Friday, May 28, 2010

Revitalized root pruned citrus and forbidden fruit

So, remember a while back I decided I really needed to prune the roots of one of my potted citrus plants because I knew it was root/pot bound?

Well, I think it seems to be doing a-okay!

In fact, better than just ok it seems.  The pic from above was from 2 weeks back and presently, it's glorious bursting out in its full foliage, fuller than it's been in a long time and maybe even when I first got it!

Talk about revitalization the plant!

It even has some flowers! (not photographed b/c they were getting old and wilty)

Since this grapefruit tree is doing so well, I am tempted to root prune the navel orange tree now, especially as the fruit I was so excited about:

Got either knocked off by the wind, or I suspect birds or squirrels (gah, squirrels, I really hates them). So there's nothing really stopping me from root pruning except some worries about the heat as it's a bit late in the year.

But if I don't do it now, or sooner, rather than later, I'll have to wait until next spring and if it's root/pot bound I'd rather give it the opportunity of all this sun to soak up and strengthen itself for the winter now with the potential to flower away this winter/coming spring.  Past reading seems to indicate that prune then shouldn't be an issue, so I've had good luck with the grapefruit, why not expect the same with the orange?

Randomly, as I have a proclivity for living green mulches (ok, groundcovers...) so I don't have to mulch the wood chips/ pebbles/hay/etc way (though some of those ways are necessary) I decided to add some sedums to the citrus pots in hopes that their covering the surface will keep moisture in relatively well , assuming that they both decide to not compete for water... granted sedum root structure is shallow, I'm relatively unworried.  If anything I think if the sedums do well, they'd look pretty spiffy hanging off the side of the pot and maybe this way too I will be inhibiting the little weeds that keep cropping up in the pots.

After summer's over I'll most likely take the sedums out of the pots and replant them in the sedum pathway where I originally got them from because I've found these sedums get very leggy and scraggly looking inside, rather unattractive when I eventually need to take the citrus in.

Have a safe Memorial Day Weekend folk!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mini-update to previous ants post

In regards to my latest post on ants that I discovered in my herb bed...

The great Tom Turpin from Purdue University's entomology department emailed me identification on my little guys:

"These are Lasius ants.  Sometimes called piss ants.  They tend aphids (which might be a problem for plants) but cause no direct harm to plants.  So your saffron bulbs are safe but the presence of the ants might mean that there is a healthy population of aphids on some plants in the vicinity. Regards."

(heh, "piss-ants"  Ok, a little puerile, but I'm amused mostly because I'm a fan of entomology as well as etymology I've heard it used a few times, really! It's in Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: piss·ant 
Pronunciation: \ˈpis-ˌant\
Function: noun
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: pissant ant, from 1piss + ant
Date: 1945
sometimes vulgar : one that is insignificant —used as a generalized term of abuse

and from

Also, piss-ant.

1655–65, in sense “ant”; piss antprob. orig. on the model of pismire Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.
Cite This Source
 Link To pissant
Word Origin & History

1661, "an ant," from first element of pismire (q.v.) + ant. Meaning "contemptible, insignificant person" is from 1903.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source

Anyways, thus far I haven't noticed an ant problem in my herb bed, but thanks for the heads up Tom!  I'll probably inspect it closely tonight and possibly give it a spray-spray of soap or neem or just knock 'em off with water.

Admittedly, it would be kind of cool (and uncool) to see ants milking aphids like farmers.  But I'll just tune into the Discovery Channel (if I had tv...oh, yeah, the internet!) if I really want ant-milking-aphid action. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Work Hazards: Wasps

Marking my calender today, my first wasp sting ever. Woohoo, I'm alive?

I had seen a wasp hanging around the bird house I just got for a buck at a garage sale  and after I thought I had made sure it went away I went to check on the little drawers  beneath it to make sure nothing was trying to make a home in it other than birds.

I think that's when it and I may have collided because 10 steps later after checking  the birdhouse I felt like what was a thorn stuck in the wrist area of my sleeve.  This  actually didn't disturb me so much as I often get stuck by stuff in the garden  (someone's going to tell me to wear gloves aren't they... though I think the wasp could  have gotten stuck in there too).  I was surprised of course when I tugged at my sleeve  and couldn't get the thorn loose and then exposed the wasp which then flew away.

Mostly I was worried about having a reaction (too many horror stories growing and re- showings of the movie "My Girl" I guess).  The sting itself wasn't so bad, but the  interesting aspect of this experience was that I was able to force myself to stay calm  (very weird for a highstrung person such as myself) and within a minute I called my  neighbor who's a nurse (and interestingly allergic to bees/wasps, making her perfect to  help me in case I went into a anaphylactic shock).  She told me to hold a minute and  she would be right over.

I washed my hands to get all the dirt off and stupidly began putting dishes away and  fretting about the mess of the house all the while feeling a little dizzy.

