Category Archives: Science



Available on Amazon.
Available on Amazon

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

The wind from the shattered window in front of her offered a welcomed breeze directly in her face. She was once again lulled, but this time with a profound sense of despair. Only her father’s long-ago words broke through:

Pruning is perhaps the most important aspect of horticulture. In the horticultural world, we try to mimic nature. In the natural arena, there are frosts, drought, stampedes, insects, constant nibbling by creatures, viruses and bacterium, and any number of possible assaults to decimate foliage. This is by far the hardest thing for most people. It is difficult for them to ‘hurt’ the branch or cut away part of something that is living. The result is that much energy is spent on unhealthy parts that should have been removed.

In nature, the weak and unhealthy are eliminated without hesitation. Pruning, and I mean hard pruning, enables the root and stem structure to become more established—thus retaining and distributing nutrients to the healthy parts of the plant. The plant on the whole has a chance to regenerate itself without the burden of the old and diseased material.

The most important thing for you to do in your life is diligent pruning. You must cut off damaged parts that can hold you down and take away energy from your growth. It is imperative that your expenditures are directed to healthy endeavors. And when I say ‘hard pruning,’ Skyler Morgan Smith, I mean not only do you need to cut hard—cutting away the damaged parts and dispose of them entirely—I mean that it will be hard to accomplish. It will take a great deal of perseverance, and perhaps reliving of the hurt, in order to rid yourself of the burden. But it will be worth the pain.

The Cork Oak


Available on Amazon.
Available on Amazon.

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

She went back in time to a picnic that she had prepared for her father by the Carmel River.

cork bark tree planterThe majestic Cork Oak, Quercus suber, grows to sixty feet both wide and high and has an incredible bark structure. The gnarly thick cork is the bark of commerce. That lovely cabernet I enjoyed last night was protected by that mighty oak’s ‘skin.’ The oak displays a rich palette of color and texture. The leaves have a waxy deep green surface while the under leaf is a fuzzy grey. The cork bark can get up to a foot thick and uses the principles of torque in order to achieve its abstract geometrical branching form. The very attribute that this giant embraces for her notoriety— as well as her protection—is the one attribute that causes her downfall. A common trait in humans.

Lovers and winemakers have desecrated her bark for millenniums. The vintners of ancient times only needed a primitive knife to seal their latest fermentations, while lovers carved eternal inscriptions. Nowadays, industrial wine merchants ravage her completely. Even the industrious woodpecker takes advantage of her soft temperament to shove her own acorns into her skin, assaulting her inner anatomy as they hunt for wood boring beetles. Each one of these assaults is small individually but when accumulated over time, can take down the benevolent elder—the damage becoming irreversible. Each little jab, every insult, all moments of disrespect can result in disease and an eventual structural breakdown.

Human’s personal relationships are exactly like the life of this giant sentinel. A personal relationship is the sum of its parts. The twists and turns of human relationships result in the being as a whole, each event causes branching in a new direction, thus furthering to stabilize the overall structure. When nutrients and illumination are added, the fundamental structure will strengthen. However, in human interaction, each small jab, every tiny insult—even if waived off with a hand—leaves a hole. The natural process can survive a myriad of insults that life will bestow on you gladly and in perpetuity. Winemakers and lovers will readily leave their marks. Yes, there will be a few old initials carved on your own bark, but one must work hard so the holes do not overcome your own wellbeing. To protect your personal structure, you should walk away from anything inflicting little holes, for if you have enough of them—they can take you down.

Nutrition in 2050—Increased CO2 Changing Plant Nutrients

Nutrition in 2050—Increased CO2 Changing Plant Nutrients

Low levels of dietary iron and zinc can facilitate a multitude of assaults to the human condition. When humans are lacking in these nutrients, they can suffer a weakened immune system, anemia, low IQ, and reduced energy levels. Approximately 2 billion people suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies worldwide.

Recent experiments based on wheat, peas, soybeans, and rice have shown that high levels of CO2 decrease the plant material’s iron, zinc, and even protein levels between 5 and 10%. Unfortunately, these are the crops that supply 70% of these nutrients to a hungry and malnourished planet.

Just this April, carbon dioxide levels were recorded for the first time (since records have been kept) at or above 400 parts per million across the entire northern hemisphere. This is 150% of the levels in pre-industrial times – in about a 100 year span. A nanosecond in geological time.

The experiments elevated the carbon dioxide levels to between 546 and 586 ppm. This is the level that scientists expect to see in some parts of the world by around 2050. Projected population in 2050 is about 9.6 billion (up 38% from 2010).

With all these mouths to feed – and nourish – humans will be hard pressed to fulfill their dietary needs in the future. Perhaps we could ban together and make some changes.

