The Spittlebug

April 25, 2010

Have you ever noticed little bits of foamy bubbles on a leaf or a plant? It has been one of life’s numerous mysteries for me until today- now I know that the bubbles are the subterfuge of the Spittlebug, also known as the Froghopper. Never mind that there are also ants in the above photo, there is a bug hiding in the bubbles.

There are over 23,000 species of spittlebugs. Amazing considering I have yet to actually see more than the ‘evidence’. The spit does 3 things: hiding the spittlebugs from predators, insulating them from low and high temperatures and preventing the spittlebugs from dehydrating. The young nymph bugs secrete a liquid which they churn with their legs and bodies to create the frothy bubbles. Then they hang out and suck the sap from plants.

They are also called Froghoppers because their little faces look like frogs. Sortof.

In some places they can be a persistent pest, sucking the life out of plants. Ehow says to wash the bubbles off the plants and that insecticides are not necessary to control spittlebugs. Usually there is very little damage from this bug. I don’t see evidence of it here in New England. the eggs are deposited in the fall and overwinter. In the spring, the nymph emerges and does the spit thing. There are some kinds of spit bugs that are considered pesky- in N Carolina there is a striped bug that eats up grass/turf and also attacks holly causing the leaves to become splotchy and yellow and to drop prematurely. That would be a pest.

In New England the spittlebug can attack Red pine and Jack pine. Scots pine, which is increasingly planted for Christmas trees, is occasionally injured by the spittlebug. White pine is frequently fed upon but seldom damaged severely.

Pestech..(which I’d never use…) says “Adult spittlebugs thought to be Aphrophora saratogensis have been collected from pitch pine, tamarack, balsam fir, and northern white-cedar-usually from trees near infested red pine. The nymphs require two alternate hosts for their development. The early stages or instars feed on herbaceous species of plants of the forest floor such as brambles (raspberry and blackberry), orange hawkweed, everlasting, aster, and many others. Older nymphs feed on sweet-fern  and willow sprouts.”

The thing to do is wash the spit away if you find it in the garden.

PS About.com says the spit doesn’t come out of the bug’s mouth….

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Eagle Cam

April 19, 2010

I am loving watching the baby eagles grow and be cared for by their mother on the Eagle Cam, broadcasting live from the 2,700 acres Duke Farms in Hillsborough, N.J. This is one of the largest privately-owned parcels of undeveloped land in the state.

Bald eagles are very sensitive to human disturbance- so it is not okay to go near nests- if disturbed, the eagles may even abandon the nest. So this is a great way to observe.

The mission of Duke Farms is to serve as a model of environmental stewardship and inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land. You can assist us with our habitat regeneration efforts by volunteering. Go here to see a list of current educational volunteer opportunities, or to learn about our nature programs and tours.

Via: Ari


Baby Hummingbird

April 17, 2010

Thomasina shared this amazing youtube of rescued baby hummingbird learning to feed on flowers and being fed by its mother!

This green herb is popping in the oddest recipes. Once an obscure green, newcomer cilantro is a rising star. Why? To me, cilantro tastes like soap, shampoo, something yucky. I can smell it before I see it. I don’t understand the hoopla. AND, I intensely dislike finding it added into my soup, salad or guacamole as if it has always belonged there. I mean, since when does a taco need cilantro?

The authoritative Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” Too true.

and…Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects. via Arkansas Times

There are many websites devoted to hating the taste of cilantro. Visit  ihatecilantro, or join the 3600+ fans on Facebook on the I Hate Cilantro page, even BonAppetit.com has a writer who hates it! Everyone is posting about it this week due to the wonderful article in the NYT, entitled, Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault. It is worth noting that even Julia Child detested Cilantro. The NYT article describes an interview with Larry King and Julia Child where she describes her aversion!

I have often felt like the odd woman out when making a request for no cilantro or turning my nose up when I find it lurking in a sauce or sprinkled liberally over an otherwise tasty dish.

According to the Times article: a Japanese study published in January suggested that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma. I will have to try that but I don’t know if I will ever get used to cilantro. There are plenty of other healthy foods that can be used as garnish. Cilantro certainly will not be part of my cooking repertoire as the rest of my family detests it too!