Usually I try to tough things out and figure out how to handle it on my own, but the  idea of having a reaction and dying was enough to keep me from trying to just "let it  go."  I was also very lucky because my nurse nieghbor ususally works the 3rd shift and  she was off today and awake/alert (I had talked with her earlier that day) so this  helped things immensely.

In my weird calm daze, my nurse friend immediately put meat tenderizer she has on hand  at her house on the sting (which looked like a fairly small red mark on my hand).  As I  was dizzy from either dehydration or anxiety she got me to put my head between my knees  and cold washclothed my neck and then made an ice bath for my hand to place in and  bring down/prevent any swelling.

After I got a little less dizzy, she dried my hand off, put some topical benadryl on  the wound and covered it with a bandage.  I took some aspirin on my own to try to  offset further swelling.  Then I ate some coffee gelatin and chocolate (dark) to make  me feel better.

(that's 'ouchie' not something else my husband thought I wrote)

Other than swelling, little twinges of pain here and there and my wrist oddly popping a  little more than usual, I think I'm taking my first wasp sting pretty well.

From what I remember seeing when I was stung, it looked to be what they call a big red  wasp, which, other than being big, isn't a terrible one is what I've been told.

I also was told by my nurse lady that even if you don't show signs of allergy to a  sting now, you can have a reaction if you get stung again.  I guess the first sting  primes a person's immune system?

I don't blame the wasp, just does what it does.  Reminds me of Aesop's tales, those  wolf or scorpions won't change their nature, you just have to accept them as they are.   I still won't be putting up any wasp traps (they're pollinators!) but perhaps just a  little more vigilance should be necessary on my part when I see a wasp hanging around from now on.

Oddly enough, I've found this sting (of course it was treated very quickly) more tolerable than some of my mosquito bites I've had in the past

For more info on what you should do if you get stung by a wasp or bee and how to avoid getting stung:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Game, mâche, set!

So, for the longest time I thought I had heard that mâche, aka corn salad, aka lamb's lettuce aka RAPUNZEL (a new name find for me, and one that I think I'll use for now on as I am a sucker for fairy tales...) was perennial.

No clue how that got stuck in my head that it was perennial, but somehow it did and now I am chastened to say that it's really a bloody ol' annual.  Maybe I was reading up on too many perennial vegetables, and getting it mixed up with something like Good King Henry (because they sound so alike...) but I made a mistake and I apologize for my stupidity if I accidentally mislead anyone there.

Back to mâche/rapunzel though.  

All in all, growing this vegetable was not so successful as I'd like, not in the 'it-didn't-grow-for-me' way but in the 'I-didn't-use-it-much-because-I-didn't-force-myself-to-eat-salads-more' way.  

This is a cool weather green that seemed to grow very very slowly in the winter when it did sprout and then warm weather came upon us so quickly that this thing bolted like the dickens and got yellow-y and un-worthwhile to eat fast.

While there were plentiful little cute leaves to eat, I loathed to eat them because they seemed so tiny and though I had also heard you could eat the heads whole like some smaller lettuce varieties, the idea of extinguishing my plants in 3 bites was not very agreeable to me.

So, instead the leaves went somewhat to waste (which I hate) except for the fact that I guess that energy went into making surprise...

(and this was just from one plant... half of the seeds were still in the bed/between cracks of the bed)

....SEEDS for me!

So, maybe I will grow mâche (rapunzel) again and try to utilize it better now that I can feed a whole herd of goats with the amount of seed I saved.  

I noted too, when brushing up my knowledge, that you can use it in omelettes and OMELETTEs are right up my eatin' alley.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Ants in my Plants!

Pittering around the herb garden a couple of days ago, I noticed something odd around an area where I had tossed a light handful of fertilizer some days ago: movement.

Lots and lots of tiny movement.

Closer inspection proved that I had a whole helluva of a lot of ants.  And they were carrying BABIES.  Well, EGGIES... or PUPAE (to be really scientific).

(sorry about the fuzzy pics, as they are tiny and my camera isn't the greatest, this is what I've got)

There was a lot of activity going on, workers swarming back and forth with their little white bundles.  It looked like the main nest or whatevers was based in circle of my borage plants and directly on top of where my saffron bulbs are. It looked like they were ferrying things between that nest and another a couple of feet away from the rue/lemon balm.

My initial reaction:
"Aw crap!  Need to make powdered sugar-borax balls to kill them!"

Mature reaction soon thereafter:
Ok, what a minute. Don't need to kill them, just because they are plentiful and you have no idea if they are beneficial or not and because you get rid of them when they party inside the house.  It's time, for some RESEARCH!

As I'm not one for ant identification, I decided to google and see what might come up while I try my luck again emailing Professor Turpin from Purdue University's illustrious entomology department to see if I might be able to come up with anything.

