Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread Beach Body and Christmas Protea

A unique seasonal bouquet arrived at our house today. It contained some flowers I don't think I've ever seen before, other than in pictures. Dusted with gold glitter, this arrangement appears to contain several protea flowers and some purplish foliage of unknown variety. I was impressed, for sure. I wonder where the protea came from, being a flower most associated with South Africa and a few other tropical locales. Some South African friends got me a package of protea seeds some time ago , though I haven't been bold enough to try and grow them (besides their apparent need for fire to aid germination). Anyhow, these are very cool flowers and I hope they open up to look even more spectacular.

I made a large batch of gingerbread cookies this last weekend, since I enjoy eating the soft and chewy type rather than the nearly-cardboard ones from the store. I made a few cookies that are beach-ready, including this beautiful lady:

We actually have very little snow for this time of year, though temperatures have been very cold this December and the lakes are well-frozen. People are driving trucks and snowmobiles all over the lakes now. RLM will have to haul his latest accumulation of stuff out to the cabin soon. I'm hoping will be NO MORE antler chandeliers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Compost Worms "Recycling"

Do worms eat your garbage? We find that we produce much less household garbage by recycling and composting, but recently, I tried a new paper product disposal method. I fed a Botanus catalog to my composting worms, who live in a plastic bin in our semi-heated garage. It seemed like a fitting completion of the garden cycle; from glossy catalog to fertile worm castings that will fertilize next year's flowers from the Botanus catalog. Dear resident lawnmower-man had concerns about the dyes hurting the worms (I didn't know he felt so fondly about them), but I reassured him that most printers are using vegetable-based dyes these days.
Vermicomposting bin, with perforated inner container inside a larger container that collects excess moisture as "compost tea":

October 19, 2009: Botanus catalog destined for worm box (staples were removed):

Worm box with catalog, which I buried about 5 cm below the surface:

December 7, 2009: I was planning to avoid adding more kitchen scraps to the bin during the experiment, but our houseguests had been using the box while we were away. This didn't seem to distract the worms from the catalog too much, and I am impressed that our houseguests got friendly with the compost worms!
Worm box, seven weeks later:

Remnants of catalog left as of December 7, 2009:

The remnants resembled a bit of wet paper towel. I'm sure there will be nothing left by New Years. I guess this goes to prove that the worms enjoy the garden catalogs too!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Back Home. They Didn't Compost Me Yet!

Thankyou to you all who left messages while I was away there for a bit. I'd have loved to have been on a vacation or something great, but that's not always how life goes. It seems that some people can have a gallbladder out and be back to life as usual, and the other 0.1% goes on to several more surgeries, the ICU, implantation with medical devices, and probably months more of recovery. At least I'm still here to tell about it and I got a few nice get-well flower arrangements and plants that I appreciated. Oh yes, and it was fortunate that I didn't leave a mid-summer garden neglected and unappreciated.

Here's an orchid I received from a friend. Anyone know its name? Maybe a Laelia or laeliocatteleya? I have no idea, since it does not resemble any of my current orchids. It has single leaves on its pseudobulbs and very fragrant flowers held in a loose spray above the leaves.

And alas it is the season for these lovely red beauties. Again, another friend brought this one to our house.

I hope you all are having a good week and are looking forward to spending time with family for the holidays! We need to put up some decorations soon.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Away For a Bit

I would love to be blogging about plants right now. I am doing not much more than admiring the houseplants at the moment.
When I least expected it, I had one of those rare, very bad complications to a simple medical procedure. Isn't it true that you always imagine the 0.5% of people never will include yourself? I hope to have my normal life back sometime soon, since my family and plants need me! If I look at in a hopeful way, at least it is winter here now, with snow on the ground and no gardening left to do. I even heard a group of snowmobiles roar by, using the skimpy layer of snow as an excuse to get out. As for myself, I will stay strong and not turn to compost any time soon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Dry and Crusty Fall

Firstly, I would have posted last week had my computer not died and gone off to the computer repair shop. I'm borrowing RLM's laptop to do this post, but hope to have the old Apple back soon.

