Happy Earth Day! Planting golden paintbrush, convincing you to can, and a jam giveaway!

Happy 2014 Earth Day! I hope you are all doing some earth friendly things today! For me, my field work that was planned for today was postponed until tomorrow, so I’m being green by “working from home.” HA! Anyways, it’s true, well, that I’m home, but all joking aside I wanted to share a couple things that I did do for the occasion, and a few that you can do too.

The first way I celebrated Earth Day was with the Institute for Applied Ecology. Every year we recruit volunteers and plant endangered plants. This year we planted 800 golden paintbrush (so far!) at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. This is my study species as many of you might know! We are proud to say it is well on its way to recovery. Here are a few pictures from the event.

Paintbrush in “cone-tainers” ready to go in the ground.

IMG_2057 copy

A lovely flowering paintbrush

IMG_2062 copy

And his comrades.

IMG_2065 copy

Volunteers working hard to get plants in the ground.

IMG_2078 copy

A paintbrush in his new home on our grid.

IMG_2079 copy

Awesome! Aren’t they gorgeous?! Great way to spend the Saturday before Earth Day!

OK, now to totally switch gears to another Earth Day topic – canning! And other food preservation. I love to can (if you haven’t realized this yet, I’m not sure what blog you’ve been reading), but it’s not just fun and delicious. It can be good for the planet too, and for you! Yes, I’ve been posting a lot of sugary jam recipes lately, but really how much jam do I actually eat? And I do often go for much less sugar. But anyways, let me get to the point – here are my top reasons that you should start preserving this Earth Day . Some of them are earth friendly and some health friendly reasons.

1. It allows you to eat local even in the dead of winter.
This should really count are more than one reason since eating local has so many benefits:
– less emissions from your food travelling
– fresher food
– knowledge of where your food came from – talk to your farmer!
So many foods are available for only a short period, but preserve very well. Berries and fruits are
great canned and some freeze well also. Many vegetables can be pressure canned or are great
pickled, and freeze well. Herbs can be dried, or frozen in oil.

2. You produce less waste
Canning jars are reusable over and over again. Every time you eat a store bought canned good,
you either produce waste throwing it away, or even if you recycle it, it takes energy to do that.
Can your own and that jar is good until it get chipped or cracked!

3. You can customize your recipes (to a safe extent)
Certain things can’t be adjusted in canning because it makes recipes unsafe, such as the
amount of vinegar or lemon juice you add, but there are countless ways that you can customize
recipes to suit your needs
– Use less sugar and a low sugar pectin
– Try sweetening things with honey or stevia
– Adjust saltiness and spiciness to your preference
– Sweeten pickled goods that are too strong with a small amount of sweetener
– Choose the size of jar you preserve in to be appropriate for how much your family eats,
reducing wasted food

4. It can save you money
– Preserve things you grow yourself
– Buy in bulk at the peak of the season, split it with a friend to possibly save even more
– Go to pick your own places to get the same produce cheaper than at the market
Canning can end up being more expensive than store bought, such as when you buy a ton of
tomatoes to make sauce, so plan accordingly by planting the most expensive produce and
things you use the most.

5. People love it when you give canned goods away!

Which leads me to why you forced yourself to read this whole post – the jam giveaway! In celebration of Earth Day, and to spread the love of canning I am giving away one jar of my rhubarb orange jam (click for the recipe). Please enter by commenting below and telling me what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day. One entry per person, and it has to be a comment on the blog not the facebook page so it’s easier for me to just draw from one pool of comments. Good luck! Contest will close one week from today – April 29th at 9pm Pacific time. And for now, just open to US and Canada please. Thanks!

IMG_1639 copy

Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush

I promised in my introductory post to this blog to do some fun plant profiles in addition to my canning and things, so I am finally going to make good on that promise! I thought it would be fun to start with golden paintbrush, since this is the major study species for my masters project.


Golden paintbrush is endemic to the Pacific Northwest, meaning that it is only found in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. In Oregon there are actually no natural populations anymore. They were mostly destroyed by land use conversion for agriculture and residential development, so any populations you see in Oregon are reintroduced plants. Therefore, a main focus of my research is to improve the success of reintroductions, and aid in the recovery of this species.

There are a lot of really cool things about the golden paintbrush that make it a fun species to study. For one, paintbrush is a parasitic plant. It’s classified as a hemiparasite, meaning it doesn’t need a host for survival but it can attach below ground to the roots of other plants and take nutrients and water from them. The image below shows the connections the plant can make, which are referred to as haustoria. As a result of this quality of the plant, part of our research revolves around giving the plant hosts in order to improve its success in the field.


Another fun fact about the golden paintbrush is that the part of it you typically think of as being the petals are not actually petals. The yellow part on a golden paintbrush like shown below is actually a colourful bract. The actual flower of the plant is reduced and green and rather hard to see here. You can see multiple stamens (the male part of the flower) and pistils (the female part) in the image though. They are super cute, and obviously get their name from looking a lot like a paintbrush.


The scientific name for golden paintbrush is Castilleja levisecta. Within the genus Castilleja there are about 200 species of paintbrush plants of different colours that can be found in different habitats. The one below I saw hiking near Bend, Oregon. In this one you can kind of see the green flowers in between the red bracts.


A final awesome thing about golden paintbrush, and many of the other paintbrushes, is that they are host species for butterflies. In the case of golden paintbrush it is a host for an endangered butterfly, the Taylor’s checkerspot, so in planting paintbrush we hope to help both species recover. The photo below shows checkerspot larvae feeding on paintbrush, courtesy of the Institute for Applied Ecology, where my major professor works. The top image shows them feeding on paintbrush and the bottom is English plantain, which they have been using as an alternate host in the absence of paintbrush.


So there you have it, I study a pretty cool plant!