Of any benefit I could think of that ants might be of use in the garden, the only one was of aeration from their tunnels.  Online searching seemed to indicate this to be true, and also pointed to me that common garden ants are scavengers of old, dead materials, cleaning up after other things or pests. Ants also are pollinators (a plus obviously) and in addition are predatory towards the eggs and larvae of fleas and other pests, news that is GREAT to me.

The negatives now:
If you find ants underneath pavers or stone/foundation things you freqently walk on or need held up, the ants need to go as they can collapse these structures with their tunnels.

You might also be aware that quite a few ants like nectar (just like bees as pollinators!) and they can be a nuisance if you enjoy picking or sniffing flowers when there's an infestation nearby.

Some of you may have also heard that some ants like to "milk" aphids, which is true, and the ants will protect the aphids to retain their food source "milk" of honeydew that the aphids produce.  Though, a good indicator for aphids, it can get bad, and messy if there are aphids and ants together.  As long as you get rid of the aphids, the ants will find other sources of food and will not be an issue.

(more close-up individual ant portraits)

For now, I can conclude that they are not carpenter ants, as they are not large-ish or black and I don't think they are fire ants as they seem non-threatening and didn't swarm a ladybug that I placed amidst them.

So, until I get word from someone of bug identification brilliance, these guys are a-okay where they're at.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dancing queen: Dark Dancer Clover

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for clover.  The poofy flowers, the soft  structure of the leaves... knowing the difference between it and medic and oxalis :P

When I was a kid, I was the one on the softball team in far left field, dawdling,  throwing my glove in the air or on the ground looking for 4 leaf clovers.  I mean, what  8 year old is going to throw a homer my way? (It did happen; twice, I recall, and my  team was not happy with me.)

I think I've found 4, maybe 5, four-leaf clovers in my lifetime that I'm sure I pressed  between pages of books for safekeeping, only to lose track of which books they were in  over the years.

It's not as though I really believed in the nature of luck to be gained by 4 leaf  clovers, just the simple rarity of them was enough to sustain my interest and I suppose  the pleasure of whiling away the time enjoying the simplicity of such small treasures.

Even as an adult, I can't go past a patch of clover without giving it a cursory glance  for 4 leafed stalks.

Well, right now I've got Mother Nature beat.  Or you might say, scientists have made  the magic a little less special because I purchased some time ago Pre-P.M. (Pre-Plant  Moratorium) this little lovely:

All Hail to Dark Dancer Clover!

As you might expect, the burgandy on green hue is what first caught my eye, but upon  closer inspection, I noticed a four leaf clover, then another, and another, and more!

Dark Dancer is gifted with not only beauty, but luck too! (Sounds like the fairies  gifting Sleeping Beauty doesn't it? Well, except for that one stupid bit of bad  luck...)

I'm in love with Dark Dancer, and though she's blessed with all her gifts, I've seeded  in my front and back lawn some basic red and white clover so I can have patches of the plain ol' stuff to lie on my belly in and while away the time look for 4 leafed treasure.

ADDENDUM:  The OTHER reason I've seeded my front and back lawn with clovers is because  we don't really fertilize our lawn, and as clovers are nitrogen fixers thus fertilizers, which I hope it will do our lawn good.

Red clover has the interesting property too of a being a favorite food of slugs I've  read and research seems to indicate it as being an excellent diversion crop for crops  such as strawberries.  Granted, as my husband scoffs, 'why are we feeding pests?' it's  a little counterintuitive to be letting pests you hate get a free dinner, but we can  just hope too, that with a little Slugg-o in the clover patch, maybe those slugs won't  be coming back...

I've also heard that planting clover in a lawn can encourage moles because many bugs seem to  like clover and when you bring bugs, their predators (the moles) will not be far  behind.  So far my clover patches aren't too large yet, but this was just a warning for  those who might be interested in clovering up their lawn too.  If I get any extra  moles, I'll mention it.

ALSO, more info on Dark Dancer:
Dark Dancer, like all clovers, is perennial here and is known to spread relatively well  to vigorously.  While I really wanted to plant it in my lawn, the husband thinks that  would be 'weird' and so I've taken his opinion into consideration and planted a small  patch at the edge of a flower bed...near the lawn, in hopes that it might make it's  escape and spread, spread my pretties!

Another point of interest is that, despite its appearance, Dark Dancer is actually a  white clover.  I know that it's the flowers that determine the white/red variety of  clover, but a person could easily assume that the red leaves would mean red flowers or  just red clover-ness.  Hmm, now I sort of wish the flower did come in red because  that'd be rather pretty and I just like red.

