Sunday, February 28, 2010

Buds and Blooms

While admiring the sunset I noticed the Native Honeysuckle I planted was budding. That means flowers aren't far behind. This is among the earliest plants to bloom here. And I'm told Hummingbirds migrate up to this plant as they bloom.

Flowering supposidly happens mostly on last years growth. I guess that's true because they have a great big pop of blooms early on. For the rest of the year though more flowers come out randomly on the new growth but not as numerous or as concentrated.

Notice that the ground is still covered in snow. I'm really starting to like these tough plants that grow and bloom early. Red Maple is also days away from flowering here but they're not really worth taking pictures of. The flowers are discrete and just make the branches look puffy before the leaves come on.

Another Crocus came up but this past snow did it in I think.

What bee could resist that color?

I expect to see a lot of these at the Philadelphia Flower Show later this week. A lot of the displays take the easy way out (as I call it) and just plant bulbs.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Outdoor Disaster with Jamie Durie

I just watched a show on HGTV called "The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie," and couldn't help thinking how lost this man is. He's from Australia where he... "revolutionized" the outdoor room movement?

Basically he meets people with and they go over the usual problems: privacy, low maintenance, kid and pet friendly. ect... All well and good.

Then he travels to someplace exotic to get inspiration and imports plants from other countries to make his unsustainable remodels. This man is what's wrong with the world! He's based in California which as far as North America is concerned has a fair amount of unique plant life, along with all up the west coast. In one show he traveled to Australia to "get inspiration." And he wants to plant all these plants native to Australia in this couple's yard. What an asshole! I understand going on vacation and falling in love with a plant. But would you pay your landscape designer to go on vacation for inspiration?

The show goes on with Jamie giving his assistant, this poor girl named Beth, a list of plant and says go buy them. Australia is a massive island with fairly unique plant and wildlife. Finding half of that stuff in North American nurseries is an effing challenge. I think the show should be his assistant attempting to find half this crap at nurseries. She must travel all over the state tracking this stuff down.

Meanwhile Jamie is back at the yard looking over the hard-scape which I think is the more boring part of the show.

In another show he worked on a couple's tiny yard. To give you an idea this tiny two bedroom home has a walk way for a side yard. There is a massive patio and their yard is maybe 2 as big as the patio. This is enclosed with a massive fence. Jamie didn't think they had enough intimacy in the yard so he wanted to put a large wooden box of a patio in the middle. The home owners thank god told him he was an idiot and they hated it on the show. So the wooden box for them to eat in had it's walls lowered which looks a 1000 times better.

Along the sides of their yard he planted crape myrtles and pink roses in tree form to accent the pale orange umbrella for their pick nick table, situated in the middle of the box. This all is well and good but those crape myrtles are going to take over the yard and seriously shade out everything he planted below.

Beth was asked to get full sized 6' tall sunflowers. I love the fact he picked a native plant but he's so out of touch with the US it's hilarious. Not surprisingly she wasn't able to find any that tall being sold in pots. I was actually shocked she found 3' tall ones though but Jamie didn't like them. One wonders if he knows Sunflowers are an annual.

Again and again he travels around the world to get inspiration. It's like he had a failed series on Travel Network or something.

Here is a link to his series index.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eat the Weeds: Lake Lily

There was a new Eat the Weeds out this week. I'm not a fan of this man's website (minor cosmetic things bother me) but his videos are fantastic.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Wow You Must Have a Big Yard"

Of all the things to make my friend think I must have a big yard, it turns out to be the pictures of a Crocus blooming. I had mentioned this plant is 3 inches tall before hand. I understand my friend knew nothing about plants and he was just being friendly with the conversation. But he lives in the same town that I do and our yards are fairly the same size, (he probably doesn't know where I live). I'm slightly annoyed by this perspective though. I believe it is entirely possibly to grow 100 species of native plants in 10 square feet. I may just attempt it some day too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ant Chat: Episode 18 Moving More Colonies

Warning! Mevio's "Interactive" ads have been crashing my browser upon completion! Here is a link to the episode hosted on Mevio where "Interactive" ads don't show up as often, thank god. Sorry about the inconvenience, I've contacted Mevio about it. You can also subscribe to us Ad free on iTunes.

Update: Interactive ads don't seem to be crashing my browser anymore. Let me know if it's still a problem for you though.

As test tube setups slowly run out of water the need to move colonies becomes essential. Ants vary in size and habit though so this time I show examples of 3 colonies: Prenolepis imparis, Camponotus castaneus, and Lasius neoniger/alienus. They are moved from one test tube setup to another, and this is done until a more appropriate setup can be provided for the colony. Enjoy!

A Crocus Miracle

Crocuses don't F&#K around. There's still 7 to 12 inches of snow in the vast majority of the town, we're still 30 days away from the start of spring, and this Em Effer decided to bloom early. Don't be a hero!

