Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pot Bound and Hydrophobic

We, like all of you, no doubt--have been dealing with pot-bound nursery plants for years. Sometimes its the result of a choice--such as the choice to buy end-of-season plants when they are marked down.  :)

When we do this, we're always thrilled with the savings. But then it comes time to do the planting--and we all know what a chore that can be. Sometimes, it seems that you do "everything right" and you still lose the plant.

Until recently, I didn't know what one of the main problems is for pot-bound plants. Thanks to Grounded Design (in my blog roll), I got myself educated. You might recognize the symptom--you water something in a pot and the water just goes rushing out the bottom of the pot. The rootball has become hydrophobic. Even if you place the plant in a deliciously-crafted hole with fabo additives and water the bejesus out of it--the plant may not be able to absorb the water and it will get absorbed by the surrounding soil, instead.

The solution is pretty simple. Soak the plant in water. Now Thomas, over at Grounded Design, recommends soaking the plant in a bucket of water until air bubbles no longer rise from the rootball. He also recommends using rainwater instead of city water, to avoid the chlorine damaging the already violated roots (which you are going to further violate, by the way). We went a little further with our latest acquisitions and let the plants soak overnight. I'll let you know if they croak by tomorrow.

After the soaking, you will find it much easier to loosen the rootball--a lovely side effect of the water bath. In the photos you see here, the first is of the soaked but still "tight" rootball. The second shows me using my rubber-handled former fishing knife to cut the matted roots off the bottom of the rootball. The third image (left) shows the rootball looking hairy because of pulling roots out from the sides so that they are ready to enter new dirt. And the final shot shows the plant plopped into its new home and getting soaked again before the soil is returned to the hole.

One other note--plants that have been sitting at the nursery awhile and getting watered from the hose can end up not only with an impenetrable mat of roots on the bottom of the rootball, but also on the top from the shallow watering. As you work roots loose around the rest of the plant, be sure to check for root mass at the top of the plant that needs loosening.

Water well and check frequently for the first couple of months!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why I'm Dumping Amazon

I've been a happy Amazonian for, well, decades. I could find just about anything I wanted, prices were competitive. Amazon "wish lists" made it easy to do gift shopping for family. But I'm going to have to change my ways, and it's a real shame.

Unlike Amazon, local businesses contribute to local and state economies. I'm a big fan of public schools and libraries, safety services like fire departments, city streets and state parks. While it's convenient to shop online, most other online vendors collect sales tax. Those sales taxes support tax-funded jobs, like law enforcement and teachers. Plus they fill potholes. I really hate potholes. 

While I agree that it's nice to not have to pay sales taxes, there comes a time when a person has to decide whether to continue to line the coffers of a company that is apparently unconcerned about contributing to the society which has treated it so well. I have decided that for me, that time has arrived, largely because of Amazon's poor behavior. It has recently decided to pull out of South Carolina (where it was in the process of building a new distribution center) because SC said that Amazon should be treated just like all the other companies doing business in the state. When California decided the same thing last week, Amazon shut down payment to all of its "Affiliates" in CA. Immediately. 

Thousands of people (25,000 in CA alone) have aligned themselves with Amazon as "affiliates." Amazon is severing ties with those affiliates associated with states that have the gall to try to make Amazon collect those sales taxes. Actually, that statement is not completely true. Affiliates can still point customers to Amazon to make a purchase, they just aren't going to get paid for doing so if they live in states that pass legislation designed to get Amazon to collect sales tax. Affiliates may find themselves--without notice, mind you--without what was a consistent source of income. 

I don't live in California, but I'm in the process of cleaning out my Amazon wish list, regardless.  Books will be listed on a new wish list with Barnes and Noble (bit of a shock to find some titles were cheaper with B&N)-- and removing any links to Amazon from my blog. That last item is going to take awhile, but I'm committed to doing it. I will include a new recommended reading list here on the blog once I've had time to reconstruct the appropriate links.

I believe that Amazon could modify its model and collect sales tax without losing its customers. Sales tax certainly wouldn't be enough to keep me from purchasing. But until they make that change, I'm done with them. For anyone interested in doing the same (who is an affiliate), here is a link that provides some alternatives for those who would like to dump Amazon.

