Friday, March 30, 2012

Worm update; and interior squeamishness

It is a dark time for the Rebellion...
The worm pacification strategy seems to be working.  I'm still getting a few little clusters like this up at the top, but not nearly as many.  So on to having a normally functioning worm bin, I hope!

Also, I have an observation to make about my own behavior; this goes under Garden Psychology, if there is such a field.  When I'm outside, in the garden, I sometimes wear gloves, but half of the time I take them off and forget to put them back on, so I'm bare-handed.  And those who have worked with me know that I am not squeamish about picking up worms, bugs, etc., as long as I know they're not going to bite me.

That's outside.  For some reason, this does not carry over to interiors.  Now, long ago I used to be bug-phobic; I'd go all Annie Hall over spiders and so forth, but I got over that, and I can handle bugs in the house... just not with my bare hands.  Out in the garden: pick the stink bugs off the plants and squish them, preferably with gloves on, but I have been known to do it without, and I can certainly take having them crawl on my bare skin.  In the house: I always use a tissue to carry them to the toilet for flushing, or a piece of cardboard to knock them into a jar of soapy water.  Out in the garden I pick up inconvenient worms and fling them away (gently, although I do confess that if my cat is "helping" me garden I let him pounce on the worms.  I'm sure this is evidence of a deep-seated psychosis).  Inside, I use wooden spoons or pieces of stiff cardboard to push my Rebel Worms back to their labor below or to poke around in the Worm Mines to see what's going on.  (On the other hand, I then wash the wooden spoon and use it to stir my dinner, so I'm still sure to gross someone out.)

I suspect this means that, deep down, I don't think bugs and worms belong in the civilized (sort of) atmosphere of my house, which of course they don't, but I'm not sure why I can't touch them to put them in their rightful place, while having no problem doing that outdoors.  The worm bin brings composting indoors, so it may eventually bridge the gap.  Not that I stick my bare hands in outdoor unfinished compost either.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mertensia: notes on confusion in nomenclature

For someone who really loves Virginia bluebells, I have very few of them.  But I'm dividing and acquiring as I can, and someday I will have lots.  They're blooming now, and looking splendid in part-shady spots with the bleeding hearts (which will eventually swallow them, so I'll probably have to move the bluebells.  They are unassuming little dears, that take over by slow colonization rather than by getting enormous and overwhelming).

But this post isn't about the plant, really; it's about the genus name.  There are a bunch of Mertensias, though virginica is the only one I know well.  I've been taken with the name since I first learned it, and (this is the way of writers) decided that it would make a great girl's name, not for any real-life girls but for a fictional character, possibly the daughter of a botanist.  I had a couple of vague potential characters in hypothetical novels whom the name might suit, both born in about the 1750s.  So I looked it up to see if a botanist of the time would have known the name, and immediately plunged into confusion.

Just about any source you'll read (including Wikipedia) says this about Virginia bluebells:  "The Latin name Mertensia was given to this plant by Carolus Linnaeus in honor of the German botanist Franz Mertens."  Sounds good, right?  Except that Linnaeus died in January 1778, and Mertens was born in April 1764.  If I'm doing the math right, that means Mertens was 13 when Linnaeus died.  He might have been a precocious botanical genius, perhaps... but on investigation it turns out that he studied theology at university, and only pursued botany in his spare time, though he did have some substantial achievements in the field.  And no, his father was not a botanist.

I had to poke around a good deal more, into the International Plant Names Index and a scholarly article, to figure out that Linnaeus did indeed first (scientifically) name the Virginia bluebell, but he called it Pulmonaria virginica. It was later segregated from that genus and given the name Mertensia pulmonarioides by A.W. Roth in 1797, and the name was later stabilized as Mertensia virginica by J.H.F. Link in 1829 (with help from Persoon).  Presumably Roth and Link were honoring Mertens, who was by then old enough to have achieved something in botany deserving the honor.  Linnaeus probably never even heard of him.

