Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's On My Desk?

Gotta love those big box nurseries. They like to keep us guessing about the mystery plants they sell. I found one this week with no label that looked so familiar, yet I couldn't quite identify it. Can you? It's sitting on my desk now.
The Oddly Compelling... Huernia
That "lifesaver" flower is pretty memorable. Alert Gardeners know this is a Huernia. No, not a Hernia Plant, a Huernia! A Huernia zebrina in fact. Huernia come from South Africa, Ethiopia, and the Republic of Zimbabwe. They are fairly forgiving plants that like life in many areas as long as they get bright indirect light, protection from the cold, and dryness between waterings. A well-draining cactus soil is perfect. Too much water or cold and it rots. Frost is deadly. It grows from seed or cuttings. I'll need to make a particularly spectacular pot for this one!
Miniature African Violets, feelin' pretty.
I admit to enjoying some flowers on my desk, and what says "Pretty!" more than miniature African violets? My favorite local nursery has had some in stock this summer--couldn't resist. They really make computer work more pleasant. I notice they don't last long at most nurseries because they are often watered to death, and allowed to sit in stagnant puddles until they collapse into mounds of smelly goo. They really don't need that much water! My minis are happy with a teaspoon of water a day, or tablespoon every other day, given from the bottom of the pot. They are in 50% humidity and doing fine without mistings. Easy peasy!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Porcini Parsley Pasta

Autumn is coming and, in many parts of Europe, that means it's mushroom-gathering season. It's a great time to get a basket of porcini mushrooms, and pair them with parsley from your garden:
Boletus edulis, the Porcini Mushroom, courtesy of Wikimedia
Chef Riccardo makes this incredibly simple but tasty pasta to go with the wild mushrooms. You can use store-bought mushrooms, too....

Porcini mushrooms, sliced
A handful of cherry tomatoes

A handful of chopped parsley 
Ah, Italian Parsley!

Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Small garlic clove, smashed

Put all ingredients into the pan (except the parsley) with a some olive oil. Saute’ for about 20 minutes.  
Add the parsley. 

Choose your favorite pasta or make some yourself. 
Pasta Dough

Cook the pasta according to directions and serve the mushroom mixture on top. 
Thanks, Chef Riccardo!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Addendum: The Zinnia That Died

The Non-Reiki pot of zinnias had a fatality due to the red spider mites that have been gobbling up our greenery this summer. One plant became infested and died after just a couple of days. The other four plants in that pot are mite-free. In the Reiki pot, the smallest zinnia (#7) had a few mites and a slightly curled leaf, but is now mite-free. I am checking both pots daily for any other mites and will kill off any I find, but the trouble seems to have passed and the remaining plants in both pots seem quite robust.
This one died.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reiki Plant Update: The Zinnias at Day 47

I did not know what to expect when I started my (somewhat) scientific, second round of the Reiki Plant Experiments. I sowed the "Envy" zinnias on July 7.

July 7, 2014, Non-Reiki on L, Reiki on R, MR
 Five seeds were planted per pot. Each pot has received identical care except for daily Reiki treatments for the Reiki pot (R), and no treatments for the Non-Reiki (NR) pot. During early growth, the Reiki pot had plants that were growing closer together than the NR plants:

NR pot above, R pot below, MR
Here they are at Day 44:
Non-Reiki pot on L, Reiki pot on R. Aug 23, 2014, MR
Here are the stats: Non-Reiki Zinnias-- 4 healthy plants total, one dying. Tallest plant is 10cm from soil base to apical meristem, and 7cm across widest leaf pair. Reiki Zinnias, 7 healthy plants, tallest plant is 10cm from soil base to apical meristem, 8cm across for widest leaf pair.

Seven plants? That's just plain darned weird. When the sixth plant showed up, I assumed I had miscounted the seeds and sown an extra. I am still assuming this. But a week later, when the seventh showed up, I was pretty dumbfounded. Zinnia seeds are large, and I had counted and sown carefully. I really don't think I could have goofed up that badly. During the next round, I will have two people carefully count the seeds and observe the sowing to avoid any confusion. I will probably grow peas or beans, which have seeds far too large to miscount. So we'll work this little mystery out on the next round!

