients we used to prepare all the dishes we made. In fact we made all our dishes primarily out of vegetables and fruit. I think you'll enjoy the recipes, I know I did. They were all delicious and some surprisingly so.

Tune in if you can. They will also be running several repeats of the episode the foll owing week. Check your local listings for the Planet Green channel and the "Vegging Out" episode. Let me know what you think! In fact I'll be seeing it for the first time along with everyone else and even though I was right there, I have no idea what they will show. We shot for about 20 hours total for a 1/2 hour episode. Kind of scary! Who knows what will turn up:)

As a celebration, I will be hosting a live premiere party via the web. If you can't see the episode because you don't get the channel or just want to join in the fun while you watch, check out my live broadcast at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/produce-picker-podcast.

We should be broadcasting live at least an hour before the show premieres at 8:30pm EST with a live taping of a new Produce Picker Podcast episode and a few celebratory drinks and BBQ. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for all the support!

P.S. If you are twitter you can follow me @producepicker for updates and tips.
Or become a fan of the show at Facebook.

Viewer Question Answered (Stringy Avocados)

Posted: Wed, 20 Aug 2008 02:25:00 +0000

It's time again to answer another viewer question. Periodically I receive emails from viewers of the Produce Picker Podcast searching for answers to their produce questions. I try to answer each of these emails as thoroughly as possible however only the person who has asked the question tends to benefit from the answer.

The purpose of the show as well as this blog has always been to share my knowledge with as many people as possible. To this end I'm sharing some of the emails I receive and my responses to them in the hopes of helping out others who might have the same questions. I hope this benefits all of you. Enjoy and always feel free to send in your own questions, comments, and/or tips!

Laura sent in a question about stringy avocados, she asks:

Thanks again to Erin at the California Avocado Commission for the great insight.

As a parting note I commented to Laura that her method of picking avocados unripe, letting them ripen on the counter and then refrigerating them until use, is a good one. Buying them unripe gives you a chance to get them before a bunch of other people get their hands on them, pressing all over your avocado thus bruising it before you buy it. Also placing them in the fridge only after they are ripe gives you a longer shelf life. So, good job there.

Thanks again to Laura and Erin for providing great content for this blog post. I hope everyone learned something about avocados and perhaps feels inspired to submit a question of their own or comment on this post. Thanks for reading!

Here's the Choosing Avocados Episode:

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picture provided by Flickr user Will Merydith

Episode 14 - Cactus Pear Fruit

Posted: Thu, 03 Jul 2008 19:04:00 +0000

Produce Picker Goes to the Emeril Show!

Posted: Sun, 15 Jun 2008 00:51:00 +0000

Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker was chosen to be on an episode of Emeril's new show "Emeril Green."

Discovery channel has launched a new channel called "Planet Green." Emeril's new show "Emeril Green" will begin showing on July 14th (check your local listings for the channel). The new show will focus on the importance of organic foods and sustainable farming.

Filmed entirely at a Virginia based Whole Foods, Emeril Green will feature grocery shoppers who have a cooking dilemma. It will be Emeril's job to solve these problems for each individual shopper. What was my cooking dilemma you ask? Well that, along with what we cooked ,sounds like a good teaser that will hopefully make you want to watch the show. Of course if you look closely enough at the picture you might get the answer to at least one of those questions.

So how did I even get the chance to be on the show in the first place? When I heard they were filming the show near me I sent an email explaining what it is I do on my own show, Produce Picker Podcast. They were interested and extended me the opportunity to audition. Next thing I knew they wanted me to be on an episode and after two long but fun days filming we finished the episode that I will appear on which will premiere sometime in July (details to follow).

Make sure to follow this blog by subscribing (check the left hand corner of this blog) to be notified when and where the episode will air. As soon as they tell me, I will update here so everyone else will know. You can also follow all my happenings and news on Twitter @producepicker. Click the link to sign up and follow my updates. Twitter is a great way to keep up with the news of your favorite people on the Internet.

Thanks to everyone who has followed me thus far. My little show and a strong following has really taken me places! Thanks again.

Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker


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Episode 13 - Kiwano Melon

Posted: Mon, 05 May 2008 00:42:00 +0000

In this episode of The Produce Picker Podcast I introduce you to a unique, tropical fruit, the Kiwano Melon.

Enjoy the many uses of the Kiwano or just use it as a conversation piece. Either way the Kiwano is an interesting and fun fruit.

Welcome to another episode of the produce picker podcast, on todays episode we're going to take a look at an interesting and little lesser known fruit, the Kiwano melon.

Native to the Kalahari desert in Africa, the Kiwano Melon goes by many names. Some of these are the horned melon and you can see why when you look at this little guy. the African horned cucumber which will be a little more evident when we cut this open = an English tomato = a hedged gourd = jelly melon = and a melano.

Now grown in New Zealand and California, the Kiwano melon is widely available year round.

You'll want to choose Kiwanos that are bright orange and don't have any bruises or or soft spots. Look for the melon which has its horns most intact as this is a good indication of its freshness or that at the very least it hasn't been mishandled.

I guess the biggest question besides what is it would be what do you do with it, what do you use it for? Well, the Kiwano actually has many uses.

Use the Kiwano in desserts as a topping for cheesecakes, flans, mousses, soufflés, and sundaes It can also be an added as an ingredient to smoothies. Also try the Kiwano in fresh fruit salads or served as a garnish with roasted meats.

The Seeds of the Kiwano are edible and the shells can be used in a unique way. Hollow out the shells and use them as unique serving bowls for your deserts such as sorbets. I'm going to cut this guy open so you can see its unique insides and show you how you can use it to serve up unique deserts.

Another great use for the Kiwano is simply as decoration. Place this fruit on your table and its sure to start conversation. its one of a kind look and contrasting colors, the bright orange on the outside and the luminescent green of its interior are a sure fire way to get your dinner guests talking.

Now lets look how to cut open the Kiwano and what to do with it once you've got it open.

Here's where the Kiwano really shines. notice the bright green jelly like texture of the Kiwano. The taste is similar to bananas and lime with a hint of tartness and perhaps a little cucumber thrown in. Quite unique in appearance and taste.

You'll find the Kiwano melon in the produce department usually located next to other unique, tropical fruits such as star fruit, red tamarillos, persimmons, lechee nuts and other specialty fruit. You can store the Kiwano for up to a week on your counter top as this is a fairly sturdy item that shouldn't be placed in the refrigerator.


Selected still pictures used in this episode provided by:
starfruit http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/417785923/
red tamarillo http://www.flickr.com/photos/ultimorollo/522864879/
persimmon http://www.flickr.com/photos/santos/62362526/
lychee nut http://www.flickr.com/photos/santos/62362526/

Viewer Question Answered (Celery Root)

Posted: Sat, 12 Apr 2008 20:21:00 +0000

Often times I receive emails from viewers of Produce Picker Podcast about items either featured on the show or just something they want to know more about. I answer each of these emails as thoroughly as possible however only the person who has asked the question tends to benefit from the answer.
The purpose of the show as well as this blog has always been to share my knowledge with as many people as possible. To this end I'm going to start sharing the answers to the questions asked by the viewers of the show as well as the readers of this blog. I hope this benefits all of you. Enjoy and always feel free to participate.

Linda in Virginia wrote in with her question. She writes,

Thanks so much for the email and compliments on the site. I really love to hear from people who watch the show, I'm assuming you saw the show (Produce Picker Podcast) as well? The web site and blog are really here to support the show and grows as I put out new episodes. Sorry there are no pictures or info on celery root. I've included a picture and some info here.