So this is a lesson to you: a) do not read too much into those (L.) nomenclature notes without investigating (it says "Pers. ex. Link" too for a reason); and b) don't copy your information off Wikipedia.  Really though, I probably would have accepted the "Linnaeus honors Mertens" thing if I hadn't been trying to figure out the date the bloody thing was named, so I could tell whether giving a character who was in her 20s in the 1770s the name of the genus was possible.  Alas, it is not; I will have to reserve the name for someone in that Victorian novel I will never write.  I did name the laptop on which I am typing this Mertensia.  (All our computers have names, though this is the first one called after a plant.)

The worms of Monte Cristo

So, things are still a bit unsettled in Wormville.  I was, in fact, rather worried that I had a sort of Worm Rebel Alliance making a bid for freedom, since every time I checked the bin a dozen or two of them were up around the top trying to sneak out.  As usual, the internet came to the rescue, and I found this post, which is reassuring in the "you may have done something stupid or you may have bought stupid worms" way - but apparently it happens to everyone, just about.  (Everyone with a worm bin, I mean.  Though it may bear some thematic resemblance to the embarrassments of adolescence.)

The Rebels Without a Cause are not great in number, so I'm not going to worry much.  From the worm-advice post, I can see several things I may have done wrong.  Potting soil was probably a bad plan, because it can have fertilizer salts in it that can hurt worms.  I didn't add much, but what I did add was Miracle-Gro, I admit (a totally organic potting soil might be okay).  Also, white office paper isn't the best, and that's what I used since we already had some in the shredder.  (My son has since added the remains of a college rejection letter.  I think this is legitimate worm food, and I plan to do the same with all publication rejections I receive.)  And I set the system up right before adding the worms, so the food scraps were fresh and harder for the worms to process.

I poked around down below and most of the worms seem to be settled in and well distributed.  None have actually escaped out the top and none have gone through the holes into the empty lower bin, so they are not entirely stupid.  Per advice, I added some leaves and manure, and filled up the rest of the bin with dry shredded newspaper, which may keep the upper levels drier and discourage questing behavior.  We shall see.

Really one should not equate this management plan with Keeping the Little People Happy so as to suppress revolution.  Worms will not find a better life on the kitchen floor (especially if the cat discovers them).

Monday, March 26, 2012

The worms have landed!

You will actually get to see a flower if you make it to the end of this post. :)

My worms are here!  The package from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm arrived very quickly; good thing I got organized yesterday and put my homemade stacking worm bin together.  I bought three plastic storage tubs from Lowe's; they cost $4.98 each.  Aside from that, all I needed for this experiment were four yogurt cups (anything of similar size will do, but I ate the yogurt), some shredded paper, a bit of potting soil (ETA: probably not such a good idea; see next post), and a mess of kitchen scraps.  And the worms.

The bottom bin remains imperforate and intact.  In it go the yogurt cups as spacing devices.

This bin will catch any liquid that drips down from the higher bins.  Worms need a moist environment, but not an aquatic one.  The liquid will be good fertilizer.

 The other two bins got drilled.  The one at bottom is upside-down so you can see the holes better.  Exciting, right?  Those holes have to be big enough for a worm to crawl through.  I used a 5/16" bit (I am totally guessing worm size here).  The holes around the top edge are just for air circulation and are a bit smaller.

One of the holey bins goes inside the unholey bin.  The other one gets put aside for now; it'll come into use when the worms get really active.  Lowe's had better not discontinue this size of bin, because I suspect I'll need more later.

Inside the bin goes:  a layer of shredded paper a couple of inches thick, sprayed with water; some food scraps (they should probably be cut up more, but we'll get in the habit of doing that); a cup or so of potting soil (garden compost or soil would do, but I didn't want to introduce any foreign worms or other critters).

Worms inna bag!  They came with a warning that they might look a bit dried out and shrunken, but really they weren't so bad (wriggling away in their peat moss!) and they will rehydrate fine.

A view into the dark and mysterious interior. -->

I dumped the worms onto the food scraps, and covered them with some more damp shredded paper, and then put the lid on the bin and set it in the kitchen where it will live.  I am trying not to check on them too often.  They should start eating soon and making what are delicately called castings.  When the first bin has lots of castings in it, I'll put the second bin on top, with paper and food scraps in it, and let the worms migrate up.  Then I can collect the mostly worm-free castings from below, and the bins keep switching places.

