Archive for March 2012


The Akita dahlia tubers I got in South Carolina are the first to show anything! The raspberries, grapes, and blueberries had already had some growth. The elephant ear had a growing tip, but that hasn't pushed through the soil yet, and the strawberries are still just chilling out. Mostly literally--since I returned from the South, the weather has gotten a bit nippy.

But my plants are in a semiprotected area, close to the house, in heat-island Washington DC--even the frakkin' sweet potato that I put out almost a month ago is still kicking!

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Nutty For Fruits

I was away in South Carolina in mid-March for the beau's father's wedding. On the way, we stopped off in Virginia to celebrate my mother's 50th birthday by getting her tongue pierced (and my eyebrow re-pierced--I had taken out my two facial piercings when I moved to Saudi Arabia and hadn't gotten around to replacing them).

Along the way, I think I stopped at about every Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and locally owned garden center I could find. I was actually very surprised to see the quality of care that plants at Wal-Mart received--I'm torn between my general dislike for such big-box establishments and my admiration for their products and prices.

Where else could I have purchased a two-year Concord grape vine, a two-year Ebony King blackberry cane, a two-year Legacy blueberry bush (I added a bunch of peat to the potting soil I used to get a higher acidity level for the plant), a two-year Red Latham raspberry, Akita dahlia tubers, Quinault strawberry crowns, and an elephant ear (perhaps Colocasia) bulb for less than $30. I believe I paid about $12 for just the single two-year Flame seedless grape vine I planted at Mr. Yogato a couple years ago. Not that it hasn't paid for itself--but getting one at 1/3 of the cost is a bonus!

I also ended up picking up some horseradish tubers, asparagus crown, and a rhubarb crown at a garden center near my mother's house. They were insanely desiccated, so I'm uncertain whether they'll grow, but they worked out to be just a $3 experiment altogether, so I'm not worried if they do or not. The beau also picked up a Sempervivum pot, and I grabbed a large-leafed Kolanchoe with green squiggly variegation on a dark red backdrop.

So I potted them all up and have them safe in our gated basement apartment entryway until I can find some place for them where they'll get enough light to grow. (For reference--the larger pots are 12" containers.)

I didn't quite think about the light/space situation, at least not realistically. I was in gardener zombie mode. I actually just broke down and bought these plants so that the beau would stop sighing every time I pulled into a parking lot to "just check out the plants real quick, I swear" (see, it's really entirely his fault). To make him feel included in the whole gardening thing, I made him help choose which varieties we went home with (where there was a choice: just for the grapes and blueberries, the latter being his favourite fruit anyway).

Maybe in a year or so, when these are more well-established and actually thinking about producing fruit, we will be in a house with a south-facing back yard where I can plant them and grow for a decade or so. Wouldn't that be nice!


Plugging Away

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

After a long trip to the uninterneted South for a wedding last week, I’m back in action. While I was away, another JACS Spotlight I wrote was published about RNA’s role as pre-DNA genetic material and as pre-protein catalytic molecules. During the trip, I wrote another JACS Spotlight, which will be posted in the coming weeks, and a piece I wrote about a gene involved in inherited hypertension (high blood pressure) for Nature Middle East was posted, too. There are a few other projects I have in the wings, as well—everything from peptide friction to kamikaze cells!

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Reasons To Volunteer

The other week, I wandered around the US Botanic Garden, near the Capital building in DC, with my beau. I seem only to go during the winter, so I am telling myself I need to get there this spring and summer, at least to see the parts outside the conservatory.

There was lots to see indoors, however--it was the annual orchid exhibit, which always seems to be during the time I end up making it out there.

The Botanic Garden has a pretty robust (and probably highly competitive!) volunteer corps--and a fringe benefit of plant-related volunteering happens to be the occasional plant, cutting, or other propagable tissue. There are plenty of plants that make me go "Ooooh, me want!" when I wander through landscapes like the ones created at the Botanic Garden, and I've toyed with the idea of starting to volunteer there to perhaps, at some point, get to take some plant material home with me.