Celery root is indeed just as it sounds, a root vegetable related to celery. However, the root you buy in the store is grown specifically for the root and is not where your store bought celery comes from.
To prepare it you peel away the tough outer layer and inside you'll find a creamy white flesh which can be cooked and used in "soups and stews it can also be mashed or used in casseroles, gratins, and baked dishes."
It has the flavor of celery and parsley. "It can also be grated, julienned, or shredded and added raw to salads."
Also the green stalk part is not consumed but "the hollow stalk of the upper plant can be cut into drinking straw lengths, rinsed out, and used for tomato drinks such as the Bloody Mary. The tomato juice moving through the stalk is lightly permeated with the celery flavor."
You want to avoid choosing celery root that has soft spots. Thanks again for spreading the word and I hope this information helped.

Look forward to other viewer questions answered and send me the questions about fresh fruits and vegetables that you want answered. Also if you have a celery root recipe that you enjoy please submit it in response to this blog post and I'll include it here!

Thanks again Linda for your question,

picture provided by a_sorense on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/a_sorense/76981257/

Episode 12 - Produce Bob's Seasonal Picks - Week of: 03/23/08

Posted: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 01:18:00 +0000

The Produce Picker Podcast presents Produce Bob's Seasonal Picks. An audio segment hosted by Ray "The Produce Picker" and Produce Bob Gates.

Ray and Bob take you through current "in season" fruits and vegetables and Bob picks his favorites of the week. This week it's grapefruit and leeks.

This episode is an enhanced audio podcast which means pictures of the items mentioned in the show will show up on the screen.

((Ignore this part, it's just a test link.))My Odeo Channel (odeo/e9acc0b3a5f84d9f)

Produce Picker Podcast Featured in The Produce News

Posted: Thu, 21 Feb 2008 18:08:00 +0000

If you remember back a few weeks ago I mentioned that Produce Picker Podcast was chosen as a feature story in the produce industry trade paper The Produce News.

I was interviewed by Tim Linden, a writer for The Produce News , about my career as a produce clerk and how that led to the creation of my show Produce Picker Podcast.
Well that article has been published in hard copy and online. As promised here is that article for anyone who is interested in reading the story and learning a little more about me and the show.

Thanks Tim for a great article, thanks to Mr. Groh (editor for The Produce News ) for choosing myself and the show to profile, and thanks to everyone who watches the show and participates in this blog!

Tips for Eating Better in '08 (In Response to the Janurary Poll)

Posted: Wed, 13 Feb 2008 01:58:00 +0000


/>During the month of January I ran a poll that asked "Did your New Years resolution include eating better in 2008?"

Results of that poll showed that 88% of those who responded answered "yes" they did make a New Years resolution to eat better.

In response to that poll, in celebration of Primary season '08 (it's voting day '08 here in D.C.) and as a thank you for participating, I wanted to offer up some tips that I've found useful from around the web to help those who said they were interested in eating healthier in '08. I hope these tips will help you to either start or stick to your resolution!

For those trying to start - BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg offers up some great tips:

Make up your own vegetable and/or fruit baggies for snacks . In small baggies place spears of broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots and celery sticks. For a little flavor, use ranch dressing as a dip. Make up fruit bags by putting slices of apples, oranges and pears along with grapes, cherries, etc. in a baggie. Kids can dip fruit in strawberry yogurt as a special treat. Having the baggies will make it easy for you or your kids to grab a healthy snack. These also make great snacks for school and/or work.

Get many servings of fruit by making fruit smoothies. These are great for breakfast, a snack or even a delicious dessert. For some healthy smoothie recipes, check out this Suite 101 article. Read this article in its entirety at Suit101.com.

Stay tuned to the Produce Picker Podcast for all new segments such as Produce Bob's Seasonal Picks which will keep you informed about what's in season now and what you should be buying on your next trip to the market.

Consuming in season produce will not only make your recipes taste sweeter but could be just the boost in variety that you need in order to maintain your resolution to eat better in the new year.

Thanks to everyone who has subscribed to the blog, podcast or both thus far. I'm having a great time coming up with new ideas to keep you informed about fresh fruits and vegetables and your feedback thus far has been great. Keep those emails coming (thanks Bob for your question about Bell Fruit. Check the comment section of the Food Newscast blog post for the response)!

If you haven't already you can easily subscribe to this blog or the Produce Picker Podcast by simply adding your email (which remains private) in the box located in the upper left hand corner of this blog. For the more tech savvy viewers you can also subscribe via RSS. Subscribing ensures that you'll get all the newest information released here and on the Produce Picker Podcast automatically. No need to check back. You'll be notified instantly via email whenever there is new content!

Thanks again and remember. Pick Right, Pick Ripe, Every Time with The Produce Picker.

Episode 9 - How to Choose and Cut a Cantaloupe

Posted: Fri, 08 Feb 2008 22:14:00 +0000

Hi everyone. It's time for another episode of the Produce Picker Podcast. On this episode you'll learn how to choose that perfectly ripe cantaloupe from your local market. I also show you a fast and effective way to cut open your cantaloupe while getting the highest yield of fruit possible.
Below the show you can find the entire episode transcript in case you'd like an easy way to review the steps involved. Enjoy and let me know what you think by pressing the comment button below this post.

Episode 9 - Produce Picker Podcast - How to Choose and Cut a Cantaloupe (transcript)

The first thing to pay attention to when choosing a cantaloupe is its overall shape and color . It should be nice and round with no flat sides, impressions or dents . Your cantaloupe should have a nice overall netting with creamy yellow to orange undertones .

Next you want to notice the weight of the cantaloupe, it should feel heavy for its size . While you are holding the cantaloupe make sure to check all sides for blemish including but not limited to soft spots, cracking and mold.

A very good indicator to how sweet your cantaloupe might be is to check the stem area . Notice on this cantaloupe there is a deep impression where the vine used to be connected to the melon. The cantaloupe is fresh when this appears green as opposed to brown or black. Also make sure there are no jagged edges in the stem area. You can see here this one is very smooth. A cantaloupe that has jagged edges in the stem area indicates that it was picked too soon and that cantaloupe will never fully ripen.

Finally when choosing a ripe cantaloupe you'll want to feel the area just around the stem. If you want to eat the cantaloupe the same day you buy it then this area should give when you apply pressure.

The best way to do this is to use your thumbs to apply pressure around the area just around the stem. A ripe cantaloupe will have some give without being too soft. The rest of the cantaloupe should still be fairly firm.

You can also smell the melon to help determine ripeness. The smell should be pleasant without being too strong. However in some produce departments melons are kept on a refrigerated case or in a refrigerated storage cooler and this could eliminate the smell of the cantaloupe. Because of this use smell only as a test to aid in choosing your melon but not as a definite indicator of ripeness.

Now lets look at a fast way to cut a cantaloupe while still getting the highest yield of fruit possible.

You might recognize this technique from episode 4 where we cut and cored a pineapple. We'll being using the same technique to remove the rind of this cantaloupe.

Begin by removing the top and bottom of the cantaloupe. This will provide you with a solid base with which to cut the melon decreasing the chance that the melon will slip out of your hand when cutting. Remember to always pay close attention and don't go too fast when using a knife to perform these techniques.

