Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mostly about Plant R & D...

Every winter - well every spring, summer and fall also, I walk through my garden and think, "What would be nice there?" or "How can I splash some color around there?".

These questions inevitably lead to trips to nurseries or green houses (which can get expensive). If I'm in a saving mood however, or if it's too cold to venture out with the girls; I get online. There is an incredibly vast supply of information and even some misinformation to sift through. (hint. Don't always trust the first post you find. It may be contradicted in the next.) Most information will be confirmed a few times, though so you should be able to sift the stack with ease.

Among my late sifting, I came across the Egret Flower. I can't find anyone who has them in stock, but I'm on a waiting list so they should be around this spring!

A nice addition.

Egret FlowerHabenaria radiata, Egret Flower, is a hardy terrestrial orchid (meaning that it grows in the ground) that is native to Japan.
It is often grown by orchid enthusiasts in containers instead of the ground, but is well suited to being planted in the ground.
When the bulb arrives it will be packed in a bag or box filled with coco-fiber. Within the coco-fiber you will find small bundles of damp paper towels. Wrapped inside the paper towels are small bulbs about the size of a peanut. These are the Egret Flower Bulbs. It is important that these small bulbs not dry out before they are planted.
The bulbs should be planted in spring in a bright sunny location.
Amend the soil with plenty of well-rotted compost and improve drainage by adding small gravel, small sized pumice, or perlite.
Plant your bulbs no more than one inch deep.
The Egret Flower needs lots of moisture throughout the spring and summer. It even thrives in soils that are constantly saturated with water as long as the water is not stagnant (improving drainage with gravel will help water move through the soil and avoid stagnation). This moisture will simulate Asia's monsoon season, which stimulates the plant to produce leaves and flowers.
The plant requires a dormant period in winter and does not require water. If the plant is too moist during its dormancy it can easily rot.
The plant is hardy to Zone 5, but if you live in a place where you have difficulty controlling moisture levels in the soil in winter consider digging the plant and bringing it inside. Use the following technique:
  • After the last flower has faded begin withholding water to slowly dry it out (never allow it to become "bone-dry").
  • When the leaves begin to yellow and die (in fall) stop watering completely.
  • Dig up the tiny peanut-sized bulbs and bring them inside.
  • Place them in plastic zipper-type storage bags in barely moist vermiculite.
  • Store these bags in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.
  • Check the vermiculite once a month to be sure it isn't too wet or too dry.
  • Replant the bulbs in the garden next spring.
If you choose to leave your plants outdoors during the winter use a lightweight mulch that will protect it from cold temperatures but will not hold excess water on the plant. Chopped leaves, hay, or straw are good choices.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Weekend Work...

Who's a big helper?

As always, there was a small list of things my wife wanted done: install two new can lights, change some light bulbs, clean up after the dogs, etc... then the fun began. My mom sent me some Oriental Lilies, Tulips and Daffodils. It is later than I would usually plant them, but I didn't want to sit in the garage all winter and possibly dry out, so I planted them anyways. Being as it doesn't get really cold, it shouldn't be a problem of freezing 6" underground. I added some bone meal and magic dust (made of worm droppings and other delicacies) to concoction and then recovered the area with leaf mulch.
We already have 4 or 5 clumps of thee lilies along the border of our kitchen garden, so these added to them. If they bloom like they should, it will be nice addition come next year.

Group of Lily bulbs

8" deep hole with bone meal and magic dust.


After that I went after a trouble area in our back yard. It seems like there are some areas that you can try to control and fail all spring and summer, but in the winter nothing grows as well so you can get it back in order. The idea is to keep it that way, but we'll see how next year goes. Along the fence line dividing our neighbors and our yard is an area that positively seethes with morning glories. Every year, they laugh at my attempts to keep them on the other side of the fence. By winter it looks more like a group of morning glory bushes than a line of rhododendrons. Black berries thrive there as well. As of now, I am the victor, but they probably are hatching nefarious plans as I write this.
Last of all it was time to check up on the winter garden. We have signs of life! The radishes are starting to sprout. Everything else is still making up their collective mind whether this will be a success, but I have hope for a brighter tomorrow.

It's a boy!

