Monday, June 15, 2015

poppy progress

In spring surprises . . ., posted on April 22, I lamented the total absence of California poppy blossoms or even buds in our front garden, yet "darling buds of May"* finally appeared and produced four lonely blossoms -- one at a time. Last Saturday, June 13, I photographed the laggard fifth. Somewhat darker than official state-flower standard, it had descended from the plants in a four-inch pot of mixed-color poppies we'd bought along with a pot of standard poppies at least four years ago at the Theodore Payne Foundation.

Meanwhile, the previous four blossoms had produced mature seedpods, and I started thinking about how best to ensure a good crop of poppies for 2016. It shouldn't be difficult, with the strong possibility of a rainy El NiƱo season ahead. I decided to pick two pods and scatter their seeds, and leave two to scatter their own seeds naturally. Here are the harvested two:

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but these pods seem to me to be longer than most, and so I included the quarter as a gauge of their size. Thomas Jefferson, our horticulturalist president, would surely approve, and the coin's 'heads' position invokes his blessing on the experiment. The pod on the left, BTW, is from the only one of 2015's new plants that has bloomed.

Finally, I used my thumb nail to open the pods onto the manila file folder where they had posed for their picture. The seeds rolled easily into the folder's central crease, which would have made it easy to pour them into a container.

Over dinner, Steve and I debated the merits of waiting for rain before scattering the seeds. He finally convinced me that the remaining pods wouldn't wait for rain before they opened. Feeling a bit like I was feeding the birds, I flapped my manila folder over a bare but well mulched patch where several poppy seedlings had appeared in February and March. If birds do eat any of the seeds, of course each one will be replanted along with a small portion of organic fertilizer.

Now to let nature take her course.
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*Shakespeare's Sonnet #18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?")

Saturday, June 13, 2015

holey calandrinia!


Two years ago I wrote about "white gardenias . . . mingling with cerise calandrinias" as bedfellows in our front garden. Above at left is a photo from that post. Below, at right, is a photo I took last Saturday, June 6:

The most obvious difference here is that the second gardenia hasn't opened yet, but let's look more closely at the two calandrinias. A honey bee graces the upper one, camouflaging herself cleverly against stamens and stigma, while a perfectly round hole in the lower one (look at 10:30) suggests that a less beneficent insect has come and gone.

It took me several days to figure out what had happened.

Early last week I was sitting at our little bistro table, contentedly watching a calandrinia blossom bob up and down on its long stem. I noticed what appeared to be a white spot on one of the petals. Closer inspection revealed that the spot was actually a hole framing a white object in the distance, possibly a white car parked on the street. On Friday (I can identify the day because there are trash bins at the curb), I spotted the ultimate calandrinia perforation: six holes spaced evenly among the flower's five petals. Each of the larger two was about 1/8" in diameter, while the smaller four averaged about 1/16" in diameter:

On Saturday, the day after sighting the holey calandrinia shown above, I decided to survey the entire calandrinia population: possibly eight flowers open at that time, each one on a long, separate stalk. That was when I found and photographed the one-holed blossom shown at the top of this page. None of the others seemed to be afflicted. The perforated calandrinia shown above had folded up and been replaced by the bud that's peering over its shoulder in the picture. But wait! There was something strange about that new flower. A little yellow-green grasshopper was perched on it. I tried to take a picture, but the insect was too fast for me. I was happy to have scared him away from a flower that was still unscathed, but strongly suspected that he would return as soon as my back was turned.

My next stop, of course, was the Internet, where I Googled 'grasshopper damage.' I learned that not all grasshopper damage consists of small holes, and that not all small holes in leaves and flowers are made by grasshoppers. Industry-standard grasshopper eradication, moreover, requires more than one season, as an expensive fungus must be made available when eggs are hatching in early spring. The pesticides favored by organic gardeners -- bacillus thuringiensis (b.t.) and hot pepper in a soap or wax base -- do not claim to deter grasshoppers. Maybe some of the damage to the kale in my little vegetable garden has been caused by grasshoppers rather than the cabbage worms I've been trying to fight with alternating applications of pepper spray and b.t. We live and learn.

I also learned that the best biological control for grasshoppers and many other insects, especially in a small-scale operation, is a little flock of chickens. My friend Michelle has four or five 'rescue' hens who spend much of their time hunting down and devouring insects which are then converted into delicious eggs. I don't remember whether Michelle has any calandrinias, but if she does I'll bet they aren't as holey as mine.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License