This visit, however, I felt more than a little strange to point out a lot of plants to my boy and say "I had that plant, but I killed it," "I used to have a bunch of this in a terrarium that I gave to my cousin," or "I tried growing that a couple times, but the USDA invaded my home and burned the plants after I smuggled them back into the US." Only a few plants really popped out at my as me-want plants, and they're perhaps not ones you'd expect.

This me-want plant probably isn't a shocker to anyone: Theobroma cacao, chocolate. It may be a surprise that I have never bought seeds to try growing it myself yet, but I haven't. So, at some point: me want.

I like Hippeastrum in general, although perhaps not as much as some people, and this H. reticulatum has white variegation, which makes me like it even that much more!

This Anthurium plowmanii (the photo shows the species name has two Ns, but The Plant List says nope.) may seem a little bland to many, but I've never tried growing Anthurium before, and I love the wavy leaves and kind of cupped growth pattern.

The Botanic Garden did, of course, also have a wonderful selection of gesneriads, Cryptanthus, and various succulents, but I didn't take a lot of pictures of those, and no exemplary plant really struck my fancy.


Mr. Yogato Garden Year 4

I'm traveling in South Carolina right now, working and attending the boy's father's wedding, so I apologize for the lack of posting! Although, do I really need an excuse?

Not long ago, I went for a walk around town, ending up at the frozen yogurt shop Mr. Yogato, for which I still call myself gardener. The garden I started back in April 2009 has seen a lot of changes in its only three full years under my ambivalent care.

During the first year, I focused a lot on edibles, and I was pretty uppity when people sat on my plants. I harvested incredibly long Italian squash, strawberries, mint, and some rhubarb, and eagerly awaited the day my grapes would grow large enough to flower.

The second year had a lot more ornamentals--I installed the bulb garden, added some herbs, and broke my collarbone twice. I ended up leaving the plants to their own devices for most of the summer, meaning they were dry beyond belief most of the time.

Going into the third year, 2011, I was preparing for working in Saudi Arabia. So the garden ended up with an infusion of new ornamentals that I didn't offload to lucky DC-area gardeners--foxtail fern, toad lily, Canna musifolia, and more. The grapes bore fruit while I was gone, the garden may or may not have thrived--I'm not terribly sure, to be honest.

When I returned, there was a crazy patch of broccoli next to self-seeded Datura in the strawberry/herb patch, and the grape vines were in desperate need of trimming (which I still haven't done). There's a lot of work to be done in this garden--and I'm thinking of letting it all go to the mint and grapes. I want to reclaim my bulbs, which have had a rough go of it in the heavy clay soil that people sit on or drop their bags on. I also want to try to maintain the appearance of the garden without tending to it--mint is probably the best choice. The self-seeded broccoli and Datura get too wild and scraggly without attention. It might take a few years to fully eliminate all the seeds they've dropped over the past year.

But! When I stopped by the other week, there were some enhappying things going on.

I'm always excited when the columbine returns in the spring. These have red and yellow flowers--I impulse-bought a small plant one fall from a plant vendor at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market. It has done well enough in the spot, hidden among the broccoli, Datura, herbs, and strawberries.

One of my favourites in the bulb garden is this Iris reticulata. They are cute, and often the first to bloom in the early spring. Also, this is perhaps the one bulb that the owner of Mr. Yogato planted himself (my attempt to get him attached to the garden and hold an emotional stake in it! I'm so going to leave him a couple of these bulbs for his personal use when I remove the Crocus, Iris, and other bulbs.).

And, something a little less pretty--someone's eggsperiment on the windowsill next to the base of my grapevine monstrosity. I didn't really read the card or get close enough to the eggs to figure out what was going on, but that dish with the eggs has been there for a few weeks (I saw it again when I went back last week).


