The PlantVillage Blog

David Hughes

Plant Viruses: Friends and Foes

Posted on October 2, 2014 by David Hughes




Marcel Salathé

Tomatoes Build Pesticides From The Smells Of Their Neighbours

Posted on May 23, 2014 by Marcel Salathé

Tomatoes Build Pesticides From The Smells Of Their Neighbours


Marcel Salathé

How many crops feed the world?

Posted on May 12, 2014 by Marcel Salathé

How many crops feed the world?


David Hughes

Keeping Up With The Plant Destroyers

Posted on May 7, 2014 by David Hughes

Keeping Up With The Plant Destroyers


Marcel Salathé

PlantVillage 2.0

Posted on March 24, 2014 by Marcel Salathé

It's hard to believe that it's already been a bit over a year since with launched PlantVillage. We're excited how well it has fared. We'll spare you the numbers for now, but we're breaking usage records on a almost a daily basis now.

Today we are excited to announce PlantVillage 2.0. As you browse around, you will find two major upgrades:

1. Content is more accessible now. It's easier to jump between library entries and Q & As. The site also looks gorgeous on a any mobile device.
2. We are introducing "PlantJournals", an easy way for you to upload images and notes for your various projects (whether garden or farm).

We'll write more in the near future, but for now: welcome to the new PlantVillage!

The entire PlantVillage team


David Hughes

A tale of two villages

Posted on March 23, 2013 by David Hughes

Growing our own food is a hallmark of human societies. It is the single biggest technological achievement we have made as a species and the ways we grow food are always changing, always adapting, always evolving. It is important to realize that nothing is written in stone and we can change things in which ever way we want. Here at PlantVillage we think about the potential for change a lot. We think about how people growing food- whether that are in Nebraska or Nigeria -could be connected to a world wide web of other growers through the phones in their pockets or the computers in their homes.

And so we are extremely excited to be working with the good people at the Millennium Village Project. This project is daring in its scope and works on the idea that it can permanently lift people out of abject poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa by taking a holistic approach and tackling a range of issues at once, such as cleaner water, better education, increased food production and environmental sustainability. It has already made many major advances and you can learn more about their great work on their site: http://www.millenniumvillages.org.

For the whole project, growing more and better food is really important and oftentimes a major barrier is the lack of access to information that is already available. As you can daily observe on PlantVillage people have questions and others go off and find great information that they then post.

So PlantVillage was greatly interested in Millennium Village. We initially spoke with Dr Sonia Sachs, a pediatrician who is the Director of Heath at the project and was actually already helping PlantVillage out when she shared with us some knowledge on soil erosion in Africa from her experience in Ethiopia. https://www.plantvillage.com/posts/246 Through Sonia we met Dr Cheryl Palm, Dr Generose Nziguheba and Dr Pedro Sanchez who are some of the key people in the agricultural development group at the Millennium Village project. We were interested in finding out what crops are grown in the villages since we knew that the villages are spread out all over Sub-Saharan Africa and therefore cover lots of different habitat types and ecological regions. We already had many crops on PlantVillage that are grown in Africa such as maize, cassava and cocoa. From the Millennium Village people we learned that crops such as: Chickpea, Cocoyam, Finger Millett, Fonio, Groundnuts, Oil Palm, Pigeon Peas, Plantains, Teff and Yams are also important and so we lost no time putting those up on our site. We now have on our site the crops that are important for people in theses villages and that is 35,000 farm households and over 300,000 people. But because the villages were placed in representative sites in Africa to maximize coverage we actually now have crops that are vital for hundreds of millions of people across the continent.

As with all our crops we have a standard entry providing the essential information in an easy to access, uniform manner. But the power of PlantVillage is the power to ask a question in a virtual space. And so now, for the first time in human history, anybody interested in finger millet, plantains, teff or yams can enter a common area to discuss their challenges and successes. We at PlantVillage live by the idea, just as Kevin Costner did, that if you build it they we will come. Well, we built it. But not alone of course, we see what we built coming on the shoulders of great work by others and we hope then others will build on us by adding to the store of knowledge that all can benefit from.