So this was a nice reminder of what a flower looks like. They usually attract the attention of the honey bees this early. However I'm not having that good a year with honey bees. 3 of my 4 hives died already. Hopefully the last hive can hang in there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It's so effing cold! Last week all it did was snow. It's snowing again right now and I'm still cold. I've contacted the Olympic officials and told them they should host the winter games in my back yard! At least I could keep warm by the Olympic Flame.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Competitive Butterfly Gardening

I swear there has to be one master company that takes all the seed catalogs and distributes them so I get two a day or something. I've been steadily getting them in it makes me wish some were at least printed on biodegradable paper so I can compost them. It might be nice digging through the garden years later only to come across an article of some plant I might buy.

I might not be annoyed by this if these catalogs weren't all selling the same plants. It leads me to believe there's a company somewhere selling affiliate programs to various old ladies who always wanted to open their own nursery. Actually the issue here is a complete lack of diversity. There used to be 500+ varieties of corn growing in this country but then industrial farming came along and we're down to a few dozen.

I see a lot of catalogs putting pictures of butterflies (usually fake or edited in) but this is more to highlight what the adults feed on. Flowering plants need insect pollination... do go on. It would be funny if they started editing in pictures of humans next to the edible plants to show what people eat.

I don't see to many people marketing the butterfly host plant angle and that's a shame. Butterfly Gardening has almost become competitive ever since Tallamy's Book "Bringing Nature Home," which I try to frequently promote here.

Milkweed for the Monarch is so last year. Though Asclepias purpurascens is still on my list. Wild Senna for the Cloudless Sulphur, and Dutchman's Pipe Vine for the Pipevine Swallowtail are in. Wild Senna is a plant that has pores on it that produce nectar intended to feed ants. The ants come and crawl all over the plant. Most ant species will limit the caterpillars ability to move about the plant and some ant species may even eat the caterpillars.

It took me forever to find someone selling Dutchman's Pipe! Brushwood Nursery came through in the end and sells a number of other native vines too. Pipevine Swallowtail aren't very colorful but the caterpillars over winter as a crystals and hatch out in the spring. So they're an early treat.

Spice Bush is another one to plant, to get Spicebush Swallowtail. The plants are male and female plants. You'll need a male to get berries on the female plant. The berries feed birds in the winter time and otherwise look nice. If you don't get berries then Oh well, the plant will grow fine. The Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly also isn't very colorful but the caterpillar actually mimic snakes, that are 3 inches long and completely harmless.

Basically caterpillars are probably the top food item being fed to baby birds. If your yard supports 20 or so species of caterpillars you probably fed a family of birds over the summer time.

So when you're looking through those gardening catalogs, always try to go native.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Aero Garden Update: Bad Tomatoes

So I've had the Aero Garden for a few months now and tried growing tomatoes. As with other gimmicky tomato products it failed to produce lots of good tomatoes. I'll point out, however, that I don't have access to a window that gets full sun. This is kind of important when growing tomatoes. They're tropical plants that do best in full sun and 80F degree weather. Neither of which they were given in my kitchen.

Tomato plants at their best are a 25 foot vine that lays along the ground. It sets roots down just as you see with Cucumber, Assorted Melons, and Ivy. They usually aren't grown this way because the tomatoes (though this gets you the highest yield) are hard to spot. Normally they're grown up a small wire trellis or some sort of support. The plant grows just fine this way and at the cost of a few tomatoes the plants still produce more than the average family can eat. 6 plants can go a long way.

The Topsy Turvy way to grow tomatoes is another gimmick. Their bucket is way to small in my opinion, and tomato plants don't grow that way. The green part of the plant always goes toward the sun. You'd do just as well to not bother hanging the bucket at all.

This caught my eye. The same company that sells the Topsy Turvy is selling a grow bag for strawberries. There is nothing Topsy Turvy about this though. Pots with holes cut in the sides is a common way to grow strawberries. I'm pointing it out though because it probably works.

Back to Aero Garden talk. We managed to get a total of 6 cherry tomatoes off the thing. Again though that's without full sun. They would have done better if I had access to a window. The yield might not have been much better though because it's winter and temps aren't that great. I think people just grow tomatoes indoors because they're wind pollinated and people love tomatoes. The plants grew nicely, they just didn't flower unless there was foliage right up near the lights. And even then maybe 1 or 2 of the flower cluster would produce a tomato. I probably should have helped the process by hand pollinating some.

Oh well, it's to late now. I've trashed the tomato plants, and I'm moving on to herbs. Basil, Cilantro, and Dill are more compact plants than tomatoes. So this should work out better. And because we eat the foliage it should be ideal.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Junco in the Snow

A couple of announcements: First off I'm sorry I haven't been blogging. "Snowrmageddon," as the headlines read, finally hit. We got 2 feet of snow, followed by another 2 feet of snow only days later.
Here's how the view is from our back deck. Worthy of any holiday card if it wasn't for our neighbor's ... uhh bomb shelter, storage unit, metal box thing? I think it came with their house actually.

The view out the front isn't much better. I do love how the snow covers the side of the trees though. You almost don't notice the telephone polls and power lines that are ruining views the world over.

That Junco came back to feed at the bird feeder. We have it right next to our front door so we get to see the birds up close, when we're not spooking the hell out of them. I wish I knew what was attracting this bird. I've turned to "Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season" by Sally Roth but it's not one of the birds she really highlights. Oh well.