FINALLY, just a crazy thought because I'm weird:
Speaking of nitrogen fixers, did you know that when there's a thunder storm, with lots of lightning, it makes the ground more fertile?  When lightning strikes, the energy breaks nitrogen molecules in the air enabling it to bond with oxygen and this forms nitrogen oxides which then dissolve in rain and gets carried down to the earth.  SO, other than the amount of energy to create this, wouldn't it be awesome to create some sort of 'lightning sprinkling water wand' that we could go around using in our gardens (or that we could rent?) and zap our gardens into fertility? Spiffy and Thor-tastic!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday morning, is for kimchi making! (and Tuesday posts are for those who post late about Monday...)

(Yesterday I didn't get to update as promised because I have been busy busy with guests, so please forgive me for this late post.)

As many of you are experiencing, at least down in the South here, it's warmin' up and many of the cold weather plants are BOLTING.

The cilantro's gone to flower (off to become coriander if you so wish), the mustards are sending up stalks too and the corn salad (aka mache) has long gone by the wayside of anything near delicious.

My turnips and radishes have also begun to send up flower stalks and show off a few pretty purple flowers.

A few of those useful for next season's cold planting, but to salvage some for food use, I needed to think quickly about how best to use them.  Unfortunately the husband is not a fan of either of those vegetables and I can't eat them all on my own in enough time especially before it all becomes unpalatable.  So after thinking, thinking and thinking I realized: KIMCHEE!

I can't get the husband to want to eat kimchee either, but at least this will allow me to preserve the vegetables that I can eat it slowly on my own over time.  I thought about searching for some recipes online, but what wouldjaknow, reliable Mother Earth News read my mind in their most recent issue (got a subscription from the in-laws for Christmas).

Spiffy, so now I just needed the veggies...  M.E.N. lists using turnips, radishes (tops if wished), horseradish, garlic, ginger, carrots and scallions in their recipe.  I didn't have too many red radishes, and so I used what I could, the turnips were white Asian ones:

...ones that I had forgotten to thin out and grew a little weird and... obscene:
(sorry about the knife and "surgery" that happened to the turnip guys, don't mean to make you uncomfortable...) 

To make up for the lack of radishes and relatively small amount of turnip-y-ness I used some small Chinese cabbage.  I didn't have 'official' scallions and so I raided some stalks from the Egyptian Walking onion.

My carrots were 2 years in the ground and flowering (and too woody obviously for use).  I've decided to use carrots in the garden now for loosening the soil and when they flower, the umbels of carrots have such tiny flowers that they are good for attracting especially nice pollinators.  It's so cheap to purchase a bag of carrots it's hard for me to justify growing them when I could use the room for other things.

Perhaps I will grow some of those awesome purple or red carrots that I can't find in the stores usually that would make it worthwhile.

After a lot of chopping I finally was ready to brine the veggies in a jar!  As it turned out, the cabbage gave the recipe more heft and caused the recipe to double and I needed to add more brine than it called for.  To make sure that the vegetables become fully preserved, it's suggested to immerse cover (use a plate)or use a plastic water weight (plastic bag full of water here) over the jar of vegetables and brine so that there's no spoilage and contact with air.

After the veggies sit in brine overnight you taste for saltiness level in the morning (which is what I did today, Tuesday morning) and then you add the seasonings.  I would have used horseradish, ginger, garlic and fresh chili peppers grown here, but they were not ready/ in season and I had used all of mine already from last season anyways.

So, alas... note to self to make this recipe again in the winter when all those things are in season in the garden (duh).  (Ooh, then I can have jars and jars and JARS of kimchee!  I wonder if I can, can it so that it doesn't take up room in the fridge... mmm)

We had all these seasonings in the fridge/pantry on hand as we cook Asian-y food often enough, so that was helpful.  I used whole red chilis (though the recipes states powdered Korean chili is fine) and had a mini workout by grating ginger (gotta stay buff somehow!)  Technically you're supposed to make a paste of the rest of the spices/seasonings which I proceeded to do for 2 minutes with a small mortar and pestle of mine, but then gave up and just dumped my relatively finely minced/shredded seasonings in the vegetable and brine mix and decided it would probably be fine.  After stirring everything around well, you cover with a dish or water weight again to begin, FERMENTATION! (a beautiful process that all delicious things in life use: wine, beer, pickles, etc.)

(ta da!  Seasoned kimchee, ready to bum around for a week and get sour!  please note: the stove was just a convenient place to put the jar for the pic.  I found that it leaked some brine after a while when the plastic water bag weight settles a bit.  No actual cooking over a hot stove was done during this mini-project)

The recipe tells me to let the jar go for a week like this and to check on it every day for sourness level and make sure that it's still covered.  Hopefully I don't die of botulism or something... My understanding, like my past failed experience with pickles, is that if the stuff doesn't taste good, you did something wrong, and you need to toss whatever you tried pickling (because why would you want to keep it anyways?)

So, if you don't hear from me after I try this stuff in a week... you'll know the reason.  