We do not expect an immediate stampede. There are lots of issues here such as internet connectedness, language and literacy. Just last week I was at the Gates foundation and speaking with, Dr Jacob Godrey Agea an extremely dedicated Ugandan scientist who is helping people in his country grow more food (http://ageajg.weebly.com). What Jacob told me was that a major challenge in Uganda for spreading knowledge is the 59 indigenous languages and dialects, high illiteracy rates (>60%) in the 90% of the people that are farmers. I also spoke with Jeff Rikes and Sam Dryden, both senior folk at the the Gates Foundation and discussed how a barrier to progress is that much of the publicly funded knowledge on Agricultural science is pay per view and not open access as it should be. But we know that by working with people like Jacob, the Gates Foundation and the staff on the ground in the Millennium Villages we can make a start. After all, everyone says that the internet will revolutionize Africa helping people get out of the poverty trap. Lets begin that and work as human villages have always done- and help each other.


Farmers at the Mayange cluster of Millennium Villages located in the Bugesera district of Rwanda, about 40km south of the capital Kigali. (Image from From the Millennium Village Project.  http://www.millenniumvillages.org/the-villages/mayange-rwanda)
Farmers at the Mayange cluster of Millennium Villages located in the Bugesera district of Rwanda, about 40km south of the capital Kigali. (Image from From the Millennium Village Project. http://www.millenniumvillages.org/the...)



Marcel Salathé

Badges

Posted on March 12, 2013 by Marcel Salathé

We're excited to announce that we just rolled out a major new feature: badges.

Badges is PlantVillage's way of showing others how much you have contributed, and how much the community valued your contributions. You can get badges for providing answers, questions, comments; for getting picked as the provider of most helpful answers; for participating in the community by voting; etc.

Example of badges
Example of badges
Badges come in three levels: level 1 (brown), level 2 (green), and level 3 (gold). Level 1 badges are awarded to contributors who are just starting out. Level 2 badges are awarded to contributors who are regularly participating in the community. Level 3 badges are awarded to advanced contributors who have a participated substantially over extended periods of time. It's important to note that badges are awarded automatically - and thus completely objectively - by the system whenever a contributor meets certain criteria (e.g. when the number of answers provided exceeds a threshold).

Some of you might see a lot of notifications in your Notification Center - that's because we've gone back and looked at your contributions you've made in the past, and we have given you the corresponding badges all at once.

We hope you like the badges - we think it's a great way to tell others about your contributions here on PlantVillage. So, not only are you helping others grow their own food, now there's an easy way to show the world.

Thank you so much for being a PlantVillager!


David Hughes

Some like it hot!

Posted on March 1, 2013 by David Hughes

As you know, PlantVillage is all about knowledge sharing on edible plants. And as we post new plants, we provide some small details to go with on our blog. Today we have a plant that many people say is inedible - so why is it still here on PlantVillage? It is of course the Chili Pepper. The name Chili Pepper refers to the fruit of a number of different species of plants in the genus Capsicum, including Capsicum annuum (e.g. jalapeños and cayennes), C. frutescens (e.g. tabasco and piri piri), C. chinense (e.g. habaneros and Scotch bonnet), C. pubescens (e.g. rocoto and locoto) and C. baccatum (e.g. aji peppers). And there are also hybrids. Some of these are edible and some are downright dangerous and shouldn’t be ingested!

The reason of course is that these plants produce Capsaicin that also goes by the catchy name 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. Capsaicin is the active component of chili peppers and it works as a irritant for mammals. The plant does not want us to eat it. It is even red just in case there was any confusion and as a general rule, red is a strong warning color in nature. So, how is it that we eat chili? Well it turns out the same molecule that irritates us also does a great job at killing microbes that could harm us as they spoil our food. One nice study showed how a nasty fungus called Fusarium is kept at bay by the compounds inside chili peppers. So, before humans had refrigerators we likely used chilies to keep microbes out of our food. In fact chilies were one of the first plants the native Americans started cultivating. (Here is a nice article describing the original findings of the microbe defense theory http://www.livescience.com/2774-defen...)

Nowadays we still eat chilies of course even though we have refrigerators. And we do so because we like the spicy flavor. We are hooked (I had spicy Chili Con Carne for lunch and still feel the heat some hours later). We all know the crazy competitions for eating the hottest chilies. This must have always been popular because way back in 1912, a test of chili power was devised by Wilbur Scoville, called the Organoleptic Test, which is now known as the Scoville scale. In Scoville's method, a measured amount of alcohol extract of the capsaicin oil of the dried pepper is produced, after which a solution of sugar and water is added incrementally until the "heat" is just barely detectable by a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus a sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable. The hottest chilies, such as habaneros and nagas, have a rating of 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract must be diluted over 200,000 times before the capsaicin presence is undetectable. The problem associated with the scale is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity. We are not all the same when it comes to deciding among chilies: some like it hot!