The snow from last weekend has melted and evaporated away, leaving all the perennials dead and crusty with a few hardy exceptions. The fall aster (Aster dumosus) and stonecrop look good yet. Also, the Gentiana septemfida is attempting a bloom, though nothing like its fabulous multi-bloom shows of previous years. Of course, I did divide it last fall, so I didn't expect much.
Gentiana septemfida:

With the early snowfall, I think the colors on the trees didn't develop as well as usual, and now the leaves are all dry and drab. Oh well. I'm dedicating my time now to the indoor plants, reviving my interest in the aquarium (mostly involves spending money on it), and spending quality time with the composting worms.
With inspiration from my aquarium-crazy brother, I've decided to upgrade the fluorescent lights on the aquarium. This got me to thinking about the lights on my plants. Why do the plants deserve any less than the pea-brained fish? Then again, I'm thinking of upgrading the aquarium lights to allow plants to grow in there, so really, it's all about the plants anyways. I'm looking at the power compact fluorescents, specifically the Coralife high output T5 65W 6700K bulbs and a fixture to hold them. Is there anyone out there using these for their plant setup? Let me know if you've heard of such a thing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Snowman! Well, not quite yet.

The two year old assistant gardener first noted the new white carpet outside this morning. Her perspective was definitely more positive than the comments from most of the adult prairie folk who are watching snow fall today. I was reminded by the assistant gardener that we must keep a carrot and hat on hand at all times for the accessorizing of snowmen. Noted.

This snowfall finally took the petals off my corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas), which had actually still been looking rather colorful and showy. Oh well. It is October and we're in northern Saskatchewan.

At least the onset of winter makes gardening a non-option for the upcoming months. No need to feel guilty for not accomplishing anything out there now! I was thinking of it like losing your job and hearing this message: "We're sorry, you did a good job this past summer and all, but...we have to let you go. We've moved production to Mexico. We couldn't keep going in the current local conditions. You can clear out your pots and say goodbye." Here's to the excitement of houseplants for the next seven months. Gosh, don't you love Canada?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

First Snow!

I first noticed the snow today on Facebook. It was only when a friend's status update mentioned the snow that I got up from the computer and looked out the window. My goodness, there were tiny white floating flakes falling from the sky! I think many areas of the prairies saw a little bit of the white stuff today. Besides snow in the sky, two fighter jets roared over our house today. They were flying north, though I can't imagine what exciting destination they were speeding off to.
Alpine garden, which looks remarkably attractive at this time of year:

I have noticed that few of the alpines go brown and ugly in fall, leaving this bed more attractive than the big perennial beds right now. The little succulents simply change to reddish shades as the weather cools.

The sloped bank of sedum turns red for fall and winter, coordinating well with the surrounding forest and its colorful deciduous trees. RLM cleaned up this bank by beheading the dead brown flowers with the weed whipper.

I did get some bark mulch from the local store before they cleared it out for the season. Unfortunately, I didn't benefit from any end-of-season sale prices, but at least I got some before we welcome the snow. I really appreciate how the mulch keeps the weeds down, as I hate crawling under the low branches of the mountain ash tree to pull weeds. I'd rather spread mulch once a year than get the tree droppings tangled in my hair on a regular basis.

I blogged earlier this year about this patch of perennial border that I have never really liked. I replaced a messy mass of dianthus and moved a peony from a hidden spot in the yard to the center of this area. The hostas look decidedly nicer in the fall than those other perennials that lose their aesthetic appeal after flowering (like the dianthus). I dragged the hostas, Brunnera, and Alchemilla mollis from other areas of the yard and then underplanted the area closest to the front with about 20 Anemone blanda bulblets.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pumpkins and More Bulbs

There's only two days left in September! Oh my. My Botanus (from British Columbia) order came in the mail last Friday and my first opportunity to plant them was today. I rushed out into the great windstorm, wearing several layers of clothing, and planted 75 daffodils, including Barrett Browning, Dutch Master, and Ice Follies. My palms are starting to blister from twisting my bulb planter around, but at least I didn't get rained on. Tomorrow I'll plant the tiny bulbs and hope for weather that's no worse than this.

I have found, by trial and error, that the daffodils only do well in the sandy soil (probably because it has better drainage) rather than the highly-organic mix of peat moss and compost. I had many bulbs that rotted last fall because they were planted in mostly peat moss. My daffodils are all planted in full sun to part (afternoon) shade.
Planted and labeled!