It’s a small planet…


Fertilizer Philosophy


Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

The warm glow of her father’s speech enraptured her.

Fertilizers are a tricky thing, you know. There are the big three, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Nitrogen is for the greening of the plant, phosphorous is for flowering and bud set, and potassium is for root and stem structure. There are the micronutrients—calcium, sulfur, and manganese. Iron and some trace elements are also necessary. The funny thing is that if a horticulturist applies fertilizer incorrectly, either in a concentration that is too high or with too many applications, the plant will suffer what is called fertilizer ‘burn.’

Amazingly, fertilizers are salts. Salts have a negative charge, the root nodes that are their targets, have a positive charge. When applied in the proper ratio, one negative attracts to one positive. The necessary nutrient is then extracted from the salt and sent up into the plant material. When the ratio is upset, the salts attach en masse to the root node, plugging them up, and the plant gets nothing. Not only that, salts ‘burn’ the roots just like when you put salt on a snail. Too much of a good thing, I would say.

People’s lives are just like that, Skyler. When you are older you will meet people that have improper ratios. Some people will be incapable of their complete growth for lack of any nutrients. Some people have been given too much to absorb so they end up with nothing, none of the proper nutrients going into their hearts. I knew a woman once that had everything. In fact, she had so much of everything that it made her mad because even though she had so much, she was still the same miserable person she was before. You will meet those people, Sky, and nothing you will be able to do will make them happy. But you will also meet people that have barely anything—and are the happiest people on the planet.

Sky smiled to herself, feeling like one of those people.



Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Sky could visualize Dr. Merrill in class. When he was lecturing in the areas that were held by his passion, there could be a no more intellectual or more riveting equal. She had always been inspired by his lectures, always enthralled by the purity of his intent.

Ventura County Strawberry Festival Lady
Ventura County Strawberry Festival Lady

Plant communities and their health are the crucial elements of natural survival. Take the plight of the commercially produced strawberry. Driscoll Inc. has, as we speak, one hundred and eighty thousand acres of strawberry fields grown with one—and only one—variety of strawberry, fragaria var. This is called monoculture: note that, it will be on the midterm. The result in the case of predators, including fungus, insects, virus, and bacteria is that when any plant in the group gets infected, the rest of the population is not only susceptible, but likely to succumb. The grower has to overdose the fields with methyl bromide to combat crop devastation.

The purpose for plant communities is that different varieties exhibit different growing habits, harbor beneficial predators, attract a variety of pollinators—well, the list is almost endless. In the natural arena, speaking generally, one variety will house the insect or bacteria that will inhibit the pest of its neighbor. Another good neighbor may drop seedpods that can alter the local PH, stalling a bacterial infection. Perhaps more importantly, each member of the plant community occupies a different niche. In a natural habitat, you will have the arboreal members, the vining members, the low semiherbaceous shrubs, the taller woody shrubs, the annuals, the perennials, etc. Each member inhabits its own area of expertise in order to thrive. It is imperative for the habitat that each position be filled and functioning.

Human communities are no different. If all the members of the community have the same function, who will harbor the beneficials? If we have all annuals, what will the pollinators and predators do during the dormant season without perennials? Nature is, by design, a place for all different types of inhabitants. If a habitat shuns one of its natives, the community is out of balance and will eventually expire. I guarantee the concept of ’tolerance’ was not ever an issue in a natural situation. If you fulfill your niche in your own community, you will thrive and be a crucial contribution to the whole.

Branching Structure


Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Branching tree / OSU
Branching tree / OSU

Skyler was mesmerized by the motion as darkness fell. The encompassing green friendliness lulled her into her own comfortable space, a space that had been recently shaken into a questionable existence. She immersed herself in the comfort and beauty of her surroundings as her father’s voice penetrated her thoughts.

The deciding factors of a tree’s branching structure are both numerous and mysterious. Sunlight availability, the growth hormone and communicator auxin, as well as nutrients, genes, and sheer physics dictate branching geometry. Mathematics play a huge role in branching in that many species use the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci numbers to form branching structures, especially in the whorl forms.

Without the proper branching design, continuously adjusting to physical and environmental challenges, the tree not only cannot compete for sunlight, but will topple in the forest. An overabundance of foliage on one side will eventually succumb to gravity. When you grow up, Skyler, you must branch out in many directions in order to achieve balance in your life. Any branch too heavy in one direction will bring you down. If you do not branch at all, you will not receive the necessary nutrients to flourish.

