The Block Island Times

Your garden and your brain

By Fred Nelson | Mar 25, 2014

The more that one reads gardening articles from various sources the more that we realize that we surely don’t know everything that encompasses the horticultural world. As an example, an article appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, was headlined: “Bacteria in soil studied for impact on brain power.” Now, that title in itself is enough to get a gardeners’ attention. What an incentive to go out and play in the garden soil and hope for an impact on one’s brain.

The article tells the story of two researchers at The Sage Colleges in Albany, N.Y., who received a grant to support a study on particular bacteria found in soil that is shown to have natural brain-boosting effects.

Here’s some of the article: “The grant will support work by professors Susan Jenks and Dorothy Mathews into Mycobacterium vaccae, a strain of bacteria that occurs naturally in soil, and that was first scientifically isolated in cow dung. Earlier research by the pair has found that mice who were fed bacteria-laden peanut butter snacks were much better able to navigate mazes than mice that did not eat the bacteria.”

“The mechanism of this effect is likely an immune system reaction to the bacterium, which then stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin,” said Jenks. “Serotonin is important in calming anxiety and produces positive effects on general well-being.”

“New research will focus on whether these benefits can be passed from pregnant mice to their offspring, something that Jenks and Mathews expect to find. The next question will be how the bacteria interact with humans, and whether mothers could pass any of its benefits to their developing children.”

Who would think, as this article relates, that there are, indeed, career-opportunities of all sorts for students and those in horticultural research?

Perhaps, to get a jump on the above subject, you may want to start looking for a source of “cow dung” to enhance your garden soil and at the same time add to the axiom that gardening does console the mind and body. Of course, this benefit will only occur providing that you actually get down on your knees in the garden and get your hands dirty.

Following the rather unusual winter weather that was experienced, gardeners are reminded that the rush to get out to the garden can’t be soon enough. However, remember that most plants will not prosper in cold, wet soil. Hold your enthusiasm to get transplants growing until the soil temperature gets out of the 50-degree range. To get at least a small start on growing some garden plants why not try making a cold frame for early spring gardening. I have used the following method for over 30 years and with very good success. A relatively small plywood frame of four-feet wide by three- or four-feet deep will grow quite a few early transplants, either those plants that you start from seed or those you purchase. The back side should be at least 15 to 18 inches high and the front should be at least 12 inches high. The frame should be oriented to take advantage of the sun, thus the low side faces south.

A cover of discarded windows or a frame covered with clear plastic should provide protection and warm temperatures during the day and most moderate temperature nights. Provide a means to raise the cover during warm days to provide ventilation and prevent “cooking” the plants. In the evening, close the top down. If temperatures are predicted to be extra cold at night cover the frame with an old blanket or rug. Be sure to remove it the following morning or all will be lost.

Until planting time arrives it is not too late to catch up on any pruning of trees or shrubs that went unfinished last fall. Spring flowering shrubs can be pruned immediately following flowering. As I have advised in the past, the easiest way to control and improve the appearance of such spring or early summer flowering shrubs is to cut out about one third of the largest stems as close to the ground as possible. This is more attractive than shearing the plant in some formal shape.

“Little by little, even with other cares, the slowly but surely working poison of the garden-mania begins to stir in my long-sluggish veins.” — Henry James (1843-1916)




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