East Asia's Big Frijoles

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I stumbled upon (not Stumbled, just came upon) some recent research about soybean domestication in China, Korea, and Japan. Although soybean (Glycine max) is a huge crop nowadays, the answers to what/where/when/by whom of its domestication hasn’t really been clarified satisfactorily. The researchers from the University of Toronto found that domestication of soybean started anywhere from 8,500 to 9,000 years ago, rather than the 3,000 to 5,000 years previously assumed. And not just in one place—although the earliest evidence of domestication is in northern China, Korea and Japan threw their hats in the race too, separately selecting different soybean varieties from the wild weeds growing around everywhere in East Asia.

Here’s my attempt at growing soybean in my studio apartment three years ago. The indoor gardening experiment was a series of mixed results, but the legumes grew admirably in horrid conditions—a testament to their previous life as weeds!

China’s original domesticated seeds were teeny tiny, the researchers say, and stayed that way for a few thousand years as other traits (perhaps dehiscence or bushiness) were selected before seed size started to increase.

One interesting thing that the researchers suggest—which seems pretty plausible and simple, but is not yet actually conclusively linked—is that the determinancy of domesticated soybean (growing to a low bushy plant rather than a stretching vine of wild soybean) could be a trait that allows for the larger seeds we like to eat—putting photosynthetic energy into seed formation rather than continued vegetative growth allows for a bigger snack on the dinner table.

Personally, I like a nice rambler growing wild over my fence, down my stairway railing, or even up the curtains in my apartment, which is why I’m planning on growing chayote this year. But I can see how it would be much easier to grow and harvest plants that had a more manageable shape and growth habit.

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The Brown Turkey fig cuttings I picked up two weeks ago are already showing signs of happiness! Little baby figs are fleshing out on my cuttings--I don't see roots yet, so it would probably be best for the cuttings if I nipped these fruit off. But I can't bring myself to do so!

I chopped the two branches I picked up into roughly 8-inch sections, netting 8 potential trees from two trashed twigs. I stuck them in plastic containers I had in the recycling bin, with a mix of peat, perlite, a tiny bit of vermiculite, and potting soil for some nutrients but mostly some moisture retention and a bunch of drainage. Because I placed them in the 20-gallon glass case I got off Freecycle and wrapped the mesh lid with plastic wrap, there's not a lot of need to water these cuttings for now. I'm keeping an eye out for signs of molding, but it seems like the cuttings are fine so far. I also have a succulent trailer that I somehow ended up with and some lavender and rosemary cuttings from my plants at Mr. Yogato--the mint is taking over everywhere, and I haven't trimmed the grape vines in two years, so it's quite chaotic over there now.

Although my poll asking what to do with this tank yielded the answer I was secretly hoping for ("Buy awesome new plants to create a wicked landscape, augmenting the design with plants you already have."), I'm going to use it initially to propagate plants to share. Once steady employment becomes the norm, however, it better watch out, because I'm going to fill it to the brim with awesome, amazing, beautiful new plants!

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Sinningia pusilla Run Amuck

My butter dish terrarium, which won People's Choice at the Gesneriad Society local chapter show in September, was growing gangbusters on one of my plant shelves for the past five months. Although the show judges booted me to third place because they thought the plants I chose wouldn't live well in the container for any length of time, it's been almost half a year, and not only are they living, but they're making babies left and right! This photo is cropped from a larger photo, just so you can see how the Sinningia pusilla seedpod--still attached to the main plant!--has seedlings growing out of it. On the bottom right, you'll see a couple seedlings popping up out of the sphagnum. In the full photo, there are several mounds of green where seedpods dropped onto the sphagnum or seeds were dropped when the seedpods popped open.


National Arboretum In Winter

In early February, I went to the National Arboretum for the local Gesneriad Society chapter meeting. I wandered around the front area of the Arboretum and snapped a few photos, which you can find on Petal Tones, the chapter's blog that I contribute to on occasion.