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spiderworts are this girl's best friend (somewhat lame post for the weekend)

More substantial posting Monday (cross fingers) but spiderworts,  are the best. If you want a fun perennial that is easy and self seeds like mad... but we enjoy invasions around here.

Their flowers are substantial but close up when it gets too hot by the afternoon. 

As they self seed, I have a million little seedlings which I give away and ones of various ages so that I have a varying amount of heights for my spiderworts.

The oldest ones are ginormous!  About 4 feet tall, I swear.  They are in my front yard bed though that gets a good amount of fertilizer for the irises and bulbs, so that might be a factor in their height.

I still have to give them a taste, as I learned some time ago that they are edible, and okra-like in taste as well as excellent indicators for a nuclear apocalypse.  This plant is also a common find at master gardener trades/flings, due to that easy self seeding thing.  Like all my lemon balm and feverfew and lambs ears, this self sows into my lawn too. 

I promise to give an update when I give this stuff, also known as "cow slobber" a taste (next month, I swear!)

Just wanted to bring up reliable plant-i-tude for those who care!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Feeeelings.... and a random Mutant Dandelion for your viewing pleasure

So I just wanted to get out how I'm feeling on the 2nd/3rd week of my self-imposed plant/seed/plant container moratorium (unless the plant is trade/bartered for or it is for and emergency, aka loss of a plant, or needed for next season's food/garden use, aka green mulch/groundcover).

So, easily put, it sucks because we all know the high of  getting a new plant.

But at the same time it doesn't too because it's one less thing to take care of/plant and there's a certain freedom in this moratorium because a decision is made and so technically I can't be tortured by plants/seeds (though I keep encountering through online sales fliers and catalogs *face plant*) because as much as I want say, a ruby spike selaginella (gah! you were for so cheap at the Botanic Garden sale, why didn't I get you then?!)  or many, many other random herbs, or everything from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds  would be nice to have, I have absolutely no reason to get them now, and my head will just do a "NO!" and I move on.  This is sort of Pavlovian isn't it?

Oh discipline, it is tough.  But I just need to work with what I've got, and make 'em thrive.


Sometime ago I encountered a very odd dandelion:
Obviously this was not normal for dandelions and it looked almost as though something had chewed gently on the stem, if it was not obvious that it grew all gnarly like this.

A little closer up and you can see the depth of the indentations and pallid color of the stems in those indentations.

And not only was the stem weird, but the dandelion head too!

WTF, eh?  Two headed-body crimped and striated dandelion, what happened to you?!  I find it interesting too (no pun intended) that though the head(s) are attached by one stem, one of the flowers had already flowered and the other one was at a different stage.

Genetic defect? My dandelions are all inbreeding? Or a disease? (a weak point of mine)

If anyone has any info it would be appreciated.  I'm starting to wonder if my garden/yard is full of radioactive material!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Persicaria odorata, cilantro on steroids

I'm always a big fan of finding exotic veggies and herbs that take better to Memphis weather than their less exotic counterparts, like malabar spinach's hardiness to heat and humidity versus spinach's wimpiness and in this case, Vietnamese Cilantro/Coriander versus cilantro.

Vietnamese cilantro/coriander, or Persicaria odorata is a very interesting plant that, like malabar spinach takes well to summer weather here more than the common cilantro that self seeds in my garden.   Unlike my regular cilantro which bolts immediately when it hits 80+ degrees F it seems, Persicaria is fine with cool weather as well as heat.

 (a closeup of a Persicaria stem, you can see its relationship to knotweed from the, uh, 'knots' aka nodes.)

I prefer to use regular cilantro when possible because it has a more delicate flavor whereas Persicaria to be honest nearly stinks with that cilantro flavor that some genetically prone people have so come to hate. (I wonder if they are the same volatile compounds as regular cilantro... if those regular cilantro haters would hate Persicaria... Pepsi challenge anyone?)

When the going gets tough though, I want me some cilantro flavor without bitter, tough stems and reach for the Persicaria.

(a little more detail and more showing of the stem and where the leaves form)

This is a very easy plant to grow that prefers soaking wet soil (as it's technically a water plant), partial sun (despite what many sites seem to say) and  good air circulation I find.  It was tough growing this plant indoors, over the winter for me because of the immense need for water this plant needs, it promoted aphids and I eventually just had to toss the plant despite attempting to make cuttings from apparently non-affected plants.   Cuttings, which I think didn't make it because of the poor winter light (no grow lights here).

If you have Asian grocery stores around, it should be relatively easy to find this herb sold in bunches for very cheap (89 cents here for a large bunch).  It's very easy to propogate, just strip the bottom couple to few inches of leaves from their nodes and pop in a cup full of water until roots show (in about a few days) then plant in a relatively good wet location, or in a pot where you can move it around to a good location.