Thanks to Mother Jones for their reporting.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Pan, Three Dishes: Delish!

From Alex, over at Ombailamos:

In my never-ending quest for kitchen efficiency, I recently spent a little over an hour making three different dishes.  Not really time-efficient, but I did it all with one pan, and it turned out pretty darned YUM, so here you go.  Total cost of ingredients: roughly $15.
I have to give a shout-out to our paella/non-paella pan.  For the first half of our marriage this thing barely got used, and then I learned to cook, and now I use it all the time.
First: fried apple.  Why?  I had an elderly apple in the fridge - just one; too shriveled to eat raw, but perfectly "good" to be cooked.  So I halved, cored and sliced it, and fried it up over medium heat in some butter - about 1.5 TBSP - with a healthy scattering of nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and cardamom.  Turned a couple times during cooking to brown both sides, about 6-8 minutes in all.  Removed to a plate when done.
Second: sauteed roots.  While the apple was doing its thing, I sliced up four parsnips, four carrots, and two big red beets.  They went into the pan right on top of the browned butter and spices.  Added a little olive oil and a little cider vinegar.  Cooked for 40 minutes, covered, over medium-low heat; stirring every 10 minutes and adding a half-cup of water twice to keep things from sticking.  (As noted elsewhere: you can use higher heat, but you have to stay in the kitchen and keep the veg moving.  I was reading.)  Removed to a serving bowl when done.
Third: pork tenderloin.  When the veg was in the pan, I got out my pig and coated it with Thai red chili paste and soy sauce, then let it sit.  When the veg came out, the pig went right in to be browned all over on medium, then the heat was turned down to medium-low, some water went in the pan to prevent scorching, the cover went back on, and it got two times 7 minutes (turning once).  Pig rested for at least five minutes before slicing and serving.
I have to say, this was a great combination.  Spicy pig plus sweet, slightly vinegary roots, plus (differently) spicy apple.  A pretty plate, too.
A whole pork tenderloin provides us two dinner portions and two lunches, unless we are really really hungry or I don't do a side; could easily feed a party of four with the side of roots.
Note: the above method will not produce an apple "chip."  For that, you need quite a lot of very hot oil and probably a starch coating on the apple slices.  This was a gentle treatment that gave us - as I hoped - the taste of apple pie, in a few minutes, with no added sugar. 
***If you are serving four you had better use two apples or there will be trouble!***

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For Birds Instead of Bees

Dinner for somebody!
Master Gardeners toured the yard not long ago (intimidating! but fun!) and the big hit was: The Birds!

Birdsong greeted these gardeners when they arrived and continued throughout their time in the yard. Much of our plant selection has been based on what will attract and provide homes for our avian friends. Clusters of plants like Arrowwood Viburnum were selected specifically for their "thicketing" habits. So how successful has the strategy been?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Science and Inquiry

A great link for you today from Scientific American (a darned good magazine, by the way). Please enjoy: "The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience," by Andrea Kuszewski. And then, because I am biased, may I add that the visual arts are a terrific place to teach creative disobedience?

[At left, Grid Panel, normally used in store displays, is providing support for crossvine and sunflowers. A creative use, so called because it disobeys the idea that grid panel can only be used for store displays. An extreme oversimplification of what you'll read in Kuszewski's article.]

Sunday, July 17, 2011


It's time to take advantage of in-season produce. Tomatoes, cucumbers and vinegar, corn on the grill, melons...and blueberries. And peaches.

So this is a recipe my mom used to make, straight out of a cookbook called American Cooking. This pie is gorgeous, no doubt because the blues in the blueberries bring out the zing of the orange. But you know all about complementary colors, right? ;)  I love this pie. Like all good pies, it's simple. A couple tips: don't skimp on peaches. If you think you can squeeze in a little more fruit, do it. Especially if you're picking blueberries out of your own garden. There's always room for a few more berries!