I'll let you know if that works out as planned.  So very glad I did this - admittedly, it was an easier step to take than getting bees or chickens, neither of which I've plunged into yet, and much cheaper.  A thousand worms cost under $20 plus shipping; $15 for the bins... not much of an investment for something that should yield enough compost to feed all my potted plants.  I'm excited!

I'm less excited about the freeze warning for tonight, considering everything out there that's in flower - my blueberries at the link, magnolias not quite done yet, cherries making pink snow everywhere.

Viburnum 'Mohawk' now out in full bloom - wish I could share the scent with you, but we don't quite have the technology for that yet.  A sweet clove scent that perfumes the air twenty feet away.  (Just imagine it.  It'll get the worms out of your nose.)  It's a short bloom even in years when it goes off properly a month later; I'm afraid the freeze may make it even shorter, but we can hope.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Photo post, including more blooms

Hyacinths, usefully hidden under a shrub
Daffodil, I think 'Bridal Crown'
Mini rhododendron.  I have a record somewhere of which one this is, I swear.  It will reach 2 feet in height but it's not there yet.

For the record, the first non-Kaufmanniana tulips of the year.  Deer have not eaten these because they are under a shrub.

Like everything else, redbuds are early.
Viburnum 'Mohawk' just barely still in bud.  Early!
I took this a few days ago: bleeding heart nearly in bloom despite being only a couple of inches out of the ground.  They are now all a foot tall and growing fast.

This exciting picture is of what I'm using for a deck greenhouse since I sent the other one back.  It's a three-tier shelf with row cover draped over it and pinned down with clothespins, and underneath there are lots of vegetables plants (brassicas, mostly) that will go into the demo garden soon.  Considering the temperatures (hasn't gone below 50 at night this week), the row cover is not to protect against cold but against squirrels.  I have lost brassica seedlings to squirrels too many times.

Baby viburnum 'Winterthur' plants that have survived the winter in a planter, hurray.  When I have a space for them cleared in the Way Back they will get planted there (with fences).  This may happen in the spring.

Indoor shot: this is what my insane Vigna caracalla plant is doing in its search for sunlight.  (The pot is on the floor.)  Obviously I'm going to have to cut off most of that growth before I bring it out after last frost date.  I hope it will send up more vines, and I hope it blooms this year, dammit.

I put the yacon roots in a pot of peat moss and stored them in the chilly library; they started sprouting in January, so I moved them down into the dark chillier cellar, where they lasted until March before sprouting again.  It's just not cold enough anywhere.  So they are getting a head start on growth on the deck before going into the ground.  If it's going to be below 40 at night I will bring the pot in.

Not much happening in the vegetable garden yet, but I guess I could pick some of this wintered-over kale.  This was the winter to have a garden full of cold-hardy plants.  Oh well.  (There is some chard also.)

More soon!!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sense and seedability

I will have a more substantive post soon, but here's a seed update.  Various spring crops (sorrel, radicchio, radishes, chard, spinach, arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, dill and cilantro) were seeded directly in my veggie garden yesterday, along with seedling peas.  The earlier-seeded kale and other brassicas along with peas are coming up.  I am hoping for some cooler weather.

Have also started indoors: basil, tithonia, zinnia, hollyhock (more), shungiku (edible chrysanthemum), and catnip.

Had a fantastic first workday at the demo garden Tuesday, with much organizing of compost and shed junk.  I still only have the onions and peas planted, but hope to get more in next week.

Also, have ordered 1000 red wiggler worms for vermicomposting.  Must drill holes in bins and arrange them.  There will be pictures when the worms arrive.  (I'm warning you now.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I must go down to the seed again

The magnolia bloomed!  The day after I put together the GBBD post, of course.

But this is really a catch-up on seed starting post.  I think I have actually recorded everything I started (amazingly enough) except for the purple mizuna, which happened a week or two ago and is growing, not very purply as yet.