Here are some tips when planting Oriental Lilies:
Lily bulbs may be planted in spring or in the fall, usually from mid-September through mid-October. If you find hardy lilies growing in containers, you may add them to your garden throughout the growing season. When buying locally, select firm, plump bulbs with roots attached. Plant them as soon as possible. Bulbs never go completely dormant so they must not dry out before planting. Plant mail order bulbs as soon as possible, also.
Asiatic and Oriental lilies grow best in full sunlight. They'll grow taller, more spindly, and floppier in reduced light.
For best effect, plant lilies in groups of three or five identical bulbs. Space them eight to twelve inches apart, keeping groups three to five feet apart, depending on the vigor and size of the lilies. Plant small lily bulbs two to four inches deep and large bulbs four to six inches deep, measuring from the top of the bulb. Divide and replant large clusters of bulbs every three years or so – or when it seems they are not blooming as well as originally.
Never plant lilies where standing water collects after heavy rainfall. Well-drained soil is an absolute must. Add lots of organic matter to clay soil to create a raised area with improved drainage. Incorporate organic matter into light, sandy soil also, to help hold onto nutrients and prevent it from drying too rapidly.
Before winter, mulch over newly planted bulbs with four to six inches of loose, weed-free compost, leaves, or wood chips. This delays soil freezing and allows roots to continue growing longer. Mulch also insulates the soil against fluctuating temperatures, delaying the emergence of frost-tender shoots in spring.
Hardy established lily bulbs don't need winter protection where good snow cover is dependable. Wait until some time in November when the ground begins to freeze, before spreading it.

Some of the Benefits of Rose Hips...

Rose Hips

As most of us know, when a flower is dying it looks ugly and the time has come for us to do the plant and, aesthetically speaking, the world a favor. We "deadhead." This sends a message to the plant, "keep producing or else..." However, and the warm weather comes to an end it is time for roses to go dormant. Therefore we curb our bloodthirsty instincts and let the petals fall and the blooms rot. At this point though, wonderful thing happens after this that we would have missed. Rose Hips! 
They are really healthy and to some, delicious. I'm not saying you'll quit chocolate in favor of these treats, but you should give them a try. I've heard you can eat them plain, but enjoy the tea version. There is also the adventuresome ones who try jam, soup, hand lotion and much, much more. 
So next time you are ready to go about murdering dead flower left and right, like the phoenix good things can rise from the ashes.

Here are a couple of rose hip articles I liked:
Gather Rose Hips for Health
Cooking with rose hips

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving daze...

Why are we thankful only on Thanksgiving?

It’s Thanksgiving Day and once again we are going to the in-laws for dinner. It happens every year. My wife comes from family of 12 kids, and most live right around here. All 7 girls (daughters and daughter in laws) crowd into a kitchen made for four and make more food than an regiment could eat. The men folks watch or play football depending on their age. Then the dinner bell sounds and we all 24 squish around a table for 12. Usually we start dinner with something like “I am thankful for…” and we go around the table. I have always stuck with “a good mom and dad.” It worked when I was five and no one gives me dirty looks now. It is good to be thankful on Thanksgiving, but I’m hoping to impart to my girls is that this isn’t a once a year event or at best a whole week of thankfulness leading up to thanksgiving. This is a lifestyle.
When I look back at my life, (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the particulars) I see nothing but a long string of events that led me (you can call it karma, God’s grace, or pure luck) by the hand through a maze of pitfalls and chasms that should have swallowed me whole but didn’t. Personally, I call it God’s mercy. I think that we all can look back at events in our lives, and see in retrospect how close to danger we were without even knowing it at the time. Maybe it was a parent, uncle, or friend that pulled me from the metaphorical edge of the cliff. I know it wasn’t my sterling good worth. I am thankful that I am alive and have all my fingers and toes accounted for.
Then there is this country I live in. I don’t know why I was born in the good old USA but I am thankful. I spent four years, 9 months, and 7 days in the Navy. (but who was counting?) Two and a half of those years were spent in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Japan, and onboard two aircraft carriers. Some of the most memorable experiences of those times were seeing the children grubbing around for existence and begging for clothes and food. I, meanwhile, complained that we had Salisbury steak two days in a row at the chow hall or that laundry didn’t come back on time. Yes, I was selfish then too. I remember being in middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, where sand storms would cover the base, and not liking it because it was hard to walk from our barracks to work and back. Meanwhile, I didn’t even give a thought to the people who didn’t have a home to keep the sand out. That being said, I am thankful that I live in a free country.
Something I have enjoyed is a rose. One reason for this is that in the Saudi Arabian desert there was a little chapel off to the side of the base. In front of this chapel were a little fountain and a rose garden. To this day, I can still see and smell those roses. I spent many evenings reading there. It was peaceful, a refuge in the middle of all my problems. I wish my problems now were as simple as those problems I had back then when I was 19! Howbeit, I am thankful for roses.
It usually takes a cataclysmic event – or a holiday – for us to stop and really look at the things right in front of our noses: the spouse, nature, sunset, child, or even a good glass of wine. However, these amazing miracles are right in front of us every day. The facts that I was born into a family who loved me, that I never lacked for food or clothing, that I still don’t lack, are often taken for granted, but are not deserved. Something as beautiful as a lily takes on new meaning when you realize that against the odds it sprouted and blossomed and is there for me to enjoy. That juicy tomato was only a tiny seed in the ground. It sprouted, became a bush and gave of its plenty to undeserving me. All of these gifts are laying around us if we would only stop and look, and that is what I want to pass on to my girls, the gift of seeing gifts around us. The gift of being able to stop and actually enjoy food, drink, music, nature, and even, dare I say it, the people we’re with. I have not attained to everything that I have written here, but it is a quest and hopefully each day will bring me closer to that end.
I’ve worked up quite an appetite thinking and writing this, so I will now enjoy a turkey, some stuffing, mashed potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, gravy, ham and gravy – then go back for seconds. After which I’ll have pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate cake and if there is room some bread pudding. To finish it off I’ll open a bottle of ’05 Domane Serene Jerusalem Hill and toast to being thankful for the gifts all around us.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A wet November walk...