I know that it is sometimes petrifying because you will most certainly fail. Humans unfortunately do not have the brilliant auxin as a guide. Well, in actuality we do, it is called a brain. However, humans have the misfortune of desires and ego, which perpetually cloud our branching strategies. If you do not branch, and branch well, you will sit on the forest floor and be stunted, never showing the true beauty of a perfectly balanced person. It takes much work, sapling, constantly stretching away from the known. But you must.

The Holdfast


Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Sea kelp tidepool
Sea kelp in a tide pool

Although not a plant per se, as there is no real root system, sea kelp is the perfect instrument of photosynthesis. Most people don’t know or care much about kelp species although many of the products they use on a daily basis, such as toothpaste and shampoo, are made with kelp ingredients.

In fact, most botanists are not even aware that kelp forests have both annual and perennial members. Nereocystis and Agarum display a very similar growing habit to your basic cyclical terrestrial forest.

Growing up to six inches a day under even the most strenuous of circumstances, kelp is the most sustainable organism on this planet.

The kelp’s most amazing attribute is the ‘holdfast.’ Not a root, mind you, a holdfast. Just because the root structure is not conventional doesn’t mean it is not superbly suited to its function.

Without your own ‘holdfast,’ Skyler, you will float away and get caught up with the torrents and predators of life. Due to circumstances beyond your control, you have no proper root structure. You must develop your own ‘holdfast’ — and it must be strong. Extremely strong.




Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Cineraria Flowers Pictures (16)Her father stooped over Cineraria stellata, a beautifully clustered flower, and offered a rare smile.

My old friend Dr. Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire did a study on why people are deemed ‘lucky.’ He told me that among those people he tested, the ones who rated themselves as ‘lucky’ scored markedly higher in the area of extroversion. Their extroversion significantly increased the likelihood of having a lucky chance encounter.

‘Lucky’ people are more likely to notice chance opportunities, even when they are not expecting them. They are open to new experiences and like the notion of unpredictability.”

She giggled as any twelve-year-old girl would at the thought of this grumpy old man being an extrovert. She was even surprised that Dad had ‘an old friend’; he only occasionally socialized with botanical colleagues.

Father, why do you think of that when you are with the Cineraria?

Skyler, you are a perceptive little one. Our lovely stellata is the horticultural embodiment of the conceptual state of luck. She lives in clusters with her sisters, languishing sublimely in the under-story of large, shady protectors. She harbors copious collections of bright, small star shaped flowers, thus her name ‘stellata’, and has a free and easy growing habit.

When stellata has finished her mirthful display, her seed pods float away in a feathery shower to join the others wherever they have landed, in a sleepy respite secretly plotting to amaze the subsequent spring. The numerous clusters of flowers and resulting seed pods greatly increase her chances of successful replication in her environment. Her seed has many serendipitous opportunities to land in suitable locations and thrive.

She has every advantage to enhance her luck and is tenacious in her pursuit in order to thrive. It would be wise to apply her credo to our daily lives in the knowledge that luck is what we make it.



Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

She had been walking through the Monterey pine and cypress forest, head bent, stooping to inspecting the soil. She remembered what her father had told her, Always remember to look up. She didn’t fully comprehend what he had meant; her nose was always to the grindstone.MontereyCypress-

To her, the coastal pine forest in central California was an incredible place, almost holy—the soil a deep chocolate mélange of organic materials, a fusty rich womb of fundamental creation. She embraced every morning, dawning with perfectly descending sunlit fingers, toying with wisps of fog and ferns as they casually touched down upon a pristine landscape. It was as if the forest were immaculately tended by tiny invisible terrestrial gardeners.

The smell of the land, the soft indirect lighting and the slight chill in the air, even in the summer, had enticed her into her life’s path. She felt most at home in the arms of Mother Nature.

Living for the moment in that forest and remembering her father’s words, she did look up. She saw a grove of the structurally impressive Cupressus macrocarpa, the legendary Monterey Cypress, and marveled at its architecture.

She spied a spectacular 100-foot Pinus radiata—a Monterey Pine. This stately pine should have been extinct years ago and, as such, the species was riddled by countless insidious pests. Wood boring beetles, viruses, and a host of other denigrators had caused this large 150-year-old specimen to topple onto a lower sapling. The young tree lay at a 45-degree angle suppressed by the ancient, waning pine. The tip of the sapling was stubbornly raising its head up to the sky.

This scenario immediately brought Skyler’s memory back to that precious summer with her father long ago.

Every human strives to be upright whether they are aware of it or not. Even if he or she has had the worst possible situations descend upon them, forced to the ground, they will struggle to stay upright. Look around you in the forest child; you will see it happen over and over. You can see the young saplings leaning, stretching, and clamoring to find their place in the sun. When they get established in their own particular spot, they will reach for the sky in perfect harmony with the light, the earth, and in alignment with sheer gravity.

