Saturday, May 29, 2010

star wars

In hyacinth: bean, bloom, britcom I described our front-yard sequence of naturalized spring bulbs, from freesia through hyacinth to Star of Bethlehem. That description was incomplete. as I neglected to mention the paper-white narcissi that start around Christmas and the elephant garlic whose flowers are just now opening on stems of up to six feet.

Next year I hope to see more narcissi and less garlic, b
ut it's the Star of Bethlehem (SB) I really want to talk about today. When I removed the dense mat of ivy that used to cover our front yard and parking strip, SB was one of the few plants that had survived being immured for years underneath. I was delighted when it bloomed -- even more so because it was a flower I'd never seen before. My neighbor's grandmother identified SB for me, and warned that it could become invasive.  Nevertheless I've encouraged SB over the years and enjoyed its mildly licorice-like fragrance. What could be more invasive than ivy, after all?

This spring I think we had about 25-30 SBs blooming on long stems, along with innumerable clumps of floppy leaves bearing no blossoms. I attributed the barren clumps to lack of sufficient sun, a phenomenon which could also cause the stems to be as tall as 30".

Some of this year's SBs grew in places where I don't really want them to appear next year. So now I'm digging them out and learning more about the meaning of invasive species
Each blooming SB rises over a clump of up to ten bulbs and bulblets.  As with garlic, the bulblets form at the base of the main bulb. They start off with a concave side from being pressed up against the main bulb, but become round when they drop off and mature.

Maybe I'll advertise the SB bulbs on Craig's List and give them away to good homes. Others may enjoy them too, and 15-20 pounds seems like a lot to throw away. F
ortunately, California is not one of the states where SB presents a serious threat.

BTW, the first SB I ever saw outside my own yard was a florist-grown plant that looked so different from my 'garden variety' ones that I had to look twice to recognize it. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

mixed messages

In hyacinth: bean, bloom, britcom I reported that only one of my five hyacinth bean (HB) seeds had germinated. That was on March 19 and nothing has changed. Yet.

Last Friday, I located another packet of HB seeds. Unlike the packet of ten I'd bought in Idaho in February for $1.79 or less (most of the seeds there were on sale), this $2.99 full-price-plus-tax beauty included eleven seeds. Cost per unit was not the only difference.
  • Packet 1 (from a company in Norton, MA) was illustrated with a photograph showing dense clusters of lovely fabaceous blossoms very much like perennial sweet peas. The terse printed matter promised vines of 10-15 feet in height from seeds that would germinate in 7-10 days, advised "needs support," and promised "Purple pods produce edible seeds for fresh eating or drying." Naturally I was enthralled, especially after reading Wikipedia's description of HB's culinary and medicinal uses (cited in seed stories, part 3).
  • Packet 2 (from a company in Broomfield, CO), bore an artistic rendering of leaves, flowers, and pods in various stages of development. A broader range of heights (6-20 feet), and a potentially longer wait for germination (7-20 days), were accompanied by a choice of three ways to plant: "Twining stems quickly climb a fence or trellis, or allow them to trail across the ground for an attractive ground cover. Can also be grown in containers." The most striking difference, however, was this caveat: "Contains toxins -- not recommended for eating."

Both packets advise planting the seeds outdoors, directly in the garden, but I'm always afraid that seedlings will fall prey to snails, slugs, sow bugs, and earwigs. So I've chosen four HB seeds, soaked them for 24 hours, and planted them in a recycled '4 pack' with the bottom slits enlarged so that the roots can emerge easily. A covering of bubble wrap keeps in moisture and heat. Now begins the vigil of up to 20 days.

Meanwhile, the single HB seedling from March, which I'd been tending in a 6' unglazed terracotta pot, has been planted pot-and-all by the chainlink fence with a liberal dusting of Sluggo Plus to protect it from predators. Of course we'll try eating HBs, lightly steamed or prepared in one of the African, Egyptian, Indian, or Southeast Asian styles found in an on-line recipe source.

BTW, Packet 2 also provided "much more information" inside, so I pulled back the flaps as directed, moved the seeds to Packet 1, and read on to learn that HB is a "tender perennial grown as annual" and was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The cover artist's brief bio revealed that she had been a glass blower.

I wonder whether Thomas Jefferson's HB stock came from Africa with slaves, who would have known that: "In Kenya, [HB] is known as 'Njahi' and is popular among the Kikuyu group. It is thought to encourage lactation and has historically been the main dish for breastfeeding mothers. Beans are boiled and mashed with ripe and/or semi-ripe bananas giving the dish has a sweetish taste" (Wikipedia, op.cit.).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

as others see us

I once made the mistake of telling Kay I wasn't interested in physics. Or maybe it was space (as in OUTER space). She was shocked. She felt that as an intelligent person I MUST be fascinated by these subjects and want to attend every Friday night lecture at CalTech with her and Jean.

Truth to tell, I HAD attended many Friday night lectures at CalTech when I was in high school. In fact I heard Linus Pauling there. I had also taken the first undergraduate class in quantum mechanics ever given at my college. None of this was good enough for Kay. She wanted me to maintain an up-to-date interest in all the sciences, and she never gave up.

Carolyn, on the other hand, once berated me for being too scientific. She wanted me to work with her on a line of dollhouse furnishings, but I offended her artistic sensibilities by talking in terms of square inches.