Volcano Eruption: or your mouth after a Naga chili
Volcano Eruption: or your mouth after a Naga chili



Marcel Salathé

New plants & new features

Posted on February 27, 2013 by Marcel Salathé

It's always growing season at PlantVillage!

Even though we just launched less than a month ago, the user base and the number of contributions are growing rapidly. At the same time, PlantVillage itself is growing up - both in terms of content, and in terms of the features that we're adding.

We've just added four new plants:
Anise
Bergamot
Black Pepper
Cassava, or Manioc
which brings our total of plants to 88.

We're also adding a new feature that we think will help people find great answers even faster: the ability to select an answer as the most helpful.

This is a feature that is available to anyone asking questions: if you've asked a question on PlantVillage, you may choose - at any time - which of these answers, if any, was the most helpful to you. You can always change your mind later on, for example if an even more helpful answer comes along. Whatever your choice, it will be clearly visible to others, as answers chosen as most helpful will get a blue ribbon attached to them:

The blue ribbon for the most helpful answer
The blue ribbon for the most helpful answer
What's important to know is that for any question, the first answer to be chosen as most helpful will add 2 points to the reputation of the person who provided the answer. We think that this will do a couple of things: First, it will provide to those who posted a question an easy way to say "thank you" with an action, rather than with words. Second, we hope that it will encourage people to provide answers as soon as they can, because the earlier an answer is provided, the higher the chance of getting selected as the best answer, and of getting the extra points. Finally, we hope that this helps people to identify those questions that still urgently need attention.

As always, we cordially invite you to use the PlantVillage forum to provide feedback on new features, or request features that you would like to see added.


David Hughes

New crop alert: Cocoa-The food of the Gods

Posted on February 21, 2013 by David Hughes

PlantVillage is constantly updating and we add new crops regularly. When we do we will make an announcement here on our blog.

Drumroll please: We have a Cocoa page! Of the 80 plus crops we have now I would have to say Cocoa is the one I get most excited about. This is a tree from the Upper Amazon that was widely cultivated by the Mayans and Incas of South America well before Europeans arrived. The first European to discover it was none other than Christopher Columbus when he landed in Nicaragua in 1502. It was very important to both Native peoples and Europeans, and in recognition of this, its Latin name Theobroma cocoa is a combination of the Greek, Theobroma meaning ‘food of the Gods” and cocoa that originates form the native language Nahatl (of the Aztec people who came after the Mayans) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water). The Aztecs believed the plant was a gift of the gods (Quetzalcoatl in fact).

The history of chocolate is fascinating and told elsewhere (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/3rj9hew). But let us speak about the plant itself. It is a rainforest tree from the Upper Amazon at the Andean border of Brazil and Ecuador. The Andes rose up around 3 million years ago and appear to have spilt the genus Theobroma into different species. Being a rainforest plant, it needs humidity and low light when a sapling. It therefore must be cultivated under shade, making it an ecologically wonderful crop since cocoa farms promote biodiversity and can act as corridors between patches of forest. And because of its tropical origin it can only grow near the equator. Farmers collect the pods that grow directly from the trunk. The pod is the fruit and contains the seeds that are called cocoa beans which are removed from the pod and further processed. (The pod itself is quite wondrous and was the inspiration for the Cocoa Cola bottle, but that is another post I think).

A cocoa pod on a tree in Ghana
A cocoa pod on a tree in Ghana


Nowadays, most (78%) of Cocoa is grown in 5 West African Countries, with the Ivory Coast and Ghana dominating. For these countries, Cocoa is really important and makes up as much as 41% of GDP (Ivory Coast). It is not a misstatement to say that one reason Ghana is the most stable country in Sub-Saharan African is because of the chocolate industry, which has brought huge prosperity. Roughly 4 million farmers depend on this crop, and in Europe and the US, the chocolate industry employs over 300,000 people. By any estimation, Cocoa is a very important crop.

That’s why it is scary to think of diseases that affect Cocoa. Some of them are like the nasty emerging infectious disease we humans get that jump out of rainforests. Others are diseases that chase Cocoa around the world from its native range. In a future post I will speak more about this but for now lets just enjoy the fact that we have a cocoa page. Now, time to find some chocolate and make myself a nice cup of tea (that reminds me, do we have a tea page?)