This is from a morning ramble right after a night's downpour. The rain drops in the sunlight are nice.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cannibalism in its best form...

I know the word sparks nameless horrors of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday, of dark jungles and far away drums, of large pots of boiling water and Bugs Bunny getting boiled by Elmer Fudd. Yet there is a good side to it. I have a firm believe that plants do better if the soil has a few of their ancestors mixed in.

This is where the remains of the tomatoes were placed.

For this reason, last weekend I got the lawn mower out one last time. After raking the leaves and other dead plant matter together, I then mowed over it with a bag (the only time I do bag when I mow) and scattered the remains among the places where next years plants will grow. I sometimes feel like I should do last rights or say something over the uncovered corpses, but I'll allow the "oohs" and "aahs" and "My, what beautiful flowers you have" to be the testament of their fallen comrades. Years hence, their children's children may hate me for all of this and revolt, refusing to grow. However, so far I've kept it a secret and things have gone well. If you do happen to visit, lets try to keep this just between you and me.
Here lies lilies, leaves and ex-roses.
This is a mixed bag of many wildflowers

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beneficial Insects

Here is some good advice from a master gardener (my mom).

Lacewing Fly

(Images courtesy of Marlin RiceIowa State University)
 Their diet consists of  aphids, mealybugs, bollworms, spider mites, whiteflies, and small lepidopteran larvae.

Predacious Ground Beetles
(Images courtesy of University of Washington)
    Ground beetles eat insects, snails, slugs, cut worms, and maggots.

          Lady Beetle
(Image courtesy of ipm.ucdavis.edu)
Lady beetles primarily eat aphids and at times, white flies.

(Image courtesy of microscopy-uk.org.uk)
These guys hover, annoyingly around you in the garden like bees, but the larvae eat aphids, mealy bugs and others.

Parasitic mini wasps
          (Image courtesy of algarvecitrinos.com)
                    These guys never sting. Their "stingers" allow them to lay eggs inside moth, beetle and fly larvae, moth eggs, various insect pupae and adult caterpillars.

Tachinid fly
(Image courtesy of algarvecitrinos.com)
Tachinid flies lay eggs in corn earworm, imported cabbage worm, cabbage looper, cutworms, armyworms), stink bug, squash bug nymphs, beetle and fly larvae, some true bugs, and beetles
The fly in the picture is looking over a potential host to lay her eggs.

   (Photo courtesy of Department of Entomology, 
Texas A&M University)

                  Minute Pirate Bugs
Minute Pitate bugs like to lay their eggs in Aphids, bollworm, potato leafhopper nymphs, spider mites, scale insects, insect eggs, small corn borers' larvae, thrips, other small caterpillars, whiteflies.