Now that you have a solid base to work from, take your knife and move it just to the inside of where the melon and rind meet. You want to make downward cuts, moving the knife with the shape of the melon in order to remove as much of the rind as possible while still leaving as much fruit as possible.

Perform this cutting technique around the entire melon and remove any pieces of rind left over by simply cutting them off.

Now you're left with a giant melon ball. Next we'll cut the melon in half and remove the seeds. You can use a spoon to scoop out the seeds inside the melon or simply cut and scrape them out with a knife.

Finally cut the melon into half inch to one inch sections. Rotate the pieces 90 degrees and cut again to make bite sized cubes. Another alternative to cutting the melon into slices or cubes would be to simply serve the melon halves by themselves or perhaps with ice cream or berries in the center. Really it's up to. Use your imagination and above all enjoy the sweet taste of your perfectly selected cantaloupe.

What Grade Do You Get? Guest Blogger Serena Shares Her Tips for Eating Healthier

Posted: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 22:03:00 +0000

Ok, so how many of you know that you should include more servings of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables in your daily diet? Yes, just as I suspected all of you knew that one. Great, you received an A grade for this test question. Now onto your second test question. How many of you are eating the recommended daily amount of 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? Aha, just as I thought, a minority of you. But if you are meeting the recommendation, congratulations and keep up the great work however for a lot of you it looks like you are receiving a failing grade for this one, for now. As your dutiful nutrition professor I feel compelled to guide you toward an A grade.

I often ask my peers, mentors and students what is their personal disconnect between knowing and acting. The knowing being that fruits and vegetables are good for you and the acting being obtaining, preparing, and consuming them. What I have found is three reoccurring themes.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables “go bad” too quickly.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are too labor intensive to prepare.
  • I just don’t like the way they taste.

Problem: Fresh fruits and vegetables “go bad” too quickly.

Solution: Simply buy less and buy fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf-life. Start with an attainable goal of 1 serving of fresh fruit and 1 serving of fresh vegetables a day. In this way when you go to the grocery store you need only purchase 3 apples and a bunch of grapes to last a week. These specific fruits will last the week for a single person. (Hint: start with the grapes and keep them in your refrigerator). For your vegetables, bagged lettuce will last up to 7 days (or more) if stored properly and winter squash, onions, celery, cauliflower, and potatoes much longer.

Problem: Fresh fruits and vegetables are too labor intensive to prepare.

Solution: Purchase fruits and vegetables that are simple to prepare. Yams only need a scrub, time and a hot oven. Bagged lettuce only needs a quick rinse, tangy vinaigrette and handful of nuts. Apples and pears, merely need to be eaten. Additionally, over time, both farmers and grocers have adapted to our frenetic lifestyles, developing either new products like broccolini (a hybrid of broccoli that requires no chopping and only a quick steam or sauté) or value-added products such as prewashed and chopped green beans.

Problem: I just don’t like the way they taste.

Solution: All this requires is a sense of adventure. If you don’t enjoy Napa cabbage give the slightly sweeter (and very delicious) Savoy cabbage a try. Don’t relish the thought of steamed zucchini tossed with butter? Try it roasted with tomato sauce. By altering either the variety of vegetable or the method of preparation you should find a wide range of fruits and vegetables that you will not only enjoy, but dare I say crave.

I hope you found my study guide helpful. As your nutrition professor I would like to encourage all of you to study hard (i.e. eat more fruits and veggies), retake the exam following all that hard studying, and give yourself that A grade you deserve! You can do it. Just remember to start small and try different fruits and vegetables and/or find new ways to cook the classics. Good luck and happy studying!

-Serena Marie is a fourth year Nutritional Biology Doctoral Candidate at the University of California, Davis. Her primary research focuses on the genetics of body weight and the investigation of gene x diet interactions. Serena is adjunct faculty at Napa Valley College teaching, Nutrition Today, an introductory nutrition class for non-science majors and is a guest lecturer for Physiological Genomics and Clinical Nutrition at the University of California, Davis.

Episode 8 - Food Newscast

Posted: Fri, 25 Jan 2008 22:13:00 +0000

Food Newscast is here! Our first issue of Food Newscast includes stories about a vegetable orchestra (it's true, you can play music with veggies), NYC fruit and veggie carts, a tip for mothers to be, plus more. Check out the newest segment to the Produce Picker Podcast and let us know what you think. Feel free to comment below this post by selecting the comment tab or send emails to [email protected]

To watch this episode in a bigger format visit www.ProducePicker.com

How to Choose Apples and Some Insight Into the Wax Used to Make Them Shine

Posted: Sun, 13 Jan 2008 00:37:00 +0000
  • Apples should feel firm and heavy for their size
  • Be free of blemishes (bruises, soft spots, stem punctures)
  • Appear shiny with tight looking skin (which of course means passing the apple wrinkle test)

Before apples are picked from the tree they develop a waxy coating that helps to protect the apple from losing its moisture and prevents shriveling. However, after the apple is picked from the tree it gets washed at the orchard to remove any dirt, leaves, and other various debris picked up during harvest. Once the apple has reached the warehouse it has a wax applied back onto the apple to help protect it during the shipping process. Without this wax apples would show up to your local market severely depleted of moisture resulting in a soft and mussy apple, something I think we can all agree would not be very appealing or tasty for that matter.

So what exactly is the post harvest wax applied to apples made of and is it safe to eat ? To begin with, yes it's safe to eat. According to the U.S. Apple Association all waxes applied to apples come from "natural ingredients and are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat."

When applied to each apple the natural wax used by growers only consists of one or two drops of wax. According to the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association it only takes approximately one pound of this wax to cover up to 160,000 pieces of fruits and veggies.

So buff up an apple on your sleeve and enjoy the nice crunch of a juice filled McIntosh (pictured above) all the while knowing that the wax providing it's nice sheen and moist, flavorful taste is as natural as the apple itself and has been in use since the 1920's.

Additional resources for this article:
Washington Apple Commission and The U.S. Apple Association
Picture Provided by The U.S. Apple Association

How to Cut Open a Pomegranate - Episode 7 - Produce Picker Podcast

Posted: Wed, 09 Jan 2008 20:46:00 +0000

In this episode of the Produce Picker Podcast I'll teach you how to cut open a pomegranate and avoid the mess that is usually associated with getting the seeds out of a pomegranate.

Episode 7 - Transcript (this is new feature that allows you to read the episode and/or use it as a guide while opening a pomegranate).

First off let me welcome you back to another episode of the Produce Picker Podcast. I'd like to apologize that it has been so long since the last episode but with the holidays upon us, which also includes a birthday for me, that meant a pretty hectic schedule. But I'm back now and speaking of the holidays let's learn how to open an increasingly popular holiday fruit, the pomegranate.

I've put down a paper towel on my cutting board to help prevent staining the board. The juice of the pomegranate will stain pretty much anything it touches so you might want to take precautions to protect your clothing and your work area. You'll want to begin by removing (with a knife) the crown or top of the pomegranate. Move on to the bottom and do the same.

Next, score (lightly cut into) the sides of the pomegranate by taking your knife and pressing it into the tough skin of the pomegranate. You only need to cut deep enough to get through the red outer lining of the pomegranate until you hit the pith or white part just underneath the red exterior. You'll be making four cuts or scores into the pomegranate, one on each side, extending from the top to the bottom of the pomegranate.

Grab a large sized bowl and fill it with water. You'll be pulling the pomegranate apart and taking out its seeds underwater. Using this method allows for separation between the pith and the pomegranate seeds. It also produces less mess.

