Friday, March 30, 2007

Sled Dog Grouse Predator

There was a little bit of excitement in the backyard yesterday as our furry friend ate a grouse! We saw our recreational sled-puller carrying a large brown bird around in her mouth, but figured she'd probably injured it too much to bother rescuing it. Besides, as soon as we went outside, she ran into the bushes to munch on her meal in seclusion. Later we went to check on her; there were only a few feathers left.
The question is, who actually caught the bird? We had a chocolate labrador retriever over for a visit with our very social Malamute-Husky and I think it was a team effort. The lab (being a good bird dog by nature) probably caught the bird, and our dog took it from him and ate it. Simply by size, our dog tends to be the dominant dog in the yard. Of course, I don't bother to grow any plants in the backyard with the dog. Digging is probably their second most favourite team effort. It's mostly bedrock back there anyways, with wild blueberries growing in the crevices.
The second picture is of our furry friend and another buddy: a miniature Daschund that we dog-sat for a day earlier this month. Our dog wanted to play with him and tried to gently nudge him into action but I think the cold of the snow on his sagging obese belly put him off outdoor activities.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Signs of Spring - Willows

While crocuses have already come and gone in southern climes, we are just starting to see the very first signs of spring. That it, signs of spring other than the dog's toys re-appearing in the snow of the backyard.
I had to photograph the first opening buds of the pussy willow tree (Salix discolor) in our yard. I just learned that this species of willow has separate male and female plants, each bearing distinct flowers. Once the hairy little buds mature, I'll go back and see which one we have.
The raised beds are still entirely hidden by snow, but the crunchy tops of last year's perennials are showing through. The pictured blue flowers belong to a delphinium. I planted a large patch of Pacific Giant Series delphinium seedlings last year. I grew various shades of blue and purple-flowered plants and am hoping they made it through the winter for a nice showing of flowers this year.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Lettuce Contest Day 23

Here is an update on the race of the romaine lettuce: Team Red Wiggler (left) is unquestionably winning against the Team Potting Soil (right).
<--Day 23
The results are shocking. Clearly, Team Red Wiggler's compost-fed lettuce is more lush and larger than the feeble romaine grown on potting soil.

Both are being watered occasionally with liquid synthetic fertilizer, to make up for the basic deficiencies of plain potting soil. I am amazed at the difference!
<-- Day 16, for comparison

Friday, March 23, 2007

Lawn and Garden Forecast

It's a beautiful sunny day outside today. I took the dog for a walk on the slushy roads and noticed the streams of water making their way towards storm drains. I can see a few plants uncovered by the melting snow next to our garage. These Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) are evergreen, so it is wonderful to see green things emerge in March.

Have you ever noticed the "Lawn and Garden Forecast" on the Weather Network website? I checked it today and you can all be happy to know the garden forecast here is "fair" for tomorrow. This is symbolized by the spade on the yellow background (orange = poor, green = excellent). I think this is the first "fair" for the year. The forecast also indicates that the ground is frozen and watering needs are "medium". Good thing the snow is melting, because our pipes are probably still frozen. Honestly, I don't know what kind of outdoor gardening tasks I could do this Saturday, other than shooing snowmobilers off the lawn. Incidentally, Vancouver's forecast shows no "fair" gardening weather for another 3 days, though Penticton's forecast for today is "fair", but poor for the next week. Poor them. They could be gardening in La Ronge!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lady's Slipper Orchids from Near and Far

One of my most prized orchids has bloomed again. The last time Paphiopedilum "Magic McNavy" bloomed was November, 2005. The bloom usually lasts over a month and is very unique, so it is worth the wait. The flowers have a very waxy/greasy appearance, lots of dark hairs, and strange bumps. The description sounds more like an unattractive teenager than a flower somehow. The plant has lots of new growth on it, so maybe the next bloom will have two flower stems.

This particular orchid is described as a slipper orchid because of the tubular shape of the lower lip of the flower. The genus name is derived from Paphos (=a city on Cyprus where a temple to Venus stands) and pedilum (=slipper/sandal). Thus, it essentially means Venus' slipper. It hails from the tropics of the Old World (though I bought it on ebay from a guy in BC!).
Shockingly, we also have lady's slipper orchids growing wild in our back yard! The local pink lady's slipper orchids are of the related genus Cypripedium, species aucale. The picture above was taken in June, 2006. Would you believe the local orchid's Latin name also means Venus' slipper? (Cypris=refers to Venus because Cyprus was Venus' sacred island, pedium=slipper/sandal). Cypripedium was actually named first, by Carl Linnaeus. The Paphiopedilum was named a century later by Heinrich, who essentially copied the idea of naming the flower for a beautiful goddess' footwear.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Race of the Compost Worms

The garage composters are doing well, having had a few problems over the winter. In late 2006, I noticed groups of them attempting a mass exodus from the boxes. This was probably due to a lack of bedding material and excess of worm castings (ie. worm poop). I added some coconut coir and fluffed the boxes up a bit and the worms seem happy now.

Recently, I decided to do a little experiment with the worm castings. I am growing 2 containers of romaine lettuce, with 3 seedlings in each. One container contains pure worm compost end-product (contains worm castings and other decomposed organic material) and the other contains regular potting soil (which possibly may contain some granular fertilizer).

I am treating both containers the same, except that I put the container of worm media outside in -15 weather for a night to kill any remaining worms, just in case they might eat my lettuce roots. The seeds were planted March 3, and as you can see, the worm seedlings (on the left) are winning!!! I think this is a rather ironic endeavor: the garbage remnants of our food become worm food and now the worm excrement is growing my food!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Plants in my Basement Abound

The inevitable urge to start growing more varieties of seeds has taken hold for yet another year. I know I am not alone. I have heard of other gardeners who have the same problem. Well, it's only a problem so much as one tends to run out of room to house the little plants.

At the moment I am germinating some Viola "Sorbet Violet Ice" seeds (don't they sound so delicious?) as well as Digitalis mertonensis (Strawberry Foxglove), and a rock garden dianthus mix. In the little pots, I have Zinnias, annual Salvia splendens ("Salsa light purple"), Matthiola incana (Ten Week Stocks Cinderella Mix), and Arabis caucasica. As of yet, there are no aphids or gnats hovering around my plants, but I have the soap spray on hand just in case.

Speaking of aphids, the indoor cannas seem to have them (pot on the right), but because of the large leaves, it is easy to crush most of them and spray the rest. The cannas seem to like the new sunlight and warm temperatures in the bedroom bay window. I potted another banana plant (dwarf Musa Cavendish) in the center pot. I have 3 banana plants now, and several more new ones growing at the bases of the plants, if anyone should want one.

This last picture is of a water droplet on a small banana plant. I find these plants interesting because the water droplets form spontaneously on the leaves. Sometimes they coalesce and run down the leaves and make little wet spots on the floor. I know it's water and not some kind of sap because I've tasted it! I'm not sure why it does this, but it's rather pretty.