        Damsel bug
(Image courtesy of  K. Power.)
Damsel bugs feed on aphids, leafhoppers, plant bugs, and even small caterpillars as adults and nymphs. They resemble other plant eating bugs, so look for the narrow head for the good guys.

   Big eyed bugs 

    (Image courtesy of algarvecitrinos.com)
Big eyed bugs feed on small insects like spider mite, leaf hoppers, insect eggs, and other mites.

 These are a few of the beneficial insects in Western Washington.  

Have you seen these?

There is a gallery of insects in our gardens each summer. We see them as we weed, water, and pick the produce of the garden plants. The question is, are they beneficial insects or pestiferous. Here are couple pictures of the “good guys” that I bet you saw, but didn't know which ones they were. 

       Green lacewing

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stormy Weather...

 There have been some windy, rainy days here. It's typical for winter in washington. There hasn't been any growth on the garden in the cold frame yet, but I'm checking it regularly. Apparently our dogs have also because there were some foot prints on the roof. They didn't find anything worth digging up though, so we are safe so far. I watered all the plants and will keep you posted for the first signs of life. Here are some pictures from yesterday morning on a walk with the dogs and one from last night. There is nothing like a good glass of wine in the winter, unless it would be a good glass of wine in the spring, summer, or fall.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Building a Cold Frame

It has been cold, wet, and windy all weekend... in other words, perfect weather to build a cold frame. If you have been following the last few weeks, I have been heading in this direction. The culmination of all the efforts are on a video posted at the end of this. I hope you find it enjoyable and maybe even entertaining.
The problem with actually doing things and not just imagining doing them (which I am very good at) is that now it had better work. If an imaginary plan doesn't work, you don't feel too bad. However, when I spend the money, time, and energy to do the project, I spend the next few days thinking of ways I could have done it better or smarter. It is done and now we wait for the organic harvest to begin.


In case there is anyone who may want to build one of these, I will be happy to give you as detailed of info as you wish. However, as the vast majority of mankind will never even think of building one, I will not bore you with the steps here. You may e-mail or comment and I will respond.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mostly about tumultuous weather and feelings...

ECCLESIASTICUS 11:27. In the day of good things be not unmindful of evils: and in the day of evils be not unmindful of good things.
I work outside every day so I get a good opportunity to watch the weather and feel its affects. Today was a typical winter day, but it's been a while so I had forgotten. It started cold and cloudy, progressed to really wet and cloudy with areas in the Puget Sound of rain, sun, sleet, and hail. I have plenty of warm clothes so I didn't quite freeze to death. Then when I was wrapping up and getting ready to head home, the skies cleared and there was a gorgeous sunset. I thought, "How absurd. Now that I don't care what the weather is like because I'll be in my warm van, it will be pleasant." I snapped a quick picture with my iPhone and thought I'd post it. This has nothing to do with gardening, but I'm thankful to live in a place with all of the weather conditions in one day. I enjoy being reminded by the sound of a cricket, a sunrise, a rose, and so many other innumerable gifts of what it is to really enjoy creation.
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mostly about Planting Seeds...

Radish Seeds
  My Johnny’s Seeds have arrived! Well almost all of them…all but one package (which is back ordered a few more days) and the potatoes. It was enough for a beginning.
Lucy "helping" plant seeds

    I want to talk a little about the goal of this venture because it may make the process I am following clearer. I think that anyone can grow lettuce, carrots, etc. (though I have failed even at that) However, I have a grander scheme. I don’t just want to plant, watch them grow, eat, then start all over. We must eat more than once every three months, so I think I have come up with a sustainable system. I am planting based on a two adult/two children appetite. Counting in the variable that my wife doesn’t like the taste of anything green and Lucy is just as happy with rice and beans, we may need even less. This works out in round numbers to 12 Lettuce, 12 Spinach, 6 pokchoi, 12 beets, 36 carrots, and 36 radishes every two weeks. I devised the “divisible by six plan” because the basis will be egg cartons. Starting today, I am planting a few egg cartons every 2 weeks. Once the harvest starts, I will then have harvestable, all organic, loved, cared for, beautiful vegetables every two weeks, with none of those terrible, toxic, deadly pesticides you hear about (although we've eaten our share of non-organic and haven't died yet :-) This is, of course, marring natural disasters, inquisitive dogs, forgetful gardeners, and other phenomenon.
   The process: #1 Steal the egg cartons from the recycle bin (you should have seen the look on its face when it realized it had been swindled) #2 Plant in rows #3 Mark rows #4 Watch and water.
   Once I begin to see sprouts, I will plant them in the hoop house and cold frame. The carrots and radishes should be able to just grow through the packaging, so I can plant their whole cartons. The leafy specimens, I will separate and plant with adequate spacing. Then marking the cold frames and hoop house by dates, I should be able to track them with mathematical precision and watch the cornucopia of organic goodness fill up! (Aren't I "poetical"?)