Mountain ash tree loaded down with berries:

Aster dumosus "Alert", blooming nicely this year:

Aren't these beautiful? I'm very proud of my two pumpkins, the first ones I have ever grown! I'm still figuring out how I'm going to eat them. It had better be sweet and delicious! They are a small sugar variety. I started them indoors a couple of months before planting out (in June), so that they could have a longer season than our weather allows.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Extinct Blue Species - But I Have One!

Okay, so here's one off-topic post. The Americans won't have any idea about this major shift in our confectionary colors, since they don't have Smarties as we know them (how unfortunate). In Canada however, March 2009 marked the end of the blue Smartie. I'm really not a junk food eater, but I occasionally enjoy these candy-covered milk chocolates. Resident-lawnmower-man picked up these ones from the bulk section of the CO-OP grocery store this week. Either their rate of Smartie turn-over is low, or RLM was just scraping the bottom of the barrel to get these older-style ones. Anyhow, I photographed this lone blue survivor for posterity. Tomorrow I may eat it. Goodbye "Brilliant Blue" artificial dye. Hello to a world with "no artificial colors" in our Smarties. From now on, the colors have to come from plants (there IS a plant connection here). The UK does have a natural blue substance (from cyanobacteria) to make their pale blue Smarties, but for some reason, it is not licensed for use in Canada (and Americans still have their M&Ms with all artificial dyes). I'm sure there are some researchers sitting in a lab somewhere, searching for solutions to our blue Smartie problem...

Bulb Planting and Miracle Fruit

I am aiming to get my bulbs all planted before October, but that may be difficult as I haven't received my Botanus order yet. Hopefully the box is in the mail and I get time to plant the bulbs, allowing them time to take root before winter.
Morning glory - spotted this afternoon:

I planted 260 bulbs in the alpine garden this past week. They are all smaller plants, such as large-flowered crocuses, Allium roseum, small narcissus, Siberian squill, and Anemone blanda. I wasn't planning on planting the entire Veseys order in there, but I decided to focus on that garden and make it really nice rather than diluting the effect around the entire yard.
Alpine garden:

A Lewisia in the alpine garden, still blooming to illustrate why it is one of my favourite flowers:

I received my Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) a few days ago, from Flora Exotica in Montreal. It was shipped via Canada Post "Expedited Parcels" service, which got it here in six days. The online tracking showed that it was sent quickly all the way to Manitoba, and from there it seemed to go to La Ronge by horse and carriage. The plant was well-packed with air bags to cushion its ride and sealed in a Lego-toys box (they must recycle at this plant place). The toddler-gardener was sorely disappointed to find out the package wasn't intended for her, since it looked so promising.
Miracle fruit plant:

From what I read online, this African shrub can start producing berries when it is a foot tall. It also prefers acid soil and a warm and humid environment. We'll see how it does in the basement under fluorescent lights! I have great hopes for this plant and its taste-altering properties. I think that the marijuana growers of this country should re-focus their energies on this cool plant. It is totally legal, safe and fun to have at parties, besides being quite a conversation piece. Keep tuned to see how this project turns out!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Indoor Gardening Already; Pine Bonsai Update

The dismal year in the vegetable garden (probably because I neglected to water it enough) and a renewed desire to eat tasty greens has caused me to return to basement gardening. I can easily grow enough sweet, tender lettuce for sandwiches in the basement. The time investment is minimal -- I remember to water the plants whenever I do laundry. Also, there are no bugs (other than the odd spider) and the temperature is pretty comfortable to work in. So far, my two buttercrunch seedlings haven't grown very large. Unfortunately for them, I got hungry. I'm thinking that I need to start more lettuce, ideally in a variety of shapes and colors. What I really need is enter a lottery to win a greenhouse. Anybody heard of such a thing? At least it sounds better than the legion's "meat draw".

Here are the two Jack Pine seedlings, destined to become my first bonsai conifers (the white bottle is just to demonstrate their size):

They were started at the same time (Feb/09) despite the dissimilar appearance. These were part of a mini bonsai kit I got last Christmas. These trees really should have some sort of change in climate for their winter. Perhaps I'll put them out in the partially heated garage, but in bigger pots so they don't totally dry out.