Now let's begin pulling apart the pomegranate and getting to our ultimate goal, the delicious seeds (the seed is actually inside a sac of juice known as the aril). Place your pomegranate into the bowl you just filled with water trying to work as much as you can underneath the surface of the water to limit the amount of juice that will inevitability squirt from the pomegranate, staining anything and everything around you.

Break the pomegranate into four sections pulling apart the sections along the cuts you made earlier in the pomegranate's skin. These sections should come apart relatively easy and just allow them to float in the bowl until you are ready to separate the seeds from the pith.

Now simply begin pulling the skin and pith away from the seeds of the pomegranate. The seeds will sink to the bottom while the pith will float to the top. Do this for all four sections until all or most of the seeds have been separated from the pomegranate.

Next simply remove the pith that is floating on top of the water either by hand or with a strainer of some sort. I recommend using a mesh strainer like the one pictured on the right (picture supplied by: www.freedigitalphoto.net) in order to get as much of the pith out of the water as possible. Using this type of strainer known as a sieve makes it easier because of its handle, to get the strainer into the bowl and remove all the pith. I didn't have one handy at the time of filming and you'll notice I leave a few pieces remaining on top of the water. We can simply remove these after the water has been drained.

Empty the bowl of water and seeds into a larger strainer or colander with small holes. Take out any remaining pieces of pith that are still amongst the seeds. All that's left is to transfer the pomegranates seeds to whichever type of container you like and of course, a taste test. Yep, fresh pomegranate seeds are the way to go. It's worth the small amount of time and effort. Try this technique and live a healthier life with the antioxidant power of delicious pomegranate seeds and juice.

The Produce Picker Podcast can now be found on a variety of sites. We've built a profile page on each to introduce you to the show and keep in touch with each other. Choose your favorite site, sign on or sign up and become a friend of the show! Here is a list of various places to find the show. I hope to see you there soon!

Prickly Pear Fruit, Cactus Fruit, Indian Fig. Whatever you call it it's an exotic treat done many ways

Posted: Thu, 03 Jan 2008 18:55:00 +0000


I recently answered a question from a person who was looking to find out how they should choose, eat, and prepare Prickly Pear fruit. Here is the advice I provided and some links to additional info and recipes for Prickly Pears.

Generally there are two common types of prickly pear fruit, the green and red cactus fruit. First try to choose (red) prickly pears that are reddish-orange to purple in color and free of mold spots as these tend to be the sweetest of the prickly pears.

The seeds are fine to eat just be careful when biting into them because these little guys are quite hard.

If you bought your prickly pear from the grocery store they are most likely without larger spines, however, there still remains very small, hard to see spines. You can try putting the pear in a bowl of cold water which helps to remove some of the spines but using something to hold the pear other than your bare hands is always recommended (highly recommended).
Often times the spines are so small you can't see them and this means that when they stick into your hand it will be hard to find them as well. I've spent too much time under a strong light with a pair or tweezers trying to pull these small, very painful spines out of my fingers.
Despite this minor hassle, the prickly pear fruit is worth checking out just remember to use something (plastic bag, paper towel, etc.) to pick up the fruit at the store and while preparing it to eat.

To get to the fruit/flesh simply cut off both ends of the pear (top and bottom), make an incision down the length of the pear cutting into the skin just until you get to the meat and then simply peel away the outer layer. You should be able to role the tough outer skin right off the meat of the fruit. Then enjoy anyway that you like. Check out this episode of Produce Picker Podcast which shows how this techique is done!

The flavor has been likened to kiwis, berries, or a tart watermelon but I don't seem to get this same impression, I'd rather just eat a kiwi. There are however several ways to prepare the prickly pear fruit which make it more interesting and quite flavorful. For instance check out this cool recipe for prickly pear sorbet!

Happy New Year! This year eat a pomegranate, it's good luck!

Posted: Tue, 01 Jan 2008 01:17:00 +0000


The Produce Picker Podcast wants to wish everyone a Happy and safe New Years! Whatever you're doing/did tonight enjoy it and I think a good resolution would be to eat better in the New Year. Of course I'm talking about trying to stick to the good ol' government program 5 a day (no they did not pay me to say that, unfortunately).

But if you did choose to eat more fruits and vegetables in '08 then potentially it would be beneficial to stay tuned to the Produce Picker Podcast so that you could choose and prepare the best tasting fruits and veggies possible:)

Now I couldn't let you ring in the New Year without a produce tip so here it is.
Pomegranates are fast becoming a favorite winter holiday treat. Americans typically use them as table decor around this time of year however many are quickly learning what most other cultures have known for centuries, they're good and good for you! This is due in large part to the POM company and their introduction of POM juice (again no pay, I just think it tastes great. Wow, I'm quickly becoming a "sell out" and I'm not even getting paid. I don't think that's how it's supposed to work lol). Since their introduction of pomegranate juice a few years ago they have marketed the incredible antioxidant benefits that pomegranates and their juice provide and thus Americans have begun to realize the beauty of this fruit.

interesting fact interruption: The ancient Egyptians used to place pomegranates in the graves of their dead for safe passage to the "other world."

The Pomegranate, however, does have a downside. It's messy! Real messy! If you get the juice on your clothes while drinking it or cutting one open it will stain. There is an alternative that is now being sold in most produce departments around this time of year, pomegranate seeds, just the seeds. This wouldn't be the way I'd go because it's just not as fresh but if you don't know how to cut into one or don't want to bother with the hassle and of course the mess then this is the way to go.

Speaking of not knowing how to cut into a pomegranate, this is a tip off to the next episode of the Produce Picker Podcast because this will be the topic I'll cover. Stayed tuned to learn the best way to cut into a pomegranate and get the seeds out. You won't want to miss it and you'll certainly want to try it, the seeds are great and add a great aesthetic touch to any salad or desert.

UPDATE: Here's the Episode! Enjoy:

Once again have a Happy New Year and stayed tuned for more great tips from the Produce Picker Podcast and Blogcast (this site's new name:))

P.S. Check out the comment section on the previous post (12/30/07 located below the blog post in small print labeled comments) to see an interesting new product for your fruits and vegetables and meet Maya the first member of the Produce Picker Podcast community to contribute to the conversation! Join us!

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Respect: Markus - Convergence

Date of birth: Late 1999, no records exist proving specific date.

Tier: Delta

Alignment: Good

Appearance: Variable. Generally, Markus appears as a 6ɳ" broad-shouldered man with a strong build, dark-haired and with well-kept stubble.

Background: It's complicated

Base of Operations: Eden, the living island.

Equipment/Resources:

Markus can generate up to a maximum of 1000 kg of matter per second, although each 'source' (typically either a humanoid clone or a mass of matter created specifically for automated matter generation) can only individually generate 50kg of matter per second each. This matter is organic in nature, although devoid of a 'soul'. This matter does count as living for the purposes of power interaction, even if it is inert and contains no functional biological processes.

Matter generated can only be of a compound, chemical, or material that Markus has at one point ingested a sample of. This is limited to Earth-originating flora and fauna (living or dead) Markus cannot recreate inorganic matter such as stone or manufactured material like brick/mortar, with exceptions of inorganic materials that are part of creatures such as iron, which is present in the shell of the Chrysomallon squamiferum snail.

Markus can additionally generate matter that creatures in his library would be able to generate such as various acids or venoms without having to ingest the normally required components the original creatures would need to do to create such chemicals. Markus' library of flora and fauna includes every currently scientifically recognised species on Earth, and he has made many expeditions to fill gaps in his catalogue to log rare and unique samples.