The Food and Drug Administration said recent research raises “valid concerns” about the possible health effects of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in a growing number of liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, dishwashing liquids, shaving gels and even socks, workout clothes and toys.

They are taking a fresh look at triclosan, which is so ubiquitous that is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recent scientific studies raise questions about whether triclosan disrupts the body’s endocrine system and whether it helps to create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. An advisory panel to the FDA said in 2005 that there was no evidence the antibacterial soaps work better than regular soap and water. They are changing their tune.

In a previous post 11/08, titled The Germs Are Coming, I looked at the issue:

The Townsend Letter presents a very compelling look at the oversights of the EPA and FDA with regard to our safety from overexposure to triclosan and other antimicrobial agents. Some hazards include the chloroform toxic gas that is created when using antimicrobial dishwashing or hand soap with chlorinated water! Dr Stewart Levy in a paper presented to the CDC, suggests that these heavy hitting products are not useful in a healthy household and after years of overuse and misuse of these drugs, bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance, which has become a global health crisis. The “increase of surface antibacterial agents or biocides into healthy households may contribute to the resistance problem”.

The known health hazards are numerous and include:accumulation of residues through skin and mucosal absorption, residues can be found in human fatty tissue and breast milk traceable to use of products containing triclosan. Although it may take years for the EPA and FDA to regulate this toxin, we can easily elect not to use them and change the future of the health of ourselves and our families. 4 major grocery chains in the UK have banned the sale of products containing triclosan.

Go here to read the summary of the findings of the risk assessments.

Okay for Agave

April 11, 2010

It’s always helpful for me to rethink  pronouncements of the experts. Non credo and all that. So I’ve been in communication with some agave companies to speak with them about Mercola’s article which left such a sour taste in agave fan’s mouths.

In my personal experience, I don’t find agave to cause sugar highs. I like its light taste and that a little goes a long way. What is your experience? Are you gaining weight and can’t figure out why?

It is true that unlike rice syrup, for example, which consists of mostly maltose and glucose, agave syrup is a fructose. And yes, fructose goes very quickly through our system to the liver.

The big question for me is not about fructose itself, it’s about Mercola’s allegations that the process for creating the agave syrup is a harsh and terrible chemical process which leaves the quality of the fructose compromised, too.

Madhava quickly replied to my queries with many articles and other information about  Mercola’s addressing fructose and obviously defending the nutritional and health virtues.

From their new site, AgaveMythBuster.com:

Myth: Agave Nectar is produced the same way as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

Truth: There are two methods of making the Agave Nectar from the juice of the plant. One uses a non-GMO enzyme and the second is via thermal hydrolysis. Both process achieve the same goal which is to separate the naturally occurring Fructans which are complex sugar molecules into their simple sugar components fructose and glucose.

Unlike the process of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which creates fructose out of the glucose from the starch found in milled Corn, Agave Nectar simply separates Fructans or Inulin, a complex naturally occurring sugar into Fructose and Glucose.

Our producers do not use any sort of chemicals in the process and no foreign material is being added such as HFCS. Filtration and evaporation of excess moisture are the rest of the process. The evaporation is done in a vacuum evaporator.

From the prehispanic times, the only sweet treat available to Indians in Mexico was the cooked leaves of the agave plant. They are still in markets all over Mexico. If there would be any kind of dangerous substance, this would be the absolute extreme case of exposure to it; not a single case of any problem has ever been reported, this goes back over 700 years.

Agave Nectar in its present form has been sold for over 12 years all over the world, including western Europe, Japan and the U.S.. The product has a proven record of safety and is deemed safe by the FDA and all regulatory bodies all over the world and there has never been a report of agave nectar linked to a miscarriage.

Myth: Agave Nectar is adulterated or mixed with HFCS.

Truth: Madhava’s Agave Nectar does not contain corn syrup, corn products, or any adulteration of any sort. Guaranteed. Our Agave Nectar is 100% pure from the agave plant with no additives whatsoever.

We package our agave nectar at our facility in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Madhava’s Quality Control representatives routinely visit and inspect all our suppliers’ facilities in Mexico. The suppliers are Organically Certified and 3rd party audited or currently in the process. In addition our facility in Colorado is USDA Organic Certified and we are routinely audited.