Continuing on with the fall's indoor gardening kick, here is my recent shipment of Kaffir lime seeds. I ordered these on ebay and they arrived with these handy instructions. I got tired of reading my Indian cookbooks and skipping recipes that called for the leaves of this plant. They give a limey flavour and are used like bay leaves. The green fruits are not edible.

Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) seeds planted, keeping company with my herbs:

Finally, the most exciting indoor garden news is a purchase of a miracle fruit plant. Have you seen these berries on TV? They are like LSD for your tastebuds. Miracle fruit parties are popping up everywhere. RLM mused that it would be really cool to have one of these plants, though I replied that plants native to Ghana probably wouldn't thrive here. After a quick internet search the other night though, I found a supplier in Montreal and ordered a plant for about $35 including shipping. Canada post sent me a tracking information email today, so I hope to get my plant soon. It has a few particular needs, like acid soil, but that's not too hard to manage. I'm so excited. I'll post as soon as I get my new plant.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rather Blah Unless You Look Really Hard

The nearly-fall garden is not particularly exciting. That's probably why I'd rather not post pictures of it, but I did anyhow. The orange berries of the mountain ash tree are pretty though, but I hate having to pull all the little ash tree seedlings near that tree.
Large raised bed:

Sloped flower bed under mountain ash tree:

Some of the area under the tree was covered with bark mulch two years ago, but that layer is getting rather thin and old and it desperately needs to be topped up. However, resident-lawnmower-man told me that "you already put mulch there [2 years ago], why would you need any more?". This is the same guy that asks why I buy the toddler-gardener new pants every 6 months or so, since "she already has those". I should be asking him, "Why do you want lunch today? Didn't you have some yesterday?". Hmmm.

Do you have an interest in primulas of northern Scotland? I got several Primula scotica from our local American Primrose Society member. I believe she grew the plants from seeds obtained from their society seed exchange.
Primula scotica:

The alpine garden is doing well. Some plants did so well that I dug them up and tossed them out of it, telling them never to come back. Like other Cerastiums, the alpine version can take over quite a large space in a small amount of time. I am now keeping only one Cerastium specimen in there, and that one had better behave.

On the other hand, some plants grew quite slowly, like this Draba polytricha. The whole plant never grew any bigger than the end of my thumb. I hope it makes a conspicuous bloom someday.
Draba polytricha:

Jovibarba rosettes filling the space between rocks:

I grew those jovibarba from seed last winter. A few little rosettes planted in that space grew into a nice little crust of those lovely succulents. None of them flowered yet.

We have pumpkins! Yes, two of them are living on a vine that is growing on the pile of dirt and weeds out back. See that dandelion? It alone could feed a family of four.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some Two-Faced Spider

Here's a spider with a face to spare. Doesn't it look like someone tried to sew a face onto the back of this one? Really, I don't like spiders too much. I can't help but get immediate feelings of repulsion. Sorry, spider world. I admit to smushing the ones that invade my laundry pile and crawl towards me when I'm in the bathtub, but I leave the outdoor ones alone. I found this one next to the faucet for the garden hose.

The only gardening I've done recently consists of watering a few desperate plants in pots. I did notice that my pumpkins are now orange (yeah!). I spotted them while getting scallions for dinner last night. An unfortunate series of minor illnesses has been getting in the way of my gardening destiny. Let's hope for a long fall.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pretty Pinks, Peculiar Pelargonium

First, I'll tell the embarassing story of my week. I got my seed order from Stokes, which oddly came in a box this time. Rather unusual for a few packets of seed, don't you think? Then I pulled out this foil package a little smaller than a bag of breakfast cereal, labeled "Keystone Endive, product of Netherlands". I only wanted a few seeds to see if I could grow endive under lights, but instead I got 10,000 pelleted seeds! It wasn't the company's mistake. I should have wondered why the seeds were so expensive. I looked back at the website and found that the "quantity" box for certain vegetables had a "10" entered by default, and these particular seeds were sold by the 1,000. Thus, I have enough endive seeds to cover the whole area of our lawn. It's not worth the shipping amount to send them back, so I'll see if anyone I know might actually want them. They've got to REALLY like endive.

