Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Yup, African Violets Do "It"

African Violet from Nesrin

Now I'm curious. Those pretty yellow buttons in the middle of an African Violet blossom are up to something, and I think I know what it's about--violet sex.

Filaments grow up and press their anthers together.
The double pods are not visible because of the lighting.

This plant is the one from Nesrin, my Turkish friend.  It sits on my kitchen counter.  When I make the time, it's lovely to sit and just drink in the details created by this magnificent being.  High contrast colors grab the eye immediately--purple and yellow--a stunning combination.  The yellow pulls me in. Closer.  Deeper.  The tiny, yellow, four-bump pod has two stems not one!  How can that be?

Light-colored, swollen ovary at the base of the style.  Pollen-bearing
anthers pressed together on their two filaments.
With a toothpick and gentle prodding, I pry between the stems (filaments) at the base of the bumps (anthers). They hold fast. An older, wilting blossom allows the prod to separate the bumps, and pollen spills out. "Sperm." The style rises out of the center with the furry ovary next to the flower and the stigma out on the end waving its stickiness to attract the pollen. Pretty explicit viewing for Things I get to do today.
Anthers that for some reason did not make the connection--
one above the style and one below.  Some sort of
interruptus, I suppose.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hedge Warrior

I thought I'd have to go it alone.  The job had to be done.  Rats could live under the debris, so the dead twigs, branches, and leaf litter had to be removed from the ground for a length of the "hedge."  One yard-debris can at a time, once a week, over a period of a month or so and the task would be finished.

Nina, the brave spider hunter/gatherer and my coworker on a tough job

The Giant Sequoia growing in the hen yard has gradually extended its reach, covering a portion of the Arbor Vitae hedge that marks the back line of our city lot.  Apparently the hedge prefers sun because the Sequoia-shaded side of the hedge died.  When the brown foliage and branches were removed, they were dumped conveniently into a pile at the base of the hedge trunks.  And so the mess was created.  A truism:  the easy way is the hard way.  With rats always being in season where there are chickens, and with Hobo spiders starting their mating march, now would be the best time to correct the "easy" and careless haven for pests we had created several years before.  So it is that the sweatiest of Things I get to do today is drag the yard debris bin to the back of our property and fill it up.

Armed with gloves, lopers and a watchful eye for little things that scurry about and bite, I started to work.  Moments later, Nina Simone Hen hustled over, bravely scratching about and eating everything crawling about that had lived under the debris. My hero: this courageous, hungry warrior hen!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fresh Dirt and a Cheap Hair Cut

Benign neglect, but neglect just the same 
I pulled it up by the top and looked.  Covered with damp earth were the little roots I was hoping for.  Pulling up a plant to see how it is doing is not a "Gardner's Bible" recommendation, but the pineapple tops were not actually secured in the soil.  By tipping them sideways and taking a peek, I could see three or four tiny whitish roots coming out from where the leaves had once been.

Little roots popping out the sides

Several months ago when the pineapple seed experiment went South, the pineapple top experiment began.  Now through occasional care and frequent neglect, it appears that they have survived and have even grown.  How amazing!

 Always remove the dead or dried leaves or twigs from a plant.
Leaving only the green is a vast improvement.
It's easier to tend something that looks good.
I'll pay closer attention now and actually care for them.

To honor their wondrous efforts in holding on and, indeed, growing this long, Things I get to do today seemed appropriate to include giving them fresh dirt and a hair cut.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Garlic Cure

It takes care of everything.  That's a fact.  Once I sat down with the garlic, I felt better immediately.

For some strange reason none of the Things I get to do today did I really want to do. A bit of crankiness has settled in as well.

It was amazing to have the scratchy ennui fade as soon as my fingers were busy slipping the dirt-crusted papery skin off each head of garlic.  Might want to hang some around my neck when I'm done.
Little bulblets, taken from the knobby "knees" of the garlic stem will be planted for next season.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Handy Andy needs your help!  Please pool your information and knowledge, drop me a comment and solve this puzzling garden mystery.

Too tall for a pumpkin!
My friend Nesrin from Turkey left me two plants a week before she and her family headed home to the other side of the world.  One was an African Violet--easy enough for me to identify.  The other plant was seven inches tall in a four-inch pot.  The leaves are deeply lobed, dusty greyish-green and covered with a velvety fur.  The plant came to Nesrin through her daughter's school field trip to a pumpkin patch, if I remember correctly.  The family thought it was a pumpkin or gourd.

After a month or so in the ground, the plant's continued upright growth convinced me that it was not even third cousins once removed from the squash family.  A plant-wise friend suggested yesterday that it is a Mexican Dahlia.  My on-line search could find no foliage that is similar at all to this.  Nor could I find anything that has the velvet leaf texture.
Deep, ornate leaf lobes

Dahlia-like flowers
Things I get to do today include setting aside my pride and asking for your help.  Feedback from all of you would be most appreciated.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Looking Forward to New Year's Day

The bent heads are filled and ready to harvest.
It is 86 degrees today.  That's a considerable distance from winter and winter holidays.  But I'm already planning ahead.  You see, the Things I get to do today are pre-prepare our newly traditional New Year's Day breakfast: waffles made from wheat that has sprouted up about my yard from the straw mulch around the strawberries and vegetables.

The idea came from Anastasia, a Divine Gardener, who's instructions can be found in the Ringing Cedars of Russia* series.  She suggests growing a square meter of grain, making it into flour, then including it in a family meal as a celebration. My version of her idea became waffles for breakfast on the first morning of the new year.