Dino wanted me to co-write a novel with him, so decided I must be a fiction writer. When I said I don't write fiction, he said: "Oh, but you SPEAK it so well!"

A teaching colleague who knew I was interested in music made the assumption that I wanted to hear him blather on with detailed comparisons between every recording ever made of Wagner's operas.

And so it goes. We know each other to the extent that we see reflections of ourselves on the surfaces that others choose to expose. What of the less shiny surfaces?

Monday, May 10, 2010

snails and slugs, part 3

Our war against land mollusks started many years before the copper wire/mesh offensive described in snails and slugs, part 2 and the Weetabix offensive described in snails and slugs, part 1. Since we don't believe in using poisonous substances, hand-to-hand (actually foot-to-foot) combat has been our main strategy, with a brief incursion into snail husbandry.*

With neither copper nor Weetabix having proved to be a practical solution, I turned once more to Google and got into some real science. The Statewide Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program at UC Davis, (where else?), has posted an up-to-date and comprehensive article titled simply Snails and Slugs (revised in November 2009). I must quote one paragraph: "Iron phosphate baits—available under many trade names including Sluggo and Escar-Go—have the advantage of being safe for use around children, domestic animals, birds, fish, and other wildlife, making them a good choice for an integrated pest management program in your garden. Ingesting even small amounts of the bait will cause snails and slugs to stop feeding, although it can take several days for the snails to die. You can scatter the bait on lawns or on the soil around any vegetable, ornamental, or fruit tree that needs protection. Iron phosphate baits can be more effective against snails than slugs overall and more effective than metaldehyde during periods of higher humidity. Snails and slugs tend to hide before they die, so you won’t see scattered empty shells or dead snails and slugs as you would if treating them with metaldehyde."

Naturally I made a bee-line to the nearest hardware store in search of Sluggo. A rather officious clerk tried to sell me a common metaldehyde bait which, he said, they had sold for many years with no complaints. After my expression of horror over the product's toxicity, however, he admitted having received several requests for Sluggo in the past few days.

When I found Sluggo at a store with a larger garden department, I also found and purchased Sluggo Plus, . (The 'Plus' is for spinosad, which must be kept out of the reach of children but does not persist in the environment and may be used around edible plants up to three days before harvest). Sluggo Plus kills sowbugs and earwigs, and this indeed is a BIG plus since they are the primary predators of our strawberries. How sad it is to pick a ripe strawberry and find an earwig eating its way through the underside!

A two-cup plastic shaker (originally a garlic powder container) makes it easy to apply Sluggo Plus at the recommended rate of one teaspoon per square yard. Garlic scent pervades the iron phosphate/spinosad granules, and it's nice to think of the pests' last meal being lightly seasoned in this appetizing way.

Interestingly, Sluggo Plus costs about the same per ounce as Weetabix. I think we'll probably eat the rest of the Weetabix -- possibly with strawberries, for breakfast, but more likely as part of a topping for apple crisp or some such fruit-based dessert.

At the end of every radio program, Sergeant Preston used to say (to his trusty dog): "Well, King, this case is closed."

It will be good to move on.
- - - - -
*Yes! Inspired by the City of Industry Snail Festivals in 1990 and 1991, we raised and ate snails for a short time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

legless lizards sighted in the 'cukes & beans' bed

All has not been well in my tiny Cukes and Beans bed. This morning, the once-promising six-by-one foot space sported nothing but two flourishing nasturtiums (transplanted from the herb garden) and two scarlet runner bean plants (seed saved from last summer's late crop)., plus two severely slug-damaged seedlings of heirloom pole beans ('rattlesnake' variety) and one struggling seedling of Armenian cucumber.

Imagine laboriously removing a seedling palm tree and a thick stand of Confederate Jasmine, plus laying down all that wet cardboard and mulch for this pathetic result!

I decided to dig up the entire space (minus the aforementioned seven plants) and start over again with slug control based on copper scouring pads (see snails and slugs, part 2). Upon peeping under a thick layer of the original cardboard, I saw a family of two or three legless lizards and knew that I was getting some reptilian support. That was on April 17, when I started and abandoned this sad narrative. (Thanks be to Google Blogger for keeping track of my fits and starts!)

Two days after spotting the legless lizards and making a meticulous copper mesh installation to protect the cukes and beans, I started the Weetabix offensive described in snails and slugs, part 1. A number of slugs were destroyed before victory was declared in that phase of the land mollusk war, as I will reveal in the forthcoming snails and slugs, part 3.

Today is May 6, and the cukes and beans bed is totally cuke-less though one of the rattlesnake bean seedlings has made an excellent recovery. One of the scarlet runner beans and both nasturtiums are starting to climb the wire mesh. Two varieties of cucumbers and two herbs (summer savory, dill) have been planted from seed directly in the ground but have failed to emerge.

Yesterday, I planted seeds of Armenian cucumber, summer savory, and dill in jiffy pots destined for transplanting into the cukes and beans bed. Hope springs eternal. Seeds of basil (two varieties), marigolds (two varieties), yellow crookneck squash, pumpkin, and Swiss chard also went into jiffy pots with other destinations.

There will be green beans galore this summer, with at least ten vines of three or four varieties, and cucumbers may very well flourish on the south or north fence.

Two Williams merge for me in the magic of growth and rainwater. So much depends upon the darling buds of May.
Creative Commons License
POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License