(closeup of a leaf.  Note the Rorsarch-like pattern on the leaves.  Pacman if you like, or maybe some angel-wings, whatever floats your boat.  This is on every leaf)

This year I have mine in a part sun/shade wet ditch-like area of my garden to see how it survives and also in a no-drainage container that's taller (this plant likes to trail) so I can keep the leaves relatively clean.  I have no issues placing this plant/cuttings in a no drain container because it it a water hog and if past experience serves me right, it will take over the container quickly and need to be repotted soon anyways.  So quickly it sucks up water  from rampant growth that it will pot/root-bind itself and need water all the time it seems.   So, if it looks like your Persicaria is drying out quickly and suffering, that's why.

You may encounter this herb as rau aum, laksa, smartweed, or Vietnamese mint.  It also seems to go by the other Latin name of Polygonum odoratum.

Hardy to zones 11+, as I've said, you can overwinter it if you so choose to and have easy access to a cilantro-like flavor all w inter if you provide good conditions to avoid aphids.  Like I said though, it's cheap to start again if you have a good Asian supermarket source.  So, don't feel guilty if you lose it.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Walk like an Egyptian (onion)

There are few plants in my garden now that I feel I need to highlight because of how awesome I think they are, one is these is my Egyptian Walking Onion, also known as a Tree Onion:

(this a pic taken of it earlier in the year where it looks more plain jane-y, but later pics show its true glory)

Egyptian Walking onions are interesting plants named for their habit of growing bulblets rather than flowers at the tips of their stalks.  These bulblets sprout while on their "mother" stalk and eventually grow so heavy that the mother stalk begins to bend and lean until the bulblets touch the ground and sprout into the ground to form new plants (or an impatient human takes the bulblets and just plants them elsewhere to his or her liking :)

 (very cool how the bulblet sheath accumulates steam/condensation within.  The curl at the tip makes me think of elf hats... so festive!)

(a bulblet pushing its way out of its bulb sheath)

They are a wonderfully hardy plant from zones 3-9 and begin to form bulblets anytime from late spring to early fall, though I swear mine started in early spring.

In my zone 7b/8a (contested), they are evergreen year around and are grown not only for their delicious, very spicy bulbs/bulblets and thick green onion stems, but for their wonderfully ornamental nature.

(if Medusa could be a plant... here she is)

 I don't eat this plant too often because I love so much how it looks and I want to develop a very large patch before I allow myself to eat them voraciously because though each onion packs a punch, they are small.  For flavor, good.  For volume, yeah, need to wait on that (but they are quite prolific!).  My patch is a couple years old and it has gotten to quite a good size!  Some of the mother stalks are about an inch thick in diameter!

(the papery texture of onions in general is always cool, but Egyptian onions take it to a new level, with an almost sinuous feeling movement their stalks form)

This is one plant I don't think I could live without after encountering it now.  It's useful, virtually pest free, very forgiving of the soil it's grown in and structurally amazing with it's bulges of bulbs and twisty nature, and always makes people (plants lovers or not) say, "What the heck is that?!"


Friday, May 7, 2010

Cat's eyes: Hellebore's in seed

I was puttering around the garden when I noticed some odd looking things on one of the hellebore's leaves:

At first I thought they could be pest eggs, or little cocoons, but after they rolled right off the leaf into my hand I knew I had my mini-gold mine:  hellebore seeds!

They are surprisingly pretty, like gray cat's eyes, little gems  or black freshwater pearls.  If they didn't eventually turn into hellebores, I'd want to turn them into beads and make lovely drop earrings with them.  If, also hellebores didn't take forever to go to seed (at least to me) wouldn't these make great freshwater pearl substitutes?! (Except the seeds seems to lose water and get a bit shrivel-y like which is less attractive.)

(I like how they are next to my wedding band... though the colors aren't so good here in the pic,  I think they're prettier than diamonds)

(My postman, who was coming by at that time admired them and said they reminded him of "some awesome tempered steel," to which I replied was "very romantic." :)  He grinned and said he was more of a mechanical guy!)

I am sad to say, that while I have heard that hellebores self seed, I think, as the bed they were in is full of other things, I might have been pulling up little seedlings in the past years.

D'OH. (actual dictionary word now!)

Either way, now I have seeds, fresh ones that I can sow in their own happy little pots so I will know what a hellebore seedling looks like in real life (and not just on the internet if I so care to research it).  I know that this will be a red hellebore (more pink/mauve if I say so).  I do somewhat lust after the other colors and would like to cross my hellebores with my neighbor's, who has done nothing with his and didn't even know what they were (his mother planted them).  Mystery colors, that's what I want!

(Hellebore flower+bee=seeds! and now sad and dried out looking open pods)

To help me with propagating my gems, I turn to my trusty The American Horticultural Society book, Plant Propagation, edited by the nearly unbelievable gentleman's name, Alan Toogood. (A gift many Christmases ago by my wonderful sister in law).

