Archive for April 2010

Amaryllis Babies

If Ornithogalum caudatum's propagatory sexcapades weren't enough, I have some more reproductive joy going on here with my amaryllis! The seeds I collected back in March from my "Red Lion" amaryllis started germinating on 17 April! That was about three and a half weeks since sowing, I'd say. Now, I have two small pots full of little seedlings. Clearly, I will have to thin them. I wasn't sure how readily they would germinate, but they appear to have a pretty high viability! I am excited to see what the flowers will look like. If DragonStone's experience is anything to go by, I'll have a few years yet before I'll be able to tell. He's at three years and counting. That's almost worse than waiting for an orchid to rebloom... As I suggested to an impatient garden centre employee, if you own a few hundred plants at home, caring for a little leafy, boring Phalaenopsis until it reblooms is easy, because you have so many other things to distract you and keep you happy. She said something about having too many fabulous gay boyfriends to spend time taking care of that many plants, so she tosses the orchids when they're done. I really couldn't think of any clever retort.

Besides the seeds germinating, my other amaryllis, the pink-and-white-flowered one, decided to send off an offshoot! It's crazy-town here in my apartment! This offshoot should have the same type of flower as the main bulb, but I will likely wait a year or two before separating it from its mommy. I wasn't too huge a fan of the flower, as noted by the decided lack of photographs of it. But, hey, any plant that doesn't die and multiplies itself for me scores big points in my book!


Pregnant Onion Sexual Propagation

Really, that just means my Ornithogalum caudatum is flowering. Throughout the almost a year I've had the plant, it has made a ton of little "babies" from its bulb (vegetative propagation--offsetting), but it started flowering (sexual propagation) back in late March, right before I disappeared.

After a few weeks of wiggling around like a snake, the spike decided to open its first few flowers! I plan on using a Q-tip to pollinate a few of them and see whether starting from seed is viable and whether the children look any different from mama. The one "baby" that rooted and started sending up a little leaf hasn't done too much, yet, and I'm wondering if the seeds will be more tricky than vegetative propagation. They usually seem to be, although I have read that they are fairly easy.

On Monday, 29 March, I woke up on a dreary day to find this inflorescence peeking out. It brightened up my day considerably!

On Saturday, 3 April, the spike had snaked out a little, lifting its head as if a sleepy dragon freshly awoken from a nap.

By Tuesday, 13 April, the inflorescence had introduced a few dips and bends in its "neck." It seemed every day I came home, it was in some new awkward orientation!

By Saturday, 17 April, the flowers were imminent. I waited patiently for them (I had texted "How long does it take for these things to flower?" to my horticulturalist friend, who had previously said [prior to O. caudatum flowering] "Oh, yeah, I have tons of those at the Arboretum. They flower all the time." Well, he never got back to me about a time frame between inflorescence emergence and flowering, and even if it's mundane to him, it's still exciting to me!).

I only had to wait a few more days, however. Last week, on Tuesday, 20 April, the first flower opened on the spike! Each day, one or two more opens. I currently have about five open. They stay open for about two days, I think, and then they fold back up. They'll eventually fall off, I'm sure, but before they all open, I'm going to pollinate a few and see what the fruit and seed look like.

The curvature of the "neck" is ever-changing, although I don't move or rotate the pot. I find that incredibly interesting--the inflorescence probably isn't a primary photosynthesizer, so if the moving is phototaxic, what's the point? Is it temperature related? There has certainly been amazing variability in that department, lately! I can't find readily accessible information about this online. I'll try to do a more thorough search at some point.


Bake Sale

As mentioned, I participated in the DC Food Bloggers' Great American Bake Sale to raise money for hungry kids in the U.S. (A whole week ago. I'm still so behind.) We raised $612, which is a good chunk of the $16,500+ that the entire national event raised last Saturday. The rest of the goodies were donated to Carpenter's Shelter, in Alexandria, Va.

I follow some of the bake sale participants' blogs (blame Modern Domestic for getting me into the whole cooking/baking scene--I have found most of my food bloggers through her) and their feeds on Twitter, so it was cool to see them in person.

And, speaking of Jenna (Modern Domestic), the one purchase I allowed myself were her strawberry-rhubarb jam oatmeal sandwich cookies. A lot of us had baking snaffoos while trying to bake for the cause (see my tweet here), and Jenna was no exception. But I really enjoyed her cookie, even if they were the backup. Rhubarb, strawberry, and oatmeal are three of my most favourite things in the world!

My baking, however, was a bit more, uh, problematic (see link above). The soft pretzels were renamed Death Pretzels, and I now have new respect for the name I gave my oven two and a half years ago: "Demon Oven." (No matter what setting I put it on, the oven goes all-out trying to heat itself, so when I put the soft pretzels in on the baking sheet with parchment paper, the paper combusted almost immediately. Hence, Death Pretzels.)