I don't recall having Lewisia blooming all summer like this before, but I'm not complaining!
Lewisia "Little Plum":

The Primula acaulis plants I put out in spring (I started them from seed) are getting their second wind. I give these plants a little more attention since they are close to the house. The regular removal of spent flowers is probably paying off.
Primula acaulis:

I have a few of these unusual zonal geraniums in pots this year. They are "tulip flowered", producing these pretty little closed buds that never open. I propagated a few of these plants from a cutting from my mother-in-law's plant. I quite like this flower and will definitely be saving some plants/cuttings over the winter.
Tulip flowered zonal geranium:

Monday, August 31, 2009

More Northern Forest Berries

We went out to Freeman island on Lac La Ronge this past weekend, where I found yet another berry. This one was edible too! I believe this is the wild black currant (Ribes americanum). It has prickly stems, tasty black berries with red juice, no foul smell, and is about three feet (90 cm) tall. It was growing in a sunny area, with slight cover from evergreen trees. It was also in a very convenient spot right up next to our cabin (how's that for a great plant quality?).
Wild black currant:

Foliage of the wild black currant:

Right next to the wild black currants were some wild raspberries (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus). I think the good berries had already been eaten by the hungry bipeds (of the human variety).
Wild raspberries:

Altogether, I counted eight berries at the cabin site, the first five being edible: (1) Wild raspberry, (2) Wild black currant, (3) Saskatoon berries, (4) Lingonberries, (5) Wild blueberries, (6) Northern comandra, (7) Bunchberries, and (8) Bearberries. If we looked harder, we might have even found some highbush cranberries too. As far as I know, none of the non-edible berries on that list are particularly toxic or dangerous in small quantities. (Also, the non-edible ones don't taste very good.) There were several mushrooms growing out there too, but I'm not even going to begin to try to identify (or eat) those. That's a hobby too reckless for my tastes.

I posted pictures of the other northern berries last year:
Kona, the husky-malamute, enjoying life on the island:

She's usually not particularly fond of water but spent a fair bit of time wading in the water up to her knees this weekend. I didn't notice her eating any berries, but she did eat grass (and her dogfood). This is the first time we have ever let her run off-leash and she stayed close to us and the cabin the whole time. She was more than happy to escort us on trips to the outhouse. I think the dog may enjoy life at the cabin more than I do!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Northern Climate Ice Plants

Ice plants sound like something that should grow in our northern short-season garden, don't they? Actually, most of these plants are succulents associated with hot areas, yet I've had success with a few of them. The "ice" refers to the glistening appearance of salt crystals secreted by the leaves of these plants of largely African origin.
My alpine garden, with ice plant at center:

I have three types of iceplants, though the common name doesn't really distinguish between the great diversity of "ice plants". This year, I grew several Mesembryanthemum criniflorum from seed (bought from Thompson & Morgan). This was a bit difficult to do on my light shelf, because the plants are sprawling and limp and tend to rot if the foliage gets wet (when the plant sprawls into the drip-tray I keep under my pots). Outdoors though, they have a more upright and robust appearance.

These plants are naturalized along the California coast, and I have fond memories of running around barefoot on these when I was a kid. We loved the sensation; it was something like walking on tiny pickles. This plant won't survive the winter here, however. I wonder if I can keep some cuttings indoors though?
First flower of Mesembryanthemum- a bit deformed and squarish:

I was inspired to try these annual flowers after rooting some cuttings of an "ice plant" in Arizona last winter. I think one of the plants I saw in Arizona was actually Malephora crocea, the "Copper Ice Plant". It was very easy to root from cuttings and had beautiful flowers that opened when the sun was shining. My legacy in my parent's Arizona yard will be an expanse of ice plants, though I hear the rabbits are good at keeping them under control.

The two other (and perennial) plants are Delosperma nubigenum and Delosperma deleeuwiae. At first I was impressed with the dense mat of yellow flowers that D. nubigenum makes in June and July, though I'm even more happy with D. deleevwiae, because it spreads its purple blooms over the entire summer. Both have nice pebble-like succulent foliage that spreads to form a dense, shiny mat that looks good all year round.
Delosperma nubigeum in July of this year:

Delosperma deleeuwiae in late August:

I got the D. deleeuwiae from Wrightman's alpines, if you're looking to get one for yourself. D. nubigenum sails through our winters without any problems (its foliage just turns reddish), so I imagine that D. deleeuwiae might do the same.