Egg Cartons filled with Dirt

Radish Seeds getting planted

Cartons ready for transport

Notes: There are a couple small but important notes here for the few weary travelers who have made it thus far.
1) If you buy johnny's seeds, they come in these really nice resealable packages. Don't rip off the top before reading the label.
2) You can buy "pelleted" seeds, which means they have a clay around the seed that will break down. This helps when trying to plant one seed at a time. They are a little larger and easier to handle, though about a dollar more per package $3.95 instead of $2.95. I plan on buying all pelleted from now on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sensative Plant

Seymour Botanical Conservatory
Do you have any plants that bring back memories of your childhood? It isn't that long ago for me, but there was one plant I'll never forget. I always called it a "sensative plant" because the leaves close whenever you touch them. I was never able to find them over the last few years, but I wanted to show them to my wife, who had never seen them and, of course, our girls. There was a nice one at the plant conservatory by Mary Bridge hospital, the Seymour Botanical Conservatory; but it wasn't for sale.
(By the way, if you are ever in the Tacoma, Washington area and have time, this is an amazing place to visit. Well worth the time!)

However, back to the story. This last friday I was in Watsons Greenhouse, the place that has every plant you need and about a hundred more that you didn't know existed. There is a botanist there who is growing these sensative plants from seed. She didn't have much success the first two tries, but this last attempt was working well. The plant is very small and I'm coddling it along. It is quite amazing. I have attatched a video of it. It may not look like much, but to me it's memories come to life.


Common names:
Sensitive plant, Humble plant, Mori vivi (West Indies) and Shame Plant (Africa, Vietnam).  

Scientific  name        Mimosa pudica
There are over 300 species of Mimosa that belong to the bean (pea) family Leguminosae.  This species, Mimosa pudica, is native to Brazil but is naturalized throughout the tropics of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.  It runs wild as a weed in the Gulf States.
Mimosa pudica is a perennial but is often cultivated as an annual in gardens.  The shrubby plant will grow to 18 inches outdoors with hairy and spiny stems.  Its flowers resemble little purplish puffs that give rise to ½ inch-long pods containing 3 – 4 seeds. 
Movements by plants have fascinated people since the days of ancient Greece.  Written accounts describing movement by a plant (probably a species of Mimosa) in response to touch have been documented to be over 2000 years old.  Although viewed as an interesting phenomenon for many years, a serious investigation into these movements was not started until the 19th century when it was discovered that the movements are the result of a rapid loss of pressure in strategically situated cells that cause the leaves to droop right before one’s eyes.  This evidence led to the rejection of the then widely held hypothesis that Mimosa pudica plants had nerve and muscle tissues similar to those found in animals.
The exact mechanism of how the specialized cells in the pulvini of the leaves lose their internal pressure (turgor pressure) to cause leaf movement has not been discovered.  However, researchers have found that as the leaves are stimulated to fold together and droop downward, changes in membrane permeability of the cells in the pulvini occur that allow for the rapid movement of calcium ions.  This has been related to increased cell wall pliability in the pulvini, which when coupled with decreased turgor pressure allows for movement.
The stimulus to fold and droop leaves can be transmitted from one part of the plant to another.  Upon stimulation, changes in electrical potential progress from the site of stimulation to other parts of the plant.  In addition, an as of yet unidentified chemical transmitter substance (hormone) can also be measured to move from the site of stimulation to distant parts of the plant.
No one has tied all these bits of information together to come up with a plausible, all encompassing hypothesis to explain the movement of Mimosa pudica leaves, but a number of researchers around the world are actively working on this mystery.
We can only guess as to why Mimosa pudica and a few other species have evolved to exhibit nyctinastic and seismonastic movements.  It has been observed that folded and drooped leaves are not attractive to herbivores, and are often passed by in favor of more normal appearing leaves to eat.  Also, folded and drooped leaves exchange less heat and water than fully expanded leaves, and this might have some survival value when the plants are under environmental stress.