So today the wheat heads were removed from the stalks. They will continue to dry. New Year's Eve we'll thrash the wheat and grind the flour. The next morning we'll add whipped cream and maple syrup for the finest first breakfast of the year.

 *By Vladimir Megre'.
The chickens gleaned the bits left behind on purpose for them.
They get to celebrate early because there will be no waffles for them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Early Harvest

Is it time to harvest potatoes?  The hens have decided it is by virtue of their sturdy toenails, unmanicured and filled with common dirt.  Nearly all of the potato vines have disappeared, so there is little hope that the tubers beneath the soil will find nourishment from above.  Must be harvest time.

Hen-harvested Yukon Gold.
While picking in the berry patch last week, I noticed fat brown and red potatoes with the distinct markings of hen tattooed on each of them.  Things I get to do today will be to salvage the rest before my eager farmer hens think I'm shirking my duties and take on the task themselves.  Could they be taught to use a shovel?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stolen Gold

Greenish yellow Dill and little yellow weeds from the
ditch just outside our yard soften and charm this bouquet.
Zip!  Just grabbed that idea and tucked it in my pocket before anyone noticed. I love yellow--yellow anything, so on the way out of our local market, passing the floral section, I snatched the idea of an all-yellow bouquet.  It was sitting on the counter, freshly arranged with large, open umbels.  The whole image smacked my upside the head.  That's when I stole it.

Special guests were coming for dinner all the way from the East Coast, and a bouquet of fresh Western cheer was the greeting I wanted for them. Fortunately, early last spring, a little bird knew this and planted a sunflower seed next to the fence.  Various other golden beauties had self-sewn and were now in bloom.  It took only a moment to gather them up.  Why is everything so easy in the Things I get to do today?

Why is Everything SO delicious and easy?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

She's a Hottie Now!

Second day of the rest of her life
She was a Shrinking Violet a month ago.  Now really one of the flock, though still at the bottom according to Lena Horn Hen and Nina Simone Chicken, she blends in and moves with the rest of the girls rather easily .

A week later
But something is very different about Violet from when she first arrived.  Things I get to do today will be to check her out . My memory serves me better than the photos can show since hens are always on the move and therefore usually out of focus in their portraits.  This I recall well.  Violet's comb was medium pink when she arrived.  It was not particularly large either.

Still pinkish in the comb
This afternoon during one of those many times each day when I find myself just hanging out with the girls to enjoy their company and listen to them quietly pass hen-pen gossip, it became quite clear.  Violet's been dipping into the makeup or she's a natural-born beauty slow to bloom.

Big and Red!  Wouldn't red toenails be drop-dead gorgeous on her?

She's a hot one!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Long Yarn to Get This Yarn

I like short blogs.  There's no short way, however, to take gentle readers from start to finish on this tale about fiber.  The story's been started several months back, supplemented here and there as time went on, but now is the time to wind this yarn into a ball.

It's my sister's fault really, if one would say there is blame to be laid.  Her alder tree came down.  She noted the brilliant bark and wood as they were exposed to the air.  Her excitement over the wonderful colors ignited mine.  You can see it all began with her.

But then a search on line showed alder bark could be used to dye wool.  My stash had five skeins of creamy fiber that might lend itself to soaking up some additional color.  And so it began.  Three months later my hubby (the engineer) remarked rhetorically one afternoon, "Wouldn't it be easier to just go buy yarn that color?  Surely, they sell that at the yarn shop." Of course, they do, but don't call me Shirley: it's not about what it is easier.  It is about the experiment.

And experiment,  I did!  Thank you to Leena at Riihivilla, Dyeing with natural dyes. Leena lives in Finland, and her experiments with alder bark showed me how to direct my own. Every step was exciting and energizing.

Since any picture is worth a thousand words, let's cut to the chase and wrap this up.
Preparing the wood:
Grinding chips to release color
Brilliant Alder Bark

Making the Dye:
Fermented Alder sand/water slurry after two months
Bark "sand"
Preparing the wool:

Nicely wound wool on the left needed to be put back into
hanks so the dye would have easy access to the fibers.

Four hanks of yarn to mix with dyes

The wool simmered for one hour with
Alum and Cream of Tartar

Simmering the wool with mordents:

All four hanks simmered for 3 hours.  Two hanks were removed,
rinsed and dried.  Two remained in the dye bath for another
ten days just to see if they would soak up more color.  The
difference was barely discernible.

Simmering the wool with Alder Dye:

Simplest way I knew to get Iron.
Bought 65mg. tablets, crushed
them and mixed them with water.
Used all 100 tablets and soaked one hank of
simmered yarn and one hank of simmered+10
days of soaking to this iron bath to
soak for nearly another three days.
Adding Iron to change the color:

Finally the final results:

Twisted hanks spent the extra 10
days in the dye bath.  The picture
is not totally true--the right-hand yarn
is more green than camel colored.

All wound and ready to knit.

Interesting note:  Whenever I stirred the iron water bath, the spoon would drip into the sink, making a bluish stain.  Yellow and blue make green.

This three-month project filled Things I get to do today for portions of many days. There were times when I was eager to be finished with the mess. I'm thrill, however, even dazzled, with the end results.

You might be wondering what this yarn will become in its newly evolved state: two pair of Finish-style mittens--one for my sister and one for me.  I'll write about knitting the mittens when the weather turns cold again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

If There's Singing in the Hen Pen

It is Sweet