While there is no limit to the mass of matter that Markus can have at any given time, there IS a limit to how much sentient brain matter he can have active. Markus can have a maximum of 50,000 kgs of sentient brain matter active at any given moment, and creation of any further sentient brain matter results in the degrading of the oldest brain matter at a 1:1 rate.

Markus can create basic animals that have base instincts of his own will, but cannot directly control them beyond creation, verbal or other non-mentally communicated commands, and destruction. These creatures do not have the capacity for thought beyond that of, for example, a dog. Only 5,000 of these basic animals can be living at any given time creation of a new one causes the oldest one (unless otherwise specified) to crumble to dust. This process is painless and instant. These creatures do not have souls, nor can they breed.

Alternately, Markus can create creatures which do include sentient brain matter, which are automatically connected to the hive-mind, which means Markus can see, speak, and act through these creations. There is only ever one instance of Markus, living through the clones/creatures via the hivemind. These creations do have higher brain functions and have full access to Markus' range of powers listed on this sheet. A creature must contain at least 0.5 kg of sentient grey matter for Markus to directly control/influence it actively, but a creature containing 0.25 kg of sentient grey matter has enough thought capacity to receive and carry out basic commands. These limits apply only to custom creatures Markus can create facsimiles of existing species with the same brain/body ratio that they would have in nature and have full control over them as he would a standard human clone, and they have the same capabilities that the original creature would have.

A living creature of Markus' creation must contain at least 0.5% of its body mass in sentient brain matter in order to function as an active being, with this raising to 10% for creatures that are over 1,000 kg. Markus' largest custom creation can be up to 100,000 kg, approximately the size of an adolescent Blue Whale. In terms of scaling existing fauna and flora, he can create facsimiles that are as small as half their original size, or twice their original size, before they begin to suffer from structural/health issues stemming from the resize.

While the creatures can be injured or killed, if there is any remaining sentient brain matter that has not suffered damage (i.e. that has been untouched. Brain matter that has been directly damaged by an attack degrades instantly to prevent the risk of variant instances of Markus' personality) within a mass of Markus-generated material, the material can regenerate using the above stated matter generation, healing itself at will.

Markus can edit the genetic code of living creatures if they actively give their permission, and using this can remove genetic disorders, hereditary diseases, and markers that would predicate someone towards developing cancers, tumours, etc. Additionally, Markus can alter the biology of actively consenting living creatures, such as changing genders, changing physical characteristics such as weight, height, eye/hair colour, hair growth, and other biologically-determined features. This does extend to healing wounds and the regeneration of lost limbs. Using this process, Markus can make people into the best physical example of themselves a peak human.

In terms of healing or regaining lost limbs, the mass recovered counts towards mass generated directly from Markus when it comes to limiting the rate, but Markus cannot manipulate, alter, or disintegrate it like he would be able to with other matter he creates. This matter grows out of the subject and contains only their DNA.

Additionally, Markus can provide further alterations if the participant is willing, such as adding/removing/altering non-human biological processes or organs, although doing this alters the genetic code to such an extent that it renders them infertile. However, Markus can 'reset' them to their peak form with their original biological makeup, which would undo the infertility. These modifications are limited to alterations to digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems for the use of sensory organs, as well as augmenting the body to survive in more extreme environments such as reinforced skin, resistance to heat/cold, and the capacity for hibernation, should the participant request it. Changes can only modify up to 25% of a person's original DNA makeup. Any further changes require the reverting or undoing of prior changes.

It takes 0.5 seconds of sustained contact to alter an actively willing participant's body in such a way, although for significant changes such as regrowing of limbs or restructuring of organs, Markus can slow this process down to take up to a minute for the sake of the subject's experience.

The only exception to the requirement of active consent/permission is the healing of wounds where the subject is unconscious and would otherwise die if no intervention is taken (i.e. someone suffering a fatal wound that caused their brain to shut down for self-preservation, but where the soul has not yet left their body). In these cases, the only modification that can be taken is the healing of wounds no further modification can be carried out without express and active permission.

Markus can manipulate matter he has generated, moving it up to 2000 km/h, and it reaches its top speed in 1 second. No matter what speed it is moving at, any impact generated by this matter cannot exceed 1 gigajoule of power. This allows for Markus' basic avatars (i.e. humanoid constructs connected to the hive-mind) flight and basic combat ability. Markus can only manipulate up to 7,500 kg of matter at any given time.

Markus' reaction times are 25,000 microseconds.

Markus' core is where his soul resides. If the core is destroyed, all of the sentient brain matter connected to the hive-mind is destroyed and Markus is killed.

The core has the following durabilities

UnphasedTankStaggerKnockdownKnockoutOther
Kinetic Energy<50 KJ50 kJ-10 MJ10-20 MJ20-40 MJ40-75 MJ
Thermal EnergyN/AN/AN/AN/A1000° Fahrenheit
Energy DensityN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Crushing/Ripping<10 tons10-40 tons40-100 tons100-175 tons175-225 tons

Additionally, the core requires access to fresh water, nutritional intake equivalent to 100 baseline humans per day, and exposure to sunlight and fresh air for at least 12 hours out of any given day to sustain itself. While the water, nutritional intake, and air can be simulated by Markus' creations, the sunlight cannot. As such, the core is located on the peak of Eden island, disguised as a globe held aloft by a carbon fibre statue of Markus. (This statue was commissioned, not created directly by Markus). The core itself is an orb with a radius of 3m, and has a rough dull metallic texture to its exterior. The nutrients and water are provided by hidden pipes contained within the arms of the statue holding it aloft.

Through experimentation, has developed the most finely tuned predator creature on the planet. Feline build, 7 feet from tip to tail, iron mesh subdermal armour that can be shed out of thin gaps in the flesh for added speed and access through smaller gaps. Prehensile tail tipped with paralytic venom, that can be fired at high speeds at targets. A bite force of 3,500 PSI, a top land speed of 150 mph, a lung capacity allowing it to hold its breath for up to 4 hours, eyes equivalent to that of a Bald Eagle, hearing equivalent to that of the Greater Wax Moth, able to track via scent as a Bloodhound would, echolocation, sight in infra-red, ultra-violet, and other additional wavelengths thanks to additional colour cones. Can survive in extreme environments, secretes an insular sap that renders it immune to damage from fire or ice (a range of plus or minus 120 degrees Celsius). The Predator Species can see in the dark and can emit a powerful electric pulse out of its skin, amplified by the metal armour if it is not yet shed. Finally, the predator has vocal chords capable of mimicking human speech, and can extrapolate a perfect recreation of a human voice from thirty seconds of hearing samples.

Founded an island-nation through his own resources, growing the largest living creature on the planet. The island, Eden, has a walkable surface area of approximately 135 square miles, although has an additional 40 square miles submerged to act as a �h' area so inhabitants do not drop off into the ocean upon stepping off the dry land. The island is host to samples of rare and extinct trees including ancient megaflora, planted in soil imported from elsewhere in the world. The original samples of these plants were sourced from Seed Banks over the world that had granted Markus access. The soil is kept fertile and constantly replenished with nutrients and water generated by the island, ensuring the flora remains healthy regardless of weather conditions. The island can move at a speed of up to 100 knots, propelling itself via fins and exhausting non-harmful gasses below the surface of the water. Even when at top speed, the island remains completely level, preventing seasickness for its inhabitants. The island is inhabited by refugees and other citizens who chose to move there, who are all provided shelter, food, water, and medical care free of charge.