Some of the photos, however, were more artistic than the others--I actually had some sort of thought behind the shots, rather than just-the-facts photographs to share what seemed interesting. So I'm posting them here, too--edited a bit, you may notice!

One of the most and least edited of these photos was this forlorn shot of empty bonsai shelves. The major editing I did was just rotating and cropping the photo to have straight lines (I think I just kind of waved the camera in the room's general direction and snapped a photo rather than stopping, lining everything up, and shooting). The desaturation was a minor thing, because on a cloudy winter's day, this area looks almost exactly the same as it does in this photo (with perhaps muted blue in the stone walkway and a tiny bit of brown in the faded woodwork). The desolation of this shot reminds me of a once heavily trafficked major artery of a city cordoned off by a traumatic event, leaving residents shell-shocked and housebound. Eventually, however, the populace will venture out, emerging from their dormancy and forgetting all previous tragedies, bursting forth with renewed energy and life--and the bonsai will be returned to their shelves to revel in the spring and summer sun.

Along a similar vein, this Ginkgo biloba screamed "Ginkgopalypse" to me. When I initially took the photo, I was just interested in the stunning architecture that really is only visible during the winter, while the tree is leafless. But when I opened the photo to crop and touch up, I thought "I need to make this monochrome. And contrasty. And end-of-worldy. The ginkgo demands it." I'm not as much a fan of Gimp as I am Photoshop, and I find it to be clunkier, but it gets the point across, I think--and Gimp's free.

I think these flowers would look a bit more cheery in bright winter's sunshine, but this Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet) has a confident beauty that withstands even the wet chill of winter rains. Also, y'know, the flowers are all up in a row, and that's artistic and whatnot.

When most of the landscape looks barren and grey, these Sedum get their chance in the spotlight, showing off their winter colours and healthy glow. I like how the patches of different Sedum kind of interlock like fingers sliding between each other when you fold your hands.

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Primulina tamiana Seedpods

The Primulina tamiana that was flowering on 14 February is now (and seemingly always) ripe with seedpods, even though I recently used one of its few inflorescences for a small romantic centerpiece.

Because I knew I had taken a better picture of the flowers at some point, here's proof of that--a photo from November when the plant bloomed first for me.

Unfortunately, it appears that that's somehow the only photo I have from August through most of November, after which I replaced my harddrive and apparently lost most of the photos I had taken since I moved back to DC. I only found out while looking for a specific photo I wanted for another blog post. I don't think there are many missing photos (because I wasn't taking many), but it's a frustrating problem!

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Post Of Desperate Interest To You

I should have planned this one a bit more in advance. I got busy last week with freelance projects, and forgot to post a PODITY. I think every other week is probably a better time frame anyhow, especially when I start getting busy--because then I'm not on Twitter or elsewhere much, either!

This po-ditty edition is starting to get into the "Hey, I do other stuff than The Indoor Garden(er)" area, some of which I've mentioned before. I sometimes blog on Petal Tones, the National Capital Area Chapter of the Gesneriad Society; I freelance for scientific news publications, among other outlets; I still handle the Twitter account and website for DC State Fair, even though I'm no longer on the board; and I write other blogs such as Agritate, my attempt at a blog focused on agricultural science. I think it's entirely appropriate to pull some of that content--as long as it's remotely related to gardening or what's going on here! Mostly. Not entirely. But at least vaguely. I do so try to be thoughtful of my readers' interests.

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Orange You Glad

Another one of the awesome plants shared with me by a blogger friend who helped me get back to gardening after the USDA incineration event is this Hatiora salicornioides. It's been growing since I received it--it sends up little orangish protrusions on the ends of its nubby sections that then grow into green sections of their own that make more nubbins. It reminds me almost of how fungal hyphae grow. It adds a nice spot of colour to the shelf whenever this plant decides it wants to grow a bit more!

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