Second Announcement, I've removed the ability to comment. Apparently selling aquaponic systems is such a scam world wide or so undersold that sellers are desperate to spam and promote their grossly expensive products! Seriously, someone just design a cheap waterproof flower bed that can fit conventional tanks; market it as a natural way to filter the water and grow your own food and you'll be set for life!

The aquaponic system I have for my tank is keeping the water clean. All the plants, despite their size are removing enough of the minerals and nitrates from the water that things like algae aren't really growing in the tank. It's only been a month and a half and I may have to invest in some snails or an algae eater down the road. But I've had the water tested twice now and everything is balancing out. It's actually really freaky to have a fish tank without a filter on it.

I might bring Comments back at a later date. Until then we're giving them a rest.

Third, sorry for all the youtube videos. I try to pick topical videos as fillers until I'm able to post my own topics. And keeping with that tradition here is a nice video from someone I subscribe to. Basically it's what I wish I could be doing right now, but she's a little crazy to be growing things indoors now for where she is in the country. She's a little early I think but Ok.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

American Beauty?

Wow all that sounds great. Let's go to their website and learn how YOU CAN'T BUY ONLINE. No, instead you add to your list of plants, print that out, and show up at one of their locations where they supply plants. Sound a little pointless to you too?

The benefit going to the nursery over ordering online is you'll likely be buying larger plants. The issue is you won't be buying as many because a plant in a 1 gallon bucket costs about $15. Ordering online you'll get a few tiny tubes or bare root plants that can cost as little as $3, but usually around $5. So then why does American Beauty bother with the list function on their site? I don't understand this for a minute.

What's worse is they're promoting you to certify your yard with the National Wildlife Federation. There is not wrong with doing this but all it means is you paid $20 to buy a sign. There is not check or balance with this. I could buy a sign off their site right now and put it out front of a Nuclear Power Plant for all they know. The City Dump, sure why not? It meets all their criteria to buy a sign.

All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:

Food: People throw that away constantly.
Water: Loaded with chemicals but all around.
Cover: Loads of it.
Place to Raise Young: Raccoons, Rats, and Seagulls seem to love it.
Sustainable Gardening: It's a landfill, a lot of it degrades over time.

The last dot to check off should be Did you pay us money?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Permaculture in China and the third world

China of all places is practicing Permaculture. Yes, the country that gases their crops with insecticide to the point where Beekeepers refuse to put their hives near certain regions of the country. When people offering your pollination services won't get you to pay for their hives making honey, you have a problem. Farms in these areas have actually resorted to paying people to hand pollinate their crops.

This was an inspiring video to watch. It's not about those industrious farms that maintain the fertility of their crops with the aid of chemicals. It's about the poorer areas. Not just in China but Ethiopia and Ruanda. China is the prettiest example of results but it's great to see this practice could work just about anywhere.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Video: French Permaculture

I've found a short series I like. The narrator's first language is French but she speaks in English for the video. It's really neat to see even the French are embracing Permaculture. Grape Vines, Cheese Caves, and World Class Cuisine are all staples of France. It makes sense that they'd be one of the hardest hit when we run out of oil.

I believe everything this women is doing could easily be done with someone's backyard. I'm inspired by all her ideas, and gardening design. Not using wood planks to make raised beds, simply placing polls all over the mounds to let beans grow, these are really great ideas. I don't think people in suburbia are allowed to keep ducks though. Oh well, maybe someday.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are! It be the White Squirrel!

Are! It be the White Squirrel!

"Moby Dick" reference... anyone anyone? No? okay then.

A few days ago my mom and I looked out at the feeder and we found a white squirrel. We thought at first it had to be a ferret but Not with that tail. It's not a true albino though because the eyes are black, instead of pink.

And it's body is more like a pale gray than white. Not sure what to make of this. There are white squirrels in the world and even some populations in the US. It seems to just be a color pattern going around. Makes sense I guess, we have black and white rabbits after all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aquaponic Update

Hay I remembered how to blog!

Alright it's been up and running for about a month. I really wish I had a window in this house appropriate for such a setup. Grow lights, sort of work, It's light that helps the plants grow but it's not a complete spectrum. Having a red light or heat lamp might help this and keep the plants warm but I can't do that just yet.

Up top, seedlings are growing nicely. The glass bowel is there to quiet the dull sound of water. It's not annoying, even without the bowl, it's just I'd prefer it not to make any noise at all. The bowl is also there to hopefully catch baby fish should they become part of the filtering system.

I've since lowered the lights too. Two metal coat hangers did the trick. I tied the lights to them too for added security. I see in gardening catalogs all the time these expensive setups, with shelves and lights you hang off of chains. You probably don't need to be paying $150 for that. Grow lights, especially when they're covered, don't get that hot. I could get away with rope if I wanted to instead of the hanger.

Down below, the fish are fine. Mostly everything is unchanged. The females are defiantly pregnant! I don't know how long they take to bare young but they're ready to explode. I've added a few more plants to give the little ones someplace to hide when they arrive.

Hopefully all the ammonia, bacteria, and such will balance out. I'm told though that there's no such thing as a perfect setup. Meaning one that requires no care at all.