I have previously blogged the recipes for the Death Pretzels and roasted pecans. After the blaze, I decided to nix the Hell Yes Chocolate Macaroons (also, it was midnight and I was tired). The only thing I have not previously blogged about is my patent-pending chocolate saltine caramel brittle candy things. (Actually, you can't patent or copyright a recipe, just the collection, or something like that. I'm not sure the details, but go ahead and steal it if you wish. I can take no legal recourse.)

Start with a layer of salted goodness (Saltines, salted motza [which I used], whatever you wish) on a baking tray lined with parchment paper (the noncombustible kind). Caramelize some sugar, and when it's thick and just starting to change colour, pour evenly over the crackers. You'll have to spread manually and the crackers will shift in the pan, but just move them back into place when you're done and lick your sticky fingers. Then, sprinkle a layer of chocolate on top and stick the pan in the oven that's preheated to whatever low temperature you wish (170 Fahrenheit, 200, whatever). Keep it in there until the chocolate melts, which should not take long at all--the hot, fresh caramel will do most of the work for you. Take it out of the oven and spread the warm, gooey chocolate in a fairly even layer. You can add any nut or raisin or candy you wish as a topping, or just go straight-edge and have only the three ingredients. Then, stick the stuff in the refrigerator until it solidifies (overnight is best) and break it up into chunks. The salt, sugar, and chocolate make a very nice mixture, and it's a very versatile recipe.

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Weekend Warriors

As I mentioned, I'm a bit off-schedule at the moment. I'm trying to play catch-up, but so much has happened in the past few weeks! I'm going to start with the most recent happening: guerrilla gardening, caught on tape!

Theresa is the organizer of D.C. Guerilla Gardeners. (If you notice, I use two Rs in "guerrilla," and Theresa uses only one. Both are fine. Merriam-Webster Unabridged claims the two Rs as the common spelling and one R as the variant--I didn't really use that metric, however, for determining how I'd spell it. I followed's lead as the kind of Internet nut from which the tree of stealth gardening germinated.) Theresa chose the location for our first attack. She has walked by it for years (as have I), and it has been pretty much empty the entire time, although it does get frequently mulched. So, whatever plans the city had for these plots, too little too late! We're taking over, now.

It was a nice morning (freezing and windy), I got on TV, and I got dirty! A very good day.

Here are our supplies. Theresa got compost, mulch, snacks, drinks, water from her rain barrel, and a lot of native plants from a local native-plant nursery that I don't remember the name of at the moment.

We had Little Bluestem grass. I'm most excited about that--it's a beautiful native grass! I'm growing some in my living room at the moment, but I don't plan on keeping it there indefinitely, just until it gets big enough to pot up and place outside.

There was also some yellow Coreopsis, Black-Eyed Susan (my home-state's state flower!), Penstemon, Echinacea purpurea, Asclepias tuberosa, Aster, and... I don't really fully recall. Lots of heat/drought-tolerant native-ish plants.

Here's one spot, under a maple tree. Good thing the plants we chose are better than some others with a lack of water! The maple will get most of it, I'd imagine. I used my hoe to dig a little and feel the soil--it was actually really good! I worried about messing up the maple's root system digging all the holes, but I didn't remember to say anything until after most of the holes were dug. We'll have to monitor the tree's health over the years to see if we did any damage to it.

Post-planting! We amended the holes we dug with some compost and then sprinkled some on top around the plants for good measure.

Plot two of three. I don't have a shot of the entire works, unfortunately, but this one is more visible from the intersections. It's also my favourite, because I had more of a hand in helping design the planting. The plan was mostly "Alright, let's put stuff in the ground," but I and another Master Gardener trainee were considering plant heights, colour, and visual design. We used the Little Bluestem as the core of our design, having a large clump toward the top part in the picture, with sattelite plants along the curve as a backdrop for the Black-Eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Aster, and whatever else we have in there. Just a random note: There's a rotting tree stump in the middle of this planter--it had clearly been there for many years.

Here's the finished product. At the end of the planting, I sprinkled a lot of Zinnia seeds everywhere. Just for good measure.

You can almost see in the background another plot across the street. We hadn't initially planned on planting that, because we only had about 45 plants, but when we spaced them out, giving them plenty of room to grow in, we realized we had a whole heck of a lot of plants! I didn't take pictures, but we kind of swooped the plants around the corner of the plot, so passing cars would have a pleasant view of a layering of shorter plants in front of taller ones. The flowers will mostly be yellow and purple, so we alternated the colours when we planted them.


Gardener Interrupted

I had to leave town suddenly last week, and several things kept me from blogging (despite the crazy amount of updates that need to be done!) and following others' blogs. The largest distraction was the death of my two-month-old niece, Jailen Louise. I spent most of last week with my mom, my sister who has my nephew and one of my other nieces, and my brother, helping take care of basic things such as dishes, laundry, cooking, making coffee (the most frequent but also most rewarding chore at mom's house!), and the like.