This is what you must do, my little sapling. Take the blows that have been dealt to you and use them to support your stature. The upright life that you lead will be a beacon for the rest of the forest.

She smiled softly. She would have given anything to have had more time with her father. She refused to allow herself to wallow.


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fertilizer, and More!

Ficus carica and sweet allysum groundcover.
Fig tree (Ficus carica) and sweet allysum

Brandon Wiggins, Science Writer at Large

What is fertilizer? Simply put, fertilizer combines the nutrients that plants need to grow—potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus—in a form they can digest. Think of it as plant food.

As crops grow, they absorb, or mine, nutrients from the soil. When crops are harvested, so too are the nutrients that were absorbed by the plants. Commercial  fertilizers nourish the soil by returning the “food” that next year’s crop will require.

Nitrogen is a key element in protein. Like the human body, plants need it to grow. Phosphorus is the plant world’s equivalent of carbohydrates—it provides the energy for plants to thrive. And potassium is a mineral that helps plants fight stress and disease. It helps plants grow strong stalks, in the same way that calcium gives people strong bones.

Are there chemicals in fertilizer? The three main ingredients in fertilizer—nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus—come from nature. They are not man-made. Fertilizer companies simply convert them into a form that plants can use.

Fertilizer producers can blend nutrients into precise combinations to match the unique needs of different farms, crops, and fields. In this way, farmers can feed their soils with the most effective and efficient blend of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to achieve optimal yields.

Do farmers need to use fertilizer? In a word, yes. Every season, plants draw from the soil the nutrients they need to grow. When a crop goes to market, so too does the potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen it has absorbed and used throughout the growing season. When farmers fertilize, they put back into the soil the nutrients their next crop will require.

Soils do not naturally contain all the nutrients that crops need. And while some of the same nutrients in fertilizer are found in soil, they are not present in a sufficient supply for today’s high-yield farming.

It can take years—even decades—for nutrients to build up in the levels necessary to nurture a good crop. A single season can wipe out many years’ worth of naturally produced nutrients. Fertilizers give Mother Nature a helping hand.

Where does phosphorus come from?  Phosphorus used in fertilizers comes from the fossilized remains of ancient marine life found in rock deposits in the U.S. and other parts of the world. This raw ore is processed to create water-soluble compounds that make the phosphorus available to plants as a nutrient.

Phosphorus helps early plant health and root growth. It is involved in seed germination and ensuring plants use water efficiently. Phosphorus is the plant world’s equivalent of carbohydrates—it provides the energy that a plant needs to grow.

Where does potassium come from?  Potassium is the seventh most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Through natural processes it is filtered into the planet’s seas and oceans. As these bodies of water evaporate over time, they leave behind mineral deposits. Fertilizer companies mine potassium from these deposits.

Potassium is a mineral that helps crops fight stress and disease. It helps plants grow strong stalks, in the same way that calcium gives people strong bones. 

Where does nitrogen come from?  The air around us contains huge amounts of nitrogen. In fact, nitrogen makes up about 78% of the atmosphere. Fertilizer producers combine nitrogen with natural gas to change it into a form that plants can digest.

Nitrogen is nitrogen, whether it’s used by plants, animals, or people. It is a key element in protein. Like the human body, plants need nitrogen to grow. Often used in greater amounts than other nutrients, nitrogen helps make plants green and plays a major role in boosting yields.

What are the essential mineral nutrients?

  • Macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulphur
  • Micronutrients: boron, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc
  • Essential or beneficial for some plant species, not all: silicon, sodium, and cobalt
  • Essential for animals but not for plants: selenium
Grapefruit Tree
Grapefruit tree (Citrus paradisi)


What role do fertilizers play in feeding a growing world population?  Fertilizers play a huge role in helping feed the world. Thanks to modern fertilizers, world food production has more than doubled since 1960. Today, an estimated one-third to one-half of our global food supply is directly linked to use of commercial fertilizers.

If we are to meet growing demand for food, however, we will need to double our current levels of production. We can’t do that without fertilizers. Just to match current production, we’d have to put into production every available acre outside urban areas—including forests, wildlife habitats, and leisure areas.

In Canada, an estimated 40% of yield increases achieved by farmers are a direct result of commercial fertilizers. Continuing to make better and more efficient use of fertilizer will help us feed the planet.

What would happen to food prices without fertilizer? 

Orange Tree
Orange tree (Citrus sinensis)

One of the biggest benefits from efficient fertilizer use is inexpensive food. Worldwide, one in three people can neither grow nor afford to buy enough food. With the help of commercial fertilizer, North American farmers are able to produce the most abundant, nutritious, and affordable food on the planet. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people on this continent spend less for food than any other nation on earth.