Blueberry-Peach Pie Supreme

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1 pint blueberries
4 medium peaches, sliced (I chop mine into various-sized chunks)
2 1/2 Tbsp. tapioca (thickener to soak up fruit juice)
1 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
cinnamon to taste

Combine fruits in a large mixing bowl. Mix tapioca and sugar together and add to fruit. (You can substitute stevia or some other no-calories sweetener for about 1/4 cup without impacting the jelling of the juice.) Add almond extract and cinnamon--stir, mixing well. ***LET STAND FOR 15 MINUTES.***

While you are waiting for that 15 minutes, you can unwrap some refrigerator pie crust and slap it into a pie pan. Then scoop all of that deliciousness out of the mixing bowl and into your pie crust. Add the top crust, crimp the edges together, and slice out a few pieces to let the steam escape. Lightly moisten the top crust with a bit of water and then sprinkle a smidge of sugar and cinnamon on top of the crust for texture. Slap that puppy in the oven for 15 minutes.

Nope. It's not done, yet. After the timer goes off, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes longer. Behave, now. Let it cool, first....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Butterfly Hatches and I Have To Go To Work

The forecast was for rain. Later. But early morning was still filled with the heavy fog of a cloud that forgot to lift. Maybe she didn't get her coffee. Regardless, I would not have thought this was the best morning for hatching out Spicebush Swallowtails.

By the time I spotted the newbie, I had about 7 minutes before the car and I were going to have to leave the premises. To say that these are not my best shots ever would be an understatement on the magnitude of saying there is a touch of drought in Texas this year.

However, I feel duty bound to show you that our "gummy worm," as one reader called it--had managed to reach maturity. So here they are. The wings! How crinkled, limp and moist! The legs! So challenged to carry the weight of those soggy wings!

He/she was not happy with this location for drying out and started crawling around for a better location. Immediately below this structure was a massive colony of spider webs, so I enticed her onto my finger, where I could carry her to a better spot--the area we call "the Meadow" in our yard.

She chose to crawl up a pepper plant. At least it has a strong structure. Here you can see the strongly patterned underwing--notice the void with iridescence between the orange spots--this is one of the keys to identifying a Spicebush Swallowtail. Even when soggy.

The Latin name for our Spicebush Swallowtail is Papilio troilus. While these swallowtails are known to eat Spicebush, they also consume Sassafras trees (I love sassafras trees). They may also use Prickly Ash or Tulip Poplar as host plants.

The final shot was just a little bit before lift off. You can see the very nice curl of the tongue. Again, you can see the void in the orange dot pattern. The Pipevine Swallowtail does not have this void. The Pipevine also has more blue iridescence on the top side of the lower wing, with a small dotted pattern of white rimming the lower edge of the lower wing. Spicebush Swallowtails have much larger white dots, with less of the blue iridescence.

For a side-by-side "viewing," check this photo from an earlier post.

And here, from Wikipedia Commons, is a GOOD image of the topside of a Spicebush Swallowtail. Thank you, contributors to Wikipedia!

Sources: Wikipedia, Butterflies and Moths of North America

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Low Starch Alternative to Pasta

From Ombailamos:

This is something my mom said she'd tried, a while back, and I honestly don't remember if I ever did it before but I think not.  Anyway, it was really good, and adds a serious load of vegetables to our lives, and on top of that it's relatively cheap and laughably easy.

Ingredients: one head of regular old cabbage; one jar of pasta sauce of your choice (I like Classico); one package of Italian-style sausage (I like Aidells); olive oil.
Wash and drain the cabbage; quarter it; trim out the core; cut each quarter lengthwise; now slice into half-inch pieces.  Transfer as you go into a large saute pan - I used our paella pan.
Drizzle about 2 TBSP of olive oil over the cabbage, toss, and put over medium-low heat (1/3 way up the dial) under a loose-fitting lid.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized but not soft - about 25 minutes.
While the cabbage is cooking, slice the sausages lengthwise (I used a whole package of four), then into quarter-inch chunks.  When cabbage is browned, add sausage to the pan and heat through - a couple of minutes.
When close to time to serve, pour over the jar of pasta sauce and heat through - another minute is all you'll need at this point.
Total cooking time: about thirty minutes.  Total prep time ... well, it took me maybe three minutes to dissect the cabbage.
Note: you can cook it faster if you want to watch the pan more vigilantly.  You have to keep the cabbage moving if you bring the heat up, though.  Scorched cabbage is not much good with anything, even tasty mushroom & olive red sauce.
What is good about this?  The cabbage is still a little al dente - it gives you some bite.  One head of cabbage will feed four with ZERO starch, plenty of added fiber, extra nutrients, and fewer overall calories than the same sauce & sausage served over spaghetti noodles.
And of course, like anything with red sauce, this was admirably accompanied by a nice glass of wine.
What is bad?  Nothing, really.  You can make it purely vegetarian, or add ground meat - depends entirely on your taste.  Whatever you would usually serve over spaghetti, you can serve over sauteed cabbage.
The only real caution I would give is this ... cabbage = Drano.  If you're not accustomed to eating a good bit of fiber, be prepared for a higher-than-usual rate, and volume, of intestinal transit.  Just sayin.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let's Talk Complements