Prevented a viral outbreak by sending a squad of clones to Leeds shortly after the news cycle picked up on its potential for a global pandemic. Cured the infected, as well as engineering a counter-virus that would spread the antibodies necessary to counteract the virus before it takes hold in a person's system, which spread in its place ensuring that IF the virus did break out elsewhere, the counter-virus would prevent its propagation. Has also prevented 3 other potential pandemics in a similar manner.

Has provided a team of extremophile thrill-seekers extreme modifications allowing them enhanced lung capacity, oxygen processing, and the capability to handle extreme temperatures on both sides of the spectrum. This enabled the first no-equipment hike expedition up Mt Everest, as well as exploration of the ocean that would not otherwise be accessible outside of being in a submarine (although additional equipment was provided for this expedition).


Category Archives: writing about food

It might be hard to believe, oh children of today, but there was a time in California and many other modern places with electricity and running water (bottled water was not yet invented) and telephones (landlines only) where your choice of Asian food was Chinese or Chinese, and by that I mean chow mein or chop suey, which the American diner poured soy sauce over lavishly. (I am loathe to admit we called soy sauce “bug juice.”) If you were really living it up you could also get Chinese BBQ ribs and egg foo yong and sweet and sour pork. A few very avant garde restaurants offered rumaki, though I have never known anyone to actually order it. I was a picky child so when we went to one of the three or four Chinese restaurants in town, I stayed safe with a hot roast beef sandwich.

Then sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s woks became the rage. It was impressed upon we aspiring Chinese chefs that the wok absolutely had to be made of carbon steel, seasoned properly with heat and oil, and used frequently in order to keep up the seasoning else it would rust. It was also absolutely essential that one had the right shovel (a shovel-shaped spatula with a long handle) and that the wok had to have a round bottom, or it was not authentic and your food would likewise be not authentic. This was at a time when electric stoves were pretty standard in most kitchens round bottomed woks rolled and tilted dangerously on the flat burner.

Also, we had to learn to chop vegetables properly, preferably with a Chinese cleaver, or they wouldn’t cook correctly. Something about cut-half-roll-cut on an angle. (See above about not authentic.)

We bought Chinese cookbooks that listed a new-to-us array of ingredients that were likewise absolutely essential to Chinese cooking, almost none of which were available in circa-1970 Safeway and Albertsons. The standard supermarket soy sauce was La Choy (who had a catchy television commercial with a jingle, “La Choy makes Chinese food *swing* American!”). Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts were available in cans people bought one of each and displayed them to show off their culinary chops. (You didn’t have to actually use them just owning the cans was enough.) Tofu was starting to become available but viewed with suspicion. Garlic was available but ginger less so. It took a drive to a larger city to find sesame oil, five-spice powder, oyster sauce, rice sticks, and bok choy. (This was before the internet.)

Even around 1980 I remember being served stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants that included crinkle-cut frozen French fries and gherkins. It was indeed a strange time in America.

It took Americans a long time to relax and learn to make Chinese food from there we segued into Thai and Korean and Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian (which, I have been assured by a Lao woman, are pretty similar), Japanese and Asian fusion. I don’t know just when the tide turned and we started appreciating and making decent Asian dishes, but even small-town grocers stock hoisin sauce and cilantro now.

We have a copy of Lucky Peach Presents 101 Asian Recipes which has a less structured approach to cooking and a what-the-hell punky approach to authenticity, while not ceding anything to white bread America. It’s been helpful in loosening up and having fun while making really good tasting Asian food. I used to have a carbon steel wok but I have no idea where it is now. I use either a cast iron frying pan or a nonstick Ikea flat-bottomed wok.

I bet you thought I would never get around to the recipe, right? This started as something else and became this. But it could become something else yet again if the cook made it so. Lots of possible variations. Much of it can be made ahead. Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients – it’s really simple to make.

Note: This is clearly full of meat, but I suspect a vegetarian version could be made with the spices and some miso.

ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

The Meat Part:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, beef chuck roast, beef 7-bone roast, country-style spare ribs, chicken thighs, or a whole chicken
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 fat slice onion
  • 2 quarts water (include some low-sodium broth if it’s on hand)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt soy sauce or tamari (I use Aloha soy sauce and/or San-J Tamari, both low-salt)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Squid brand, available in Asian markets)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, Demarara sugar, turbinado sugar, or golden brown sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, sake, or sherry (a generous splash of Madeira would not go amiss here as well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 3″ long
  • 2 star anise
  • t teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or anise seeds
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1″ piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 1-4 dried hot peppers (optional)
  • 1 large bunch collards, kale, spinach, or other sturdy greens, hard stems removed, greens sliced thinly (roll them up like a cigar and then slice across)

Optional Vegetables:

  • shredded vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, daikon – about 1/4 cup of each
  • sliced mushrooms – 2 or more, depending on your fondness for mushrooms
  • snow peas – 1/4 pound ought to do it
  • green beans, cut into 2″ lengths -like the snow peas, about 1/4 pound
  • 8 – 16 ounces rice noodles, glass noodles, rice sticks, or other noodles, cooked according to package directions (I used the rice vermicelli pictured above, 14 ounces)

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong Foods makes one version, much more garlicky than Sriracha) or sambal oelek
  • finely shredded cabbage
  • a raw egg yolk for the hardcore

Brown the meat in a little oil, flipping as necessary to brown all sides. When the meat is almost brown enough, add the onion slice and let it get good and brown on both sides. Toss in the garlic to lightly brown for a few minutes, then the spices to lightly bloom in the oil.

Clockwise from top: star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds in the center

Pour in all liquid ingredients and scrape up any lovely browned bits from the bottom, bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover.

Let simmer until meat is falling-apart tender – about 1 1/2 hours for chicken thighs, 2 hours for country-style ribs or a whole chicken, 3 hours for pork butt, pork shoulder, or beef chuck/7-bone roast. Remove meat from pot and let cool, then remove bones/skin/fat and shred meat. (This can all be done ahead and put in the refrigerator for another day.)

Taste the broth and adjust seasoning – I like this on the sweet side so I usually add more brown sugar, but this is subjective. (My husband doesn’t like it sweet so for him I keep it at 1/4 cup. Or skip the sugar altogether.) Strain broth and discard solids. Skim fat from broth (this is easier if made ahead and chilled). Reheat broth, add the thinly sliced greens, and cook until tender – could be 20 to 40 minutes for collards, 20 minutes for kale, almost instantly for spinach. When greens are almost tender, add any other vegetables.

Cook noodles separately, then add to broth with greens along with shredded meat. When soup is heated through, serve with optional garnishes.


BORNEO FEATURES

People like to leave their mark on the world. Something we did, or something we discovered or invented. Or something we built. We leave our names behind for all time, because we want our names to be immortalised. The highest mountain on earth bears Sir George Everest&rsquos name. The Eiffel tower bears Gustave Eiffel&rsquos name. The largest flower in the world is named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. And the list goes on.

Borneo&rsquos animal and plant life is rich with the names of people. There are so many plants and animals named after the people who first found them. To someone who didn&rsquot know how animals were named, it would appear curious that so many animals are named so-and-so&rsquos frog, or so-and-so&rsquos orchid. Do they belong to that person?