In summary:
-sow fresh seed immediately as old dry seeds can be spotty in germination
-seed may need a winter to break dormancy
-will germinate in autumn or spring, and flower after 2-3 years.

Unfortunately, not many more details.  Hurray for the internet!  Of course there'd be a a society for hellebores!

Being a bit more specific, they suggest sowing under a quarter inch of soil (pretty much the 3-4 seed depth rule), will need to be stratified (aka, just let it sit outside for some seasons and wait), cite that it might take up to 6-18 months for germination and potentially take 3-4 years for flowering (bummer).

I wonder if I might be able to induce germination by freezing seeds for a day or two (works well with nasturtiums I have found).  I'll probably try that with a few of the seeds just as an experiment.  A couple of pots just sitting in the same area and conditions that the current hellebore is in, one with just fresh sown seed which will just sit around and be naturally stratified, the other pot with some previously frozen seed.  Of course, the problem with forcing the seeds to germinate early like that is that it will be forced to fend through the summer.  Oh, my curiosity can be cruel, sorry seedlings!

I'll update you (in 6-18 months apparently) if anything crops up and I don't forget about the pots :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

mini-update about the mold thing

I had completely forgotten to mention also sour milk (or fresh or powdered milk) is also an anti-fungal.

I remembered this when I opened my fridge today and noticed the leftover milk from making yogurt with (if you want the simple, super awesome recipe just ask! It's so easy and magic) had gone bad.

Did a little research and found a nice little science for backup. (note especially the 30% dilution mention)

Also having slipped my memory (as I don't have to deal with problem often, and once you find one thing that works you sort of stick with it) is that chamomile tea, garlic solutions, and cinnamon solutions (or powder) are also an purported method of mold/mildew prevention/treatment.

So, cuppa chamomile-garlic-cinnamon-milk tea anyone?  (I'm sort of seriously thinking of doing this)

This fact made me whip up a dust of powdered milk, ground cinnamon and garlic powder (NOT SALT) which I sprinkled at the base of my house plants in hope that it will drive away any pests.

This would be interesting to use in a solution as long as you filter it ahead... gunked up sprayers are no fun.

Other helpful links:

This is not a noble rot.

Recently I spoke about all the rain and things will be rotting due to mold.

Well, when I meant mold, I didn't mean the powdery mildew kind, I mean the BOTRYTIS kind.  The gray, fuzzy, what you typically see in boxes of badly refrigerated or just old strawberries in the store.  I recognized it in my garden because after taking a wine course, we learned about this mold, except it's called noble rot in viticulture due to its presence needed to make certain sweet wines.

Except I don't make wine with my strawberries, and really it's kind of nasty tasting on strawberries if you haven't had the unfortunate circumstance to eat a moldy strawberry (the light brown rotty part you see on strawberries is also part of the Botrytis cycle) .

My sister in law mentioned using baking sodium (aka sodium bicarbonate) and proceeded to give a scientific explanation as to why this works (she's much more detail oriented than me.  Why can't I be more that way?!)

I have used the baking soda spray solution in the past for powdery mildew on my houseplants, a small and easy undertaking, and I was a little worried about spraying the vast swath of my strawberries with a baking soda solution because I really want something with really good efficacy to take care of this problem and I was a little worried that any residual film that might be left behind could harm the foliage of the strawberries and if sodium build up might be a problem in the soil if I have to spray quite a few times.

Wanting to find a middle ground so I don't over do anything, I went a researching (which I should have done ANYWAYS prior to my first post) to see the efficacy of baking soda on botrytis and whatever helps stop/prevent it other than good practices in general.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Service site had some great information here.

Essentially, while baking soda is helpful, they say that it's most helpful with a surfacant such as soap or a light horticultural oil and that it's true that sodium build up can be a problem and that it could potentially damage leaves if suggested levels are exceeded.  It seems that ammonium and potassium bicarbonates can be more effective than sodium bicarbonate (but who has that in their cupboard?) though it does depend on the situation.

My sister in law mentioned that pH had to do with harming the fungicide and this was mentioned too on the website, as was the thought that it affected the fungus's cell walls, which makes sense, because you're probably pickling/mummifying them.

This makes me wonder too if the diatomaceous earth could have any ability at all to help stop some fungus spreading because it dehydrates so much, that perhaps the spores are unable to survive? Though those things are pretty tough because once you add water, presto! viable again is usually the case for spores.

A Cornell link mentions the use of neem oil and though  I know my neem oil does say fungicide on it, I had to look carefully to see if it mentioned botrytis, and it did, so now I feel more confident in having that in my arsenal too.