In visual art and design, complements are those pairs of colors that lie opposite one another on the color wheel. That's the simple definition. Wikipedia and many other sources will tell you that in consideration of the three primary colors (red/yellow/blue, from which all other colors are mixed), complements would be a single color [let's say red] and the mixture of the two remaining primaries [blue+yellow=green]. Draw a line bisecting the wheel on the left--it doesn't matter where you make the bisection, but it must create halves--and the colors you slice will be complements.

What you really need to know is that complementary colors will put the "pop" into a landscape design right quick-like.

The simplest translation of this would be to purchase some plants that have flowers which happen to be complements and plant them right next to each other. Instant Zing! This first photo is something of that variety. We have "Diablo" ninebark, which happens to have a dark purpley leaf, providing the backdrop for a luscious variety of rudbeckia, primarily gold/yellow. Now that exact purpley color is not on the color wheel provided, but you get the idea. Shazaam! It works even better with a plainer rudbeckia that has more blooms on it. Multiple plants. In a huge mass in front of the ninebark. Simply delicious.

Not everything in your garden, however, is a plant, but the colors still matter. Consider the raw stages of a bed reworking, here. A bluish-hued stone path is about to be surrounded by plants with orange blooms. The first of these, some annual zinnias, are in place. Behind the path, adding another layer of height, will be rusty-orange re-blooming daylilies. I can hear my neighbor now-- "THAT's not really blue!" -- and she would be right. These stones are essentially gray. But nearly all grays lean a certain direction--these lean towards blue, making them an ideal complement (not compliment) for orange flowering plants.

Let's consider your evergreens. I know you've got some somewhere. Evergreens are generally... green. So let's cut that wheel in half and what does that lead us to? Red! Lots of different ways to mix your reds and greens. Some reds are so deep and cool that they lean towards blue, and others are much warmer and lean towards orange. Likewise, some greens lean towards blue, while others lean towards yellow. In this example, we have a slightly blue-green juniper (Blue Pacific--doesn't mind aggressive pruning) with a sun coleus that gives us both a yellow-orange and an orangey-red. Next to that is Cherry Brandy rudbeckia, which is a cooler red. In front of both of those is a sedum that stays low--with a blue tinted leaf. Pops off the orange in the coleus nicely!

Finally, let's get away from the plants that are in close proximity and see how complements can be used within a view. In this image we have a cultivar of agastache with yellow-orange blooms that is seen framed against vitex, or chaste tree. The vitex sports blue-violet blooms. Blue-violet and Yellow-orange just happen to be across from each other on the color wheel. Both of these blooms are "tints," which in visual art talk means that the colors have been diluted with white. The agastache is in a large pot next to the driveway, where it greets our guests and the hummingbirds that simply can't stay away from it. The vitex is in the middle of the front yard, easily fifteen feet away. But as you walk from the back of the house on the west side, this is the view.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that it is easier to coordinate foliage with blooms than blooms with blooms, since the blooms are seasonal and subject to prevailing weather in a given year. The same goes for landscape features like stone--it is much easier to predict how the rocks will appear from season to season! So plan for the features that are less likely to change (shrubs & pathway colors), and add your perennials and annuals to fit whenever you need a complementary *Pop*!

Happy Gardening!

color wheel image thanks to Wikipedia Commons

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