You&rsquoll have to admit, being named Wallace&rsquos Flying Frog has a nice ring to it, doesn&rsquot it? It imparts upon that species a sense of history. It is what we would call today, a &ldquocool name&rdquo. You know what&rsquos even cooler? There are several of these named species on Borneo that seem to have mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth. It seems almost impossible that over 100 years ago, some white man, who hardly knew anything about Borneo, came here, found some animal (killed and skinned it) and now it carries his name. And since then, nobody has seen one. How is this so?

There is an answer. These early explorers in a new land. This was a mysterious land to them, of which hardly anyone knew anything about. They were extremely curious. They were driven by a purpose, and a desire to find out new things. They may not have been the best trained scientists, nor did they have all the best equipment to do research, but they had curiosity. They constantly asked questions. Where is this place, what animals and plants live there, and how can I get up that high mountain?

Today&rsquos scientists are not as curious any more. They are surrounded with all sorts of equipment and comfortable air-conditioned laboratories. They have scores of lab assistants and students doing everything for them. Gone are the days when scientists would go out into the forests, swamps and mountains, spend months out there just looking at things. Today, they have remote cameras, which they can put up in the forests, and see what they capture on video. They use satellites, and more recently, drones. They have become distanced from the forests.

People like Alfred Wallace and John Whitehead didn&rsquot sit in one place. They climbed mountains, and have many species named after them. Charles Hose, a government official under British Borneo, did the same. He found a civet in the highlands of Borneo in 1891, and it was eventually named Hose&rsquos Civet. Over the next 100 years, it became one of the rarest and least known civets in the world, with only 17 specimens ever found, and stored in museums. Four of these specimens were collected by Tom Harrison between 1945 and 1949, in the Kelabit highlands in Sarawak.

This beautiful one-of-a-kind civet has recently come to light, after a researcher from a university in Sarawak decided he was going to go back to the old ways, and really spend time in the Sarawak mountains. He walked and walked, climbed and climbed, and became very tired. He also grew a long beard. But he eventually found out something we didn&rsquot know &ndash the Hose&rsquos civet still exists, and is quite common in the mountains. It only comes out at night, and is a very silent creature.

How many other lifeforms like Hose&rsquos Civet live in Borneo&rsquos forests? How many more have never been seen by anyone, and have no name? How many CCTV cameras will our modern scientists have to put up in the forests to find things?

We better start going out to places no man has gone before to find these animals. If we do not know they exist, how can we protect them from extinction? The age of exploration, as we call it, is today focussed on Mars. We seek new worlds, and set our sights on distant planets. But we have yet to fully understand our own planet. Perhaps we never will.

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Ancient Blue Eyes on Borneo

When it comes to the island of Borneo, one expects the unexpected. One expects plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth. One even expects these unique animals to be strange, look completely different from any other animal in nature, and do things no others do. And those who have these expectations are not disappointed. Borneo is full of exactly such lifeforms. Many we know of today, but many more we don&rsquot know of yet. They wait, silently in the forests, rivers and mountains, waiting patiently for someone to discover them, tell the world about them, and bring them into the world&rsquos spotlight. They await recognition. They await their little place in the sun.

Here&rsquos a story about one of these unique animals, discovered and described in 1878 but never properly understood and seen in its living form. This is the Bornean Earless Monitor, scientifically named Lanthanotus borneensis. It was first described from a dead animal found after a flood in northern Borneo, near the town of Sibu. It was 15 inches long, covered with a leathery skin with thorn-like spikes, a long tail and small feet. It was a lizard. It had no ears.

In 2015, at an undisclosed location, I encountered a living earless monitor. It was a sunny day, and I was resting by a small clearwater stream. I had just trekked 3hrs through the humid jungle, and found this small bubbling brook of the clearest water I&rsquove ever seen. I was sitting on the smooth water-sculptured boulders on its banks, lunching on an extremely squashed egg sandwich dug out from the bottom of my rucksack. My sweat-drenched shirt was drying on a rock, covered with a whole bunch of fluttering butterflies attracted by the salty sweat.

I had been sitting there about 30mins when suddenly I saw movement in the water. I spotted a small lizard swimming on the surface, some 10m from me. Following its slow swim, I realised this was a creature I had never seen before. It had a plump appearance, unlike a water monitor which is the common swimming reptile one encounters on Borneo. It was all reddish brown, unlike a crocodile which has distinctive markings. It appeared to be very rough skinned at first impression. Its skin was clearly not smooth. It disappeared under water.

I watched the area for a long time, probably a full 15 minutes before I spotted the animal again, emerging amongst some rocks. It climbed half way out of the water and settled on a rock. This time I could put my binoculars on it, and was amazed at what I saw! Before me was some prehistoric-looking reptile. The first thing I noticed was its eyes. They were blue. Blue eyes were totally out of character for a reddish-brown lizard.

This was a heavily scaled lizard, with each scale a bulging diamond-shape, like a snake. On top of this heavily scaled skin were rows of rough-pointed conical thorns. Each thorn was like a small pyramid, broad at the base and blunt at the tip. Each tip was slightly lighter coloured, creating the appearance of dotted lines from its head all the way to its tail.

I took my binoculars away for a moment, sitting back to absorb what I was looking at. My heart was beating fast, and I realised I was hyperventilating. The overpowering excitement of seeing an animal I had never seen before began to subside, and I began to breathe normally again.

Now I could watch this incredible lizard again, with a calm mind and steady hands. I began to observed it in great detail, taking mental notes of its shape, colour, markings and everything else I could think of. I realised I had time, because it was just lying there, apparently with no intention of leaving soon. I too wasn&rsquot leaving anytime soon either! Not until it left.

It did eventually slip back into the water and swim away with a lazy serpentine movement that made me think snake rather than lizard. Its oddly sized small limbs and elongated body made it really look more like a snake when swimming. It didn&rsquot use its feet to propel itself, but rather the undulations of its body, just like a snake. I couldn&rsquot help think this must be an animal evolutionarily somewhere in-between a snake and a lizard. Its blunt snout and virtually no discernible neck added to this effect.

There ends my account of a first-time meeting with an extraordinary animal. Yet another lifeform that has evolved on Borneo, and remains confined to this great island. The encounter left me with more questions than answers. It also left me with a revitalised resolve to find the next Bornean animal that no one has yet seen. I know deep inside me that these animals exist. They are out there, waiting for someone to find them, and tell the world about them. Give them their moment in the sun. Give them recognition, give them a name and give them a sound and safe future. Surely this is what nature asks of us, one simple ask &ndash know them!

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Otters are amongst the most instantly lovable animals in the world. Without ever seeing a living otter, most people would attest to how adorable they are, how their fluffy fur makes them most huggable, and they are the most playful of animals. There is no doubt that few wild animals have the appeal otters have. They are indeed the most playful of animals. Even the ancient versions of their name means to play. Scientists have discovered that otters really do play amongst themselves just for the fun of it. Instead of lying still and doing nothing, they engage in playful fights, jump and run around the place and basically entertain themselves constantly. Why do they do this? The only answer would be, why not?

What most of us do not know is that the is not one, but three otters on Borneo. One is big, really big, with huge feet. This is the smooth otter, and they can grow to over 1 metre long, and weigh over 10kg. Smooth otters live almost exclusively along the coasts, and freely swim in the surf along beaches. They live in family groups of up to 8 members. It is called the smooth otter because it&rsquos fur is shorter than all other otters, making its pelt the smoothest of all the otters. All otters have historically been hunted for their pelts, which are both waterproof and warm.