In my corresponsdence with the Madhava company, I had the following detailed response from Maryann Schrobilgen:

Madhava uses both the Blue Agave and the Salmiana for our Nectars.

Salmiana – Agave Nectar is a pure and natural sweetener made from the natural juice (aguamiel) of the agave salmiana. It is harvested from live plants in the high desert region of Central Mexico, where a wealth of the plants grow wild. It is gathered by hand by Hnahnu Indian peoples native to this area, from plants on their land. Mature agave plants produce a flower stalk. By removing the flower, a bowl shaped cavity is formed- a container into which the aquamiel is secreted. The plant produces this liquid for 6-8 months, during which up to 8 quarts are removed twice daily. A hollowed out gourd is used to siphon the aguamiel from the plant and transfer it to a container. Once the aquamiel is collected, it is immediately taken to the production facility. First it is filtered to remove debris.  Then, it is hydrolyzed by heating the syrup to 113 degrees and an organic, vegan, grain-free non-GMO enzyme is added, transforming the naturally occurring sugar molecule chains into more simple sugars.  Excess water is evaporated, and it is filtered again to produce the final product of varying grades.

Blue Agave – Organic Blue Agaves are species-specific, made exclusively from Central Mexico’s renowned Blue Agave plant. After growing for 5 to 7 years, a mature blue agave stands several feet tall and its carbohydrates are concentrated in the plant’s core. The blue agaves treasure is held in the pina (so called because it resembles a pineapple after the leaves have been trimmed away). Farmers hand-cut the blue agave with a simple razor-sharp blade. (A skilled farmer can cut and trim a 100- pound blue agave pina in less than 5 minutes.) The field trimmings are left behind to restore the soil and reduce erosion.

The fibrous blue agave pina is taken to the mill where it is pressed and its inulin-rich juice is collected and filtered.  It is then heated to 138 degrees for hydrolysis.  It is then filtered again to produce the final product of varying grades.

I hope this helps.  If I can be of any further assistance please let me know.

Have a wonderful day!

Maryann Schrobilgen

Madhava

4689 Ute Highway

Longmont, CO  8050

That sounds like sound ecological and manufacturing practices to me. Where did Mercola get his information, anyway?

Now for the fructose issue:

Studies by researchers at UC Davis and the University of Michigan have shown that consuming fructose, which is more readily converted to fat by the liver, increases the levels of fat in the bloodstream in the form of triglycerides.

Unlike other types of carbohydrates made up of glucose, fructose does not stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. Peter Havel, a nutrition researcher at UC Davis who studies the metabolic effects of fructose, has also shown that fructose fails to increase the production of leptin, a hormone produced by the body’s fat cells. We need insulin and leptin to signal our brain to turn down our appetite and doesn’t activate the hormones that regulate body weight- so fructose can clearly can lead to weight gain.

This last truth is an important piece of the controversy. Moderate use of all sweeteners is always the best way to go. I don’t think there is anything to be afriad of in agave syrup. Diabetics need to be cautious around all sweeteners, particularly those that don’t signal the body in an obvious way. And so, in rethinking things, I think Mercola is over-doing it.

What I truly believe is this:

Finding the sweetness in our vegetables, discovering the inherent sweet taste of whole grains and enjoying the natural sweetness of our local fruits and berries is ultimately all the sweetener we need. Using local sweeteners is the next best step. For me that is, maple syrup, honey and fruit juices. Agave comes from a long way away. I am grateful that I have access to it, but the truth is, it is not local, not indigenous by any stretch.

So, as an experiment, I am going to stop using agave for a few months and see how I feel. I will use organic brown rice syrup and my neighbor’s honey (her bees spend time pollinating my fruit trees, flowers and herbs) and I’ll keep you posted. Love to hear from you, too. So, don’t be shy.

Of course this is via Micah, via Green Diary. Check out this robot plant from Plantas Nomadas that  can walk about the contaminated rivers to nourish its microbial fuel cells. As it sips from the polluted water source, the elements of the contaminated water serve as nutrients for its microbes and they disintegrate to create energy during the process.

You can see Plantas Nomadas, designed by Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza, at Laboral, Gijón, Spain through June, 7, 2010.