The little time I did get to myself I spent preparing this guest blog post for Nick at Macheesmo. I made Maryland Crab Soup. I don't recall it being something our family made all that frequently (we mostly just cooked our crabs and ate them spread out over a newspapered table), but we're from Maryland, crabs were a family theme, and it just felt right, kind of honouring my family by cooking something familiar from my childhood. Please do turn a blind eye to the nonvegetarian items in the soup. It is truly delicious even without the animal products!

In addition to that, I got a community garden plot and spent a few hours weeding and hoeing to rearrange the paths around the beds. The plot came with a 10-foot-square patch of strawberries! Some had been chopped out of the plot before I arrived--and my neighbouring plot had freshly planted strawberries in containers just feet away from my bed. Hm....

But wait, there's more! I'm gearing up to bake for the DC Food Bloggers' Great American Bake Sale to help raise money to feed hungry children in the states. Colleen at Foodie Tots has been organizing our group and has a list of all the participants. We'll be at Eastern Market on Saturday, 17 April, from 9 to noon. I'm going to make chocolate saltine brittle candies, Hell Yes Chocolate Macaroons, roasted pecans, and some soft pretzels. (Feel free to donate cash if you won't be able to swing by to buy some baked goods!)

Look forward to more regular posts in the coming week or so, after I finish my already-late Master Gardener final exam and figure out why my home computer doesn't want to work.


Seed GROW Project, For-Real #1

I have previously posted about receiving my "Spitfire" nasturtium seeds from Renee's Garden for the seed GROW project, run by MrBrownThumb and Colleen Vanderlinden. This is the first official post, however. Seed GROW project participants will all post updates on the first Sunday of the month, although most of us already seem to have posted ahead of schedule.

I actually don't think I recorded the exact date that I sowed my nasturtium seeds. It must have been 26 or 27 February, because I say in my first post that I had already sown them, and I got them on 25 February. So. I didn't do anything special--I just stuck them in the soil.

About two weeks later, I noticed a little hypocotyl emerging from the soil! It was the first seed I started for the season, so it was extremely exciting for me! In fact, even after starting hundreds of seeds for a seedling-sale fundraiser, every time I see one germinate, I get excited. Plants are just amazing beings.

Through March, little "Spitfire" grew a few more leaves under fluorescents, with a little boost from the sun (but mostly fluorescents). This plant will remain in my apartment as the more experimental plant; I will sow some at Mr. Yogato and in my community garden plot as well. Let's see how each does in the different environments. I anticipate that the indoor one will have smaller leaves and fewer flowers but be pretty nonetheless.

Maybe the next time I make Maangchi's hwajeon, I'll make it with my home-grown flowers!

I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds.


Practicing Proper Pruning

On 20 March, my Master Gardener class was taught proper pruning techniques. Please do forgive me, I forget the names of the arborists who came to demonstrate to us. Ever since this class, I can't help but be disgusted and dismayed at the bad pruning I find everywhere in DC!

We learned how to identify branch collars and branch-bark ridges so we can make the best cut possible. We also practiced the three-part cut; this graphic shows a good, simple procedure. You start with an initial cut far above the branch collar on the bottom of the branch, then make a second cut a little bit further up on the top of the branch. This will break the branch, allowing you to remove most of the weight of the branch you're pruning without damaging the branch collar/branch-bark ridge. The initial cut on the bottom is to prevent the bark from tearing, which could distrupt the branch collar if it tears badly. The branch collar, or branch-bark ridge if the branch is older, is what "heals" the wound of the pruned branch--if it is damaged, the "healing" will take longer, and the tree might die before it's done. The final cut should be done carefully from the top down right next to the branch collar.

Here's my first bottom cut and my second cut, to remove the bulk of the weight of the branch from a crape myrtle that had been very poorly pruned before. (This piece of wood is after-the-fact--the little nubbin you get when you're done the pruning job. I saved it. Maybe I'll use it to mount an orchid?)

This is what I left behind--a smooth cut (although it's a tiny bit ragged at the very bottom--my broken collarbone made the sawing a little tricky). The black marks are from the blade, not any problem with the tree.

Here's an example of how the pruning on this tree had been done in a previous year. See how it's not "healed"? See how it looks like it's dying? Bad pruning!

The landscapers who "pruned" this previously just topped the crape myrtle--that means they took a big saw and chopped the entire tree down to eye level. You can see that some branch collars are trying to encompass the wounded tissue to prevent possible entrance of infection, but that several-inch-high piece of deadwood will take a very long time to encapsulate. Also, it looks ugly.

The other half of the class pruned magnolias. I nipped two cuttings and have them sitting in a cup of water.

One is the more bushy kind with the darker flowers--they're beautiful on one's windowsill!

This is the second one, the more treelike kind that opens up a bit sooner. I only hope that they'll root and I can have little potted pretties--the Internet and my horticulturalist friend tell me that the best time to snip magnolias for rooting is in the summer, and even then, it's an iffy endeavour. I am ever hopeful!

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