I had mentioned looking for a copper-sulfur spray, which is usually the recommended (though unreliable, what isn't though?) method to control fungus, but as I am reluctant to spend money I think I will now go back and forth doing an initial neem oil spraying, then baking soda solution, and so on and so forth until I feel safe. All the while keeping a good eye out for gray fuzziness and discarding those properly, NOT in the compost bin where they are prone to survive.  I could potentially place them in a white plastic bag and let them sit in the sun for 2 weeks to kill spore, but I am feel too strawberry insecure now.

In a way it feels bizarre spraying more liquid on already too wet things, even though I know it should help it, because what's one more drop in the bucket it seems?!

(about botrytis/fungus control, some organic, some not, some about strawberries, some not):

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I have been relatively displeased with myself and this blog as of late because while I would like it to be entertaining and informative, I feel I have been much less informative as of late than I have in the past and thus feel quite a bit of displeasure at this and at myself.

I also realize, that quite a bit of my screwiness here at the blog is due to me wanting to pump out content/being just so darn excited about things that I write without much thought.  This bothers me, and if bothers you, 1) I don't blame you and 2) feel free to pipe up and tell me,  "Hey, content?"

So, my realization of this has brought me to believe that I need to, as in all aspects of my life, SLOW DOWN.

This means however, I might not get as many posts out.  Which, may or may not make you a sad reader, or indifferent (because if you're like me you probably have about 50+ gardening feeds that you read... many of them probably much more exciting/informative/picture-rific than mine...)

This could be a boon though, because now you won't see my posts come up so often and distance makes the heart grow fonder, right? Right? :)

If any of this inaccurate or you have any suggestions at all for me to improve, please tell me.  I won't say I thrive on criticism, but I do appreciate it as I think criticism is important and needed for a person to learn to take it gracefully and think outside his or her own head.

Maybe I should do what some people do and devote one day a week to a particular topic?  Any advice?

Anyways, just wanted to get that out and thanks as usual.

Plant Catalog Porn: Baker Creek Seeds (and now I am on a complete plant/seed moratorium for the rest of the year)

Alright, kind of late jumping on this bandwagon here, but for a while I also had a slight moratorium on plant catalogs in addition to my not buying seeds from catalog  as I had so many seeds in backlog already and in effort to save money and support local groups/businesses.

But after my sister in law told me about the catalog (which I didn't realize at the time was Baker's Creek Seeds which I often would drool online over) I decided I would finally order their free catalog.

Here's where I get teenage girl-y:
OMG!  It's so beautiful and awesome that I can't believe that give this catalog away for free.  GIANT, glossy paged (not so sure how environmentally friendly or cost effective that is), but I went through EVERY page lusting after all the heirloom, non-GMO seeds that I can later seed save from (!!!) and thus save money still yet in the long run!

This is literally what their catalog looks now in my hands.  DOG-EARED. Yep. I want every edible (and herb) available just about:

Not only are the featured pics lovely Many of their descriptions are humorous and informative and have background stories which make the seeds even more endearing.

The only annoyance about the size of the catalog is that because of its size, space is precious and basic helpful info such as height, width, growing conditions and etc. are left out (not like places like Gurney's don't do it either), so it's very forgivable and I tend to like to research my seeds prior to purchase ahead anyways.

I did end up purchasing something (guilt) because I have never seen it anywhere else: Hibiscus sabdariffa seeds, aka at Baker Creek 'Red Thai Roselle.'  THESE are the seeds/plants I've  been looking for everywhere.  It is the source of the red hibiscus tea that my husband and I so love and I've been on an edible hibiscus (the Haight-Ashbury being the closest to this roselle and note almost all hibiscus are edible) collecting spree due to this one plant.

The seeds came very quickly (so hurray on that fast shipping thing!) but I was once again somewhat annoyed by lack of information once again on the packet as to expected size/height and etc.  Granted I understand that growing conditions can cause many differences in plant size, it's nice to be able to provide that. 

Either way, splendid experience thus far and I'd like to add that their website has a "wish list" section... one that is filling up very quickly for me!

I would also like to anonunce that am putting myself on a COMPLETE MORATORIUM for the REST OF THE YEAR for plant/seed/pot/garden accessory purchases unless it's a dying vegetable plant that must be replaced emergency (aka tomatoes) or a need to treat plants for a disease/pest scenario. UPDATE: or for supplies (seed/soil) needed for food for next year's crop or a covercrop for the winter/spring.

After all the wonderful plant sales in the area and local stores have seed sales up the wazoo, AND now these Baker Creek Seeds being purchased (because I apparently couldn't help myself in this one case) I feel like I am full up on good plants/seeds and need to work with what I have (so early on in the year too! Kind of sad)

So, no new clearance plants, even if the price is amazing, no seeds, despite sales.  Only trading or propagating (which I always do anyways) here on out!  Wish me luck (I hope I don't go crazy).