(And, as a note, the pots in the above photo are not in their normal places, they are posing on a box. They get identical sunshine time on a special shelf in the house.)

I hope any other gardeners doing this Reiki Plant Experiment will chime in with their results!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Addendum: Clumping Ionanthas

Here are a couple varieties of Tillandsia ionantha that have been allowed to clump peacefully.
Varieties of T. ionantha, clumping. MR2014
These pups are big enough that they could all be separated from the mother plants. Use a clean, very sharp, small knife and cut the pup off at the base. Let the plants heal in plenty of circulating fresh air. Once the wounds are healed, the plants can be watered again. That usually takes just a couple of days. Enjoy your Tillies!

Tillandsia ionantha in Bloom

Tillandsia ionantha and its various hybrids are probably the most commonly sold Tillie on the planet. They are even found in drugstores like Walgreens at the checkout counter, stashed in little shells or bottles. They are tiny and very tough, so they can survive with very little water or light for at least several months. But one should never treat a Tillie so unkindly! With proper conditions, they do this....
Ionanthas need moderate light and a thorough soak once a week, with a mist or two in between. Monthly fertilizer (for bromeliads) once a month helps, too.

The flowers are really amazing, and very weird. They bloom just once, but several weeks after the flower dries up, several pups can be seen at the base. You can break off the pup once it's half the size of the mother plant, and give it to a friend, or, if your friends aren't hankering for a Tillie, just let them grow into a nice clump (the ionanthas, not your friends).  Here's a closer look at the flower:
Tillandsia ionantha blooming, MR, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tillandsia Mass Watering and a Peckish Raccoon

We've finally been getting our normal afternoon rainshowers, and no one likes a rainbath better than a Tillie. In this case, several tangles of Tillies are ready to go outside for a little water....
If you have as many tangles of Tillies as I do, this is the easiest and quickest way to water them. Simply plop them into plastic containers and set them outside just before a rainstorm. After the rain has passed, just drain the container and return your Tillies to their indoor abode.

Prior to the storm, a feisty and peckish raccoon attempted to grab some more palm berries for a snack. They are the most amazing climbers! This one was over 20 feet in the air.
Here's to a peaceful Monday!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Adromischus cristatus, the Key Lime Pie Plant, blooms!

Believe it or not, my original post on the Key Lime Pie Plant (Adromischus cristatus, a lovely and fuzzy African succulent) is my most popular post ever. Seriously! So I thought I should post when it bloomed, and this week, it did!
Adromischus cristatus in bloom, MR, 2014
The flowers are perched on an impossibly long stalk. Some Haworthias and aloes do that, too. They are light lavender, and sadly have no scent whatsoever. Here's a close-up:
Close-up of Adromischus cristatus flowers, MR, 2014
The Key Lime Pie Plant is one of my all time favorites. It's got crinkled, fuzzy leaves, weird bright orange aerial roots, and one strange way to flower. I love it! And I hope you do, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gardener Warning: Lone Star Tick Bites Cause Red Meat Allergy

As a (mostly) vegetarian gardener, I didn't pay much attention to this emerging health threat, but many of my gardening friends eat red meat, and this is the most common species of tick in my area, so I felt I should post about it....

Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirms that the bite of a Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) can result in severe allergies to red meat such as beef, pork, venison, and rabbit (and I assume mutton and lamb?). Thousands of cases of this allergy have been appearing over the past couple of years, just as the Lone Star Tick population seems to have increased  in the central and eastern US, Canada, and all the way through Mexico, Central and South America.  Lone Star ticks are very aggressive, and I know lots of folk that have been bitten by them. These ticks are very happy to live in your garden and your fences, unlike many ticks who prefer to stay in the wilderness:
Lone Star Tick, photo courtesy Vanderbilt Univ. Medical Center
The allergy occurs because this tick's saliva contains a sugar called Alpha-gal, which is a form of the sugar galactose. As soon as the tick bites, Alpha-gal enters the victim's bloodstream. Apparently sometimes our immune system will mark the Alpha-gal as a foreign invader. Later, when that person eats red meat, which also contains Alpha-gal, an allergic reaction sets in. As with peanut or wasp or bee allergies, the reaction can become more severe each time the person eats red meat. Many poor sufferers have ended up in the ER.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a creative new urban legend. But it's for real. For gardeners who live in this tick's bailiwick, it is best to wear tick-protective clothing and repellants while working outdoors in the garden. After gardening or doing yard work, be alert to any ticks that have latched on to you and remove them promptly. If you seem to be having an allergic response to a steak dinner or a burger, see your doctor promptly to find out if you have a meat allergy, especially if you know you've been bitten by this tick in the past. For the extremely worried, veganism is an option...!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Do Lithops Use Abscisic Acid? You bet!

What's this? Alert Gardener Jim (who is growing more alert all the time, it seems!) sent me this intriguing snippet from the journal Science and I couldn't help think of our hardy Lithops (and other mesembs and cacti, too):

ABA Tells Roots To Stop And Then Grow   Jason D. Berndt  Science  6/6/14
"Plants initially grow a primary vertical root. The primary root then puts out horizontal lateral roots, which help to anchor the plant and take up water and nutrients from the soil. But to make the most of precious resources, plants use the hormone abscisic acid to stop lateral roots from growing in times of drought. Zhao et al. found that after a time, plants resume lateral root growth. This process paradoxically also uses abscisic acid, which binds to a different receptor and triggers changes in the expression of genes involved in resuming lateral root growth."
Sci. Signal. 7, ra53 (2014).
Lithops Abstract, MR
 Lithops guardians have noted how our favorite mesembs keep a sturdy tap root regardless of weather and soil conditions. And most of the time, that's all they have. But when moisture appears in the form of brief rains or heavy fog/dew, a Lithops can grow fine lateral roots in an astoundingly short time. The new roots take up the available water, then degrade as conditions go back to normal (bone dry). And now we know how that happens!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Weekend Walkabout: Yes, I Still Grow Lithops

No really, I do! I still have about 4 dozen Lithops, but they are all growing indoors now. Outside, the precipitation was just too unpredictable, and too monsoon-like in summer, for Lithops to love. These are getting a little too crowded in their pot and are ready for a new pot:
I've been working on some ceramics lately, it's been awhile, but I have a little time before the new school year:
I've been working on an Impressionistic beachscape series:
And I'm continuing work on the Tillandsia still lifes--here is a T. pruinosa:
Here's hoping your weekend is wonderful, and peaceful!
Dawn, MR, July2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Summer Salad With Fennel

Chef Riccardo Senettin is back this month with a delicious summer salad recipe that features fresh fennel leaves. Fennel is a wonderful digestive herb and it's a great addition to any garden. The leaves, bulb, and seeds are all edible and most cuisines in the world utilize some part of this plant. Chef Riccardo recommends wild fennel, but if that's not available, cultivated fennel is fine.
Typical Northern Italian Garden, RS, 2014

Summer Salad With Fennel:

for 4 people

250 g Spanish white beans, boiled and cooled (Carona or Butter Beans can also be used.)
200 g of sliced cucumbers
1 celery heart, parboiled and sliced
4 small tomatoes, quartered
a sprig of wild fennel (or domestic fennel, if wild is not available)
150 g of mixed baby salad greens

juice of one lemon
Extra Virgin olive oil (We’ve been hit by fake or adulterated olive oil here recently. If you are in the USA, I recommend California Olive Ranch brand, as it’s the real McCoy. If you are in the EU, Italy, Spain, and Greece have great options and many flavor profiles to choose from.)
salt to taste
ground pepper to taste 

Arrange the greens and other vegetables and beans. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
Celery Root, Tomatoes, Cucumber, and Fennel, MR 2014
Summer Salad With Fennel, MR, 2014
Chef Riccardo Senettin