The second otter on Borneo is the hairy-nosed otter, which is smaller than the smooth otter. This is a dark coloured otter, with fine hairs growing on its nose, hence its name. This otter is one of the rarest of the otters, and until recently, was thought to have disappeared from Borneo. We now know that they still exist. This species appears to be a deep forest species, almost never seen. They appear to prefer swampy habitats like peat swamp forests. Hairy-nosed otters live in smaller families of 4 to 5 members.

The third otter is the smallest. This is the small-clawed otter, and is the most commonly seen otter throughout Borneo. They can be found in almost any habitat, from villages, ricefields, all rivers and even heading up mountains. This small otter lives in large family groups, sometimes seen in groups of over 10 animals. These dark grey animals are sometimes considered a nuisance, especially around fish farms and ponds. Keep fish in a pond and these otters will pay you a visit and help themselves to your fish!

As with almost all Borneo&rsquos animals, there is always some mystery associated with them. Otters are no exception. In the museum in Kuching, Sarawak, there are two otter skins, labelled Eurasian Otter. These were added to the collection in 1959 and 1961, from the Bario highlands. Apart from these two skins, there has not been any record of this species on Borneo. Where did these skins come from? Were they brought in by traders from somewhere else? Is there an undiscovered population of the Eurasian otter up in the central highlands of Borneo? Only time will tell. If the Eurasian otter is found on Borneo, it would be news indeed. This would be an extension of this species from mainland Asia all the way down to Borneo.

Regardless, the fact that Borneo has three species of otters is wonderful. These adorable animals are in many ways a reflection of the inhabitants of Borneo. Fun-loving, water-loving and ferocious hunters, just like the natives of Borneo. They depend on clean water like the river-living folk all across Borneo. Sensitive animals, yet resilient in character. Their appearance of a sleek vision moving through the water is contrasted with a totally different appearance when dry, all fluffed up and cuddly.

The otters are one of only two mammals (the other is the Beaver of north America) which have totally adapted themselves to an aquatic existence. Their webbed feet are unique in the mammalian world. They swim like no other animal, effortless, elegant and mesmerising. If you&rsquove ever had the luck to see wild otters, you will recall the smile they brought to your face. You can&rsquot help but smile and think to yourself: wow, what a joy they are to watch, and they make me feel good. May otters always be a part of this great island of Borneo, and continue to bring smiles to all.

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Planning a Path to Perdition

From the Editor: This article depicts the nature and impact of wildlife trade on wild species. Names and places used are fictitious.

It all began in 2011, in Taipei. Mr. Hsien was in a meeting with his suppliers. On the table was a most exquisite carved piece of ivory, glowing orange-red in the light. &ldquoI don&rsquot deal with hornbill ivory&rdquo Mr. Hsien said, leaning back. &ldquoMy entire business over the past 30 years has been elephant ivory&rdquo, he added. Over the course of the next two hours, this group of ivory traders made a monumental decision. Mr. Hsien would invest USD1 million to set up a network to supply his craftsmen with hornbill ivory. If successful, this new venture could rake in millions.

Mr. Hsien sat at the top of an industry that sourced for ivory in Africa and Southeast Asia, controlling a transportation network of collectors, packagers, truckers, and shippers. They could accumulate large amounts of ivory from different places, shipping them to his warehouses in Taipei, Shanghai and Hongkong. From these warehouses, ivory could be sold to anyone who needed this precious material for craftworks. Mr. Hsien was the primary distributor in the world, and his conglomerate was estimated to be worth USD900 million. He was a rich man.

Mr. Hsien was also a rich man with a problem. Supply of ivory was getting more and more difficult. Prices were going up, and many of his clients were moving away. At the Taipei meeting, a new product was proposed to him. His decision to introduce an extremely high quality new product into the market began a path to perdition for an innocent bird half a world away.

Hornbill ivory is in fact not a new product at all. It has been used ever since the first Chinese traders appeared on the shores of Borneo a thousand years ago. Today, Hornbill ivory is the most expensive ivory available. Hornbill ivory is basically the same material as elephant tusks, except that it is softer, and it has colour. Instead of the normal milky white, hornbill ivory has hues of deep yellow and red. Carved, this ivory looks absolutely beautiful. And there is no other animal that has this deep richly coloured ivory. Fetching up to USD6,000 a kilogram, it is worth three times that of elephant ivory.

Within three months of the Taipei meeting, a man from Hongkong flies into Jakarta. He is met by his Indonesian business counterpart. They spend the next five days in discussions in a 5-star hotel, an come up with a plan of action. Just 2 weeks later, three men board flights from Jakarta, to Pontianak, Balikpapan and Banjarmasin. Each of these men set up base in these three towns, staying there for three months.

Over the next year, middlemen are recruited to put the word out amongst the villages throughout Kalimantan that there is someone willing to pay USD10 for one head of the Helmeted Hornbill. These middlemen then hire a network of people who go out into the villages. They use buses, cars, motorcycles and boats. They head up the great rivers of Borneo, the Barito, Mahakam, Kapuas. In the interior of this vast island, they spend time talking to villagers. &ldquoI will pay USD10 per hornbill head, no questions asked.&rdquo &ldquoI will come here every three months to collect&rdquo. &ldquoThis is my phone number. You can call me if you have a good stock ready for collection, say at least 50 heads.&rdquo Across the villages, people quickly learn that there&rsquos someone buying helmeted hornbill heads. Get 10 heads, and that&rsquos USD100. Good money! Additional income for them. While out hunting for wild pig and deer, come across a helmeted hornbill, and hey! That&rsquos a bonus worth going after.

By 2013, an estimated 2,000 heads arrived in Mr. Hsien&rsquos warehouse in Shanghai. In 2015, 6,000 heads were reliably tracked to three warehouses in China, all owned by Mr. Hsien&rsquos group of companies. To put this number in perspective, each hornbill head has only about 300gms of ivory. Ten birds would give you 3kgs of ivory. 6,000 birds would produce 1,800kg. At a market price of USD6,000 per kg, this is worth about USD10.8 million.

For a more sobering perspective, add 150% to the USD10 per head for middlemen salaries, shipping costs, bribes and other costs associated with getting these heads from Borneo to China, and that&rsquos a cost price of USD150 per head, or USD900,000 per year to obtain 1,800kg of hornbill ivory ready for sale and distribution across China. Pretty good business, wouldn&rsquot you say?

The most sobering fact of this story is the Helmeted Hornbill itself. Of the ten hornbills on Borneo, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, only the Helmeted Hornbill has ivory! All the rest have hollow bills. Although basically black and white birds, several hornbills have deep yellows and reds on their bills and white parts of their feathers. This colour comes from the uropygial gland, also known as the preen gland. This gland is found on the lower back of the bird, and secretes a yellow or reddish oil. Just like we use oils and creams to keep our hair healthy and neat, birds use this oil in the same way.

Over time, this oil absorbs into the ivory, and stains it these beautiful yellows and reds. This is why hornbill ivory has these beautiful colours. This is why hornbill ivory is so expensive. This is also why one of Asia&rsquos most beautiful hornbills has become critically endangered.

Mr. Hsien&rsquos network is now expanding to Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and the northern States of Borneo. In 2015, the Helmeted Hornbill was listed as critically endangered globally. This means that if unchecked, current practices will result in extinction of this magnificent hornbill in the very near future.


Watch the video: Αυτά είναι τα 5 μυστικά για να διαλέγετε πάντα το καλό καρπούζι (August 2022).