The ides of March is tomato-starting day around here, so I have started some: Speckled Roman, Jubilee, Purple Jasper, Orange Icicle, Mortgage Lifter, and an anonymous cherry I was given seeds for.  I also started some yellow bell peppers called Sunbright, to make up for the ones that didn't germinate, along with more Fish which also didn't germinate (I have small hopes; the seed may be too old), and a few Antioch that I got from a fellow MG who got them from another MG who really loves them.  And I transplanted the first set of eggplants (there has been another set since then; I may not have recorded those either) into pots.

Very few real failures this year, aside from the low rate on the peppers, and some of the early brassicas apparently not taking well to transplanting.  But I have so many brassicas (the Year of Leafy Greens, you know) that it doesn't matter.  I've tried direct-seeding some in my own garden, without much result as yet.  The salad table plants are emerging, though.

Many more seeds to start, as soon as I clear the shelves a bit - I guess it will be something with row cover down in the garden, rather than anything on the deck.  Oh well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra

(Yeah, that was sort of inevitable after the last post.)  Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is tomorrow, but I'm going to put the post together today and then link in the morning, since I have to run off to a meeting then.

So, flowers have appeared in our land, for sure.  I have these blue/purple Dutch crocuses (Crocus vernus 'Twilight', I think) in large quantities, because they are gorgeous.  The early crocuses are gone already.  (If you want to check out my Early Early Spring posts on flowers, click on the "Blooms" subject label.)
Here's the rest of what's blooming now.

one of many daffodils
Iris histroides 'Katharine Hodgkin' - the last mini iris to bloom

Camellia 'I Forget Which'

Kaufmanniana Tulip 'The First'

Buds on my Little Girl magnolia
My neighbor's magnolia tree, in full bloom

Scilla biflora 'Rosea'

Pieris japonica
Red maple.  Unfortunately for my nose.
I do really like all the red stages of red maple, but February was awfully early for allergies to kick in.  Everything else is awfully early too; I'm expecting the magnolias to get zapped, since we are almost certainly going to have another freeze before spring comes in full tilt.  It's 71 F. right now and expected to stay that way the rest of the week.  Really, I'd like it to cool down a bit, so we could hang onto the daffodils longer.  There has to be some benefit to this weather, after all.

Hyacinths are out, too, though I haven't seen any of mine appear yet.  Forsythia is going gangbusters.  The Cherry Blossom Festival in DC starts this weekend, but I suspect the cherries are anticipating it.  (Some years they're late; hard to plan around plants.)

The non-winter and early spring are worrisome in several ways.  I'm torn between wringing my hands (if I knew how) or just lying back and enjoying it.  How often do we get a whole week of shorts weather in March?  The summer will be hot no matter what, so I think I'll just take this as it comes (can't hardly do anything about it, anyway).

Enjoy your blooms, early or not!

Oh, and also I have:

Mutant daffodils.  Some bloom like this every year, and I'd always thought it was a combination of senescence and soil contaminants (lead from the paint that used to be on the house), but this one is in a bed where I hadn't deposited any of that soil, and I don't think it's that old, either.  A mystery.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tempus putationis advenit

The time of pruning has come.

Only in certain biblical translations, apparently; I am not inclined at the moment to look up the history, but Song of Solomon 2 as I was accustomed to reading it talked about the time of singing, and the voice of the turtle and all that.  Pruning actually makes more sense in context.  Anyway, I heard a lovely rendition of Pablo Casals' "Nigra sum" which includes parts of SoS2 at a concert at the National Cathedral the other night.  Ergo, pruning.  Which I am not actually doing, and I'm not sure it's not too late for all those things you're supposed to prune in the winter.  The winter is past; the rain is over and gone.  (Well, not that last part.)

Extraordinary numbers of things are blooming, which I will be sure to post about in two days.  I was down in DC this morning and all the hyacinths were out.  Not quite here yet, but any day now.  Species tulips are starting; those come long before the regular tulips.  More and more daffodils.  Magnolias, oh dear (they will be frozen for sure).

This is the "haven't made a post in a while" post, so you get no photos and a quick list of what I've been up to.

1) Taught my class on Saturday, which went very well aside from the last-minute dash home when the flash drive I'd brought along with the PowerPoint inexplicably failed to work.  Thank goodness for able assistants.  I will be the assistant at the next class in two weeks (container gardening).

2) Have used all my available space under lights for seedlings, and how, so I am trying to put together this mini-greenhouse thing for the deck.  No, not the one with the zippered plastic cover; I bought one of those a few years back, and the zipper broke in the first year, and I velcroed it together well enough to sort of do the job for a few years more, but last summer the whole thing (well, the top two-thirds of it) blew over and scattered plant material about and what was left of it went in the trash (except for the metal uprights which are now plant stakes in the garden).  The new thing is possibly an equal waste of money - it does incorporate metal and polycarbonate panels, and may work okay once it's constructed, but it has the WORST instructions I have ever encountered (makes Ikea furniture instructions look like works of genius from another planet entirely) and even when you have figured out what they mean they don't make sense, and have to be reordered.  If I don't go insane trying, I will have it together by tomorrow, and can put my brassica seedlings outside (in 75 degree temperatures, which will probably kill them).  And then I can plant some tomatoes.  And more peppers, since the germination rate on the earlier lot sucked.

3) Went over to the demo garden yesterday to plant peas and onions, and was working away when I looked around and realized there was a cat in the garden.  Strolled down to the building to inform the receptionist, and then saw a "don't let the cat in" sign on the door and learned that she belongs on the farm (our garden, and the Extension offices, are in a county park that celebrates agricultural heritage, along with complicating jurisdictions) although she's supposed to live in the barn and, I assume, catch rodents.  We have a sizable population of chipmunks and rabbits in and around the garden, so I hope she'll be back.  Also, she is extremely pettable for a farm cat.

The peas will probably also die in this heat, if the rabbits don't eat them first.  (Almost all the holes in the fence are fixed.  Almost is not enough.)

4) Things that are blooming include trees that make pollen I'm allergic to.  Pollen counts are 100+ times as high as they usually are in mid-March (they'd be there in a few weeks anyway, but a few weeks make a difference).  No wonder I've felt sick for the last month and more.  I am having near-daily migraines, too.  This may wreak complete havoc with my plans for the growing season (of course, I was hardly going to accomplish everything I'd planned anyway).

5) On the other hand, the first shorts-days are always fun, even when they come this early.  We will have rain and cold still to come, but I do think winter is decidedly over and done.  Such as it was.

More soon.

ETA: I have decided to return the greenhouse.  It really is a piece of crap, pardon my Latin.  For reference, it's the Hot House Haven 3 by EarthCare Greenhouses.  Don't buy it.  I'm not sure what to do now, though, since I have seedlings to go outside that need protection (from squirrels as well as the elements).  I can rig up something with row cover in the garden, I guess, but I'll forget to water them.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Early March flowers

This is just a yay!flowers update.  I should probably link to the series of these on GBBD.

My camellia is in bloom!  Finally, after having buds looking ready to pop all winter.  Somewhere I have a record of which camellia this is.  Maybe.  I just call it the Ten Dollar Lowe's Camellia.

I have ordered a tea plant (which is also a camellia).  I don't know yet where it's going to live, since this spot is really the only good one for camellias, at least that I've come up with of so far.  But I'll think about that tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another day, and I have always depended on the... oh, sorry, blooming camellias make me go all Old South.  Next...

Here's a better look at iris 'George.'  Handsome, isn't he?

This is possibly Iris histroides 'Katharine Hodgkin' but looks a bit too warmly blue and pointy.  If it's not, I can't remember what it is instead and I don't feel like rustling through papers to find out what I ordered.  I have other KH's and they haven't bloomed yet.  Ah well, a mystery for the moment.

The early daffodils are in full bloom now.  These are old ones that were here when we moved in 24 years ago.  I don't recall this clump being by this stump, but we've done some digging and shifting back there, and maybe the bulbs got moved.  Hopefully I will have some new daffodils coming out on the back slope - the foliage is up for quite a few of them.

A hellebore, rather late compared with everyone else's.

Sorry this is blurry.  It's Hermodactylus tuberosus, the snake's head iris (note: not really an iris then).  Very cool flower.  Apparently I have only one of them left, and it doesn't bloom every year.

And those are today's flowers!  Tulip leaves are coming up, absurdly early like everything else.  Buds are swelling all over, and many of the allergy trees are in flower already, alas.  Welcome to March.