The A B C's aka S.W.A.N.

Today as I was explaining some watering basics to my wife she interjected, 'Yes, like the ABC's of dancing. Walking, Side-step, Rock-step, triple-step.' Now, to her and other dancers that all may actually sound like A,B,C, but not to any one of us and at least not right away. So then I thought of one of the most commonly asked questions we get, which is, 'How often do I water?' and our responses usually include SWAN. SWAN represents the basics for plant Life. Sort of the A B C's of plants.

SWAN: Sun, Water, Air, and Nutrients and that just brings up more questions...

Since one of our driving forces at TREE center is the Love of answering questions we jumped on it!

Sun: Light the driving force behind plant growth, but it works hand in hand with other elements and actions. Some plants like or can handle between a certain amount of sun vs shade and depending on those levels the plants may require more or less air and water. Then potentially in turn those same plants can handle and make use of more concentrated nutrients. Sun light can be replaced by man-made light such as that made by Natural or Daylight light bulbs. Very important to understand that the more sun or 'light' a plant gets the more likely it is also soaking up more of the water in and around its roots. We say 'most likely' because some plants don't require or like much sun or light. Giving those plants too much light will start hurting them by drying up their leaves then the entire plant ultimately making it unhappy, inefficient, diseased and done. Also, evening sunlight after about 3pm is much more intense for your plants than 6am through 2p sunlight. This will become more important when we speak about watering.

Water: We touched on water earlier. Water is crucial even for us humans. We can survive several weeks without food or nutrients, but would not make it past a week without water. Pay attention next time to a plant that is in desperate need of water what it looks like right then and there. Then water it thoroughly and witness the shift. It is literally like putting air into a flat ball. Water is crucial to all survival. Lets protect and share it wisely! When watering your potted plants make sure the water is not merely flowing down the sides between the edges of the pot and soil. Give them a good soaking if possible every time and always try to avoid wetting their leaves. Some plants won't stand for it at all. African Violets for example will develop stains on their leaves from cool water splashing on them. Other leaves and plants would love to be sprayed regularly just be mindful that when the sun shines, specially in the stronger evening sunlight those drops of water magnify the effect of the sun on the leaves and often burn the green right off. Water too late in the evening and you risk getting a disease known as powdery mildew where your plants leaves look as if they were slapped with baby/talcum powder. Just water less often, but more thoroughly specially for trees. With all of the competition for water in the top 6 inches of soil (grass, flowers, heat dissipation, insects etc) there is barely any left for tree and perennial roots down below, but that will not stop them from drilling their way back up to the surface with roots the size and thickness of tree trunks. The longer you can water, the deeper the water will seep allowing the tree roots to dig downward and maybe even reach a deep enough level that they capture water run off from other sources. That's why it is important that we educate all our neighbors, friends and family members about using and putting only organic elements into the ground and soils. Careful with faucet water when you have delicate plants as lots of our drinking water is chemically treated and can cause them harm. For Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants you must use filtered water so that no nutrients are being added to their diet and they will continue to develop their insect eating features.

Air: Even though roots are under the ground they require oxygen to thrive. How do they get oxygen? Well, that is another way the elements work together. You water your plants, that water creates inroads and paths as it makes it way down and right behind that water and more so once the soil has has dried is the perfect path for air to flow. That is why it is also crucial to have the right soil or soil medium at the root level. Some plants like succulents/cacti can deal with compact soil because they do not require much water but the heat creates cracks in the ground allowing for the same oxygen exchange other plants require. Plants grown hydroponically (in water) are oxygenated by air pumps if they are submerged in water other wise those plants would drown. Wind, drafts and vents can create a very dry and difficult environment for plants, so always know about those trouble spots as well as places where there is no air circulation.

Nutrients: Last but certainly not least are nutrients. You have your basic nutrients the most notable would be NPK. Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. Nutrients usually come from other decomposing matter, but many a times they can be synthetically put together in a lab. It is still the same nutrient but derived from and potentially in a different form/structure. No worries, keep it simple just check what the 'Derived from' ingredients are and you can tell the difference between one that lists Ammonium Nitrate, Urea, etc vs Bat Guano, Rice hulls, bone meal, etc. Synthetic nutrients are great for use with flowers and the such which can make quick use of the solubility of synthetic fertilizers and don't pose as much harm as long as we would not be planning on eating or ingesting those same flowers. Compost works extremely well as a source for nutrients. Nitrogen typically helps by greening up your plants and leaves as it supports overall above ground growth, Phosphorous supports more of the roots growth and Potassium adds more of an all around benefit to the plant and its growth. Overall you want a well diversified garden so utilizing different composts and fertilizers derived from separate sources would be most beneficial.

If you can figure out and keep SWAN in mind you will have the basic A B C's to keeping your plants alive and thriving.

Under the Chocoalte Umbrella - Experimenting with different soil organics under the Theobroma cacao canopy

I started three cacao seeds that were passed on to me from a cacao tree in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. The first seedling was the control and potted only with Fox Farm's Ocean soil, the second seedling also with this soil, but I added beneficial mycorrhizae in powder form. The last seedling received and will continue to be fed "Native Nutrients 100% Mushroom Compost" alongside it's Fox Farm Ocean mix. All 3 plants will be kept on an East facing window with morning light exposure at around 50/50 light to shade until about 11a and then on until sundown they will have bright shade. Indoor temperatures average around 72 degrees (f) with between 62-78% humidity in it's placement within the kitchen. With cacao plants growing so well under shade it is quite obvious that their relationship with beneficial bacteria and fungi is essential for it's basic survival and growth.

There are only a two variables that can interfere with results like depth of the pots (not likely, but easily visible if it becomes a factor) and the fact that one of the cacao seedlings (in mushroom compost mix) after removing its dried out, outer brown skin looks to be a pale green bean versus the reddish brown undercover pigmentation of the other two beans.
We shall see. I've read, "The Chocolate Tree - A Natural History of Cacao" by Allen M. Young and if you're interested in chocolate like I am then you should at least read this through once along with "The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao" (Smithsonian Nature Books), which seems to be a different book by the same author.
Control Bean "A"

Bean "B" w/ Mushroom compost
Bean "B" picture 2

Bean "C" w/ Mycorrhizae
Bean "C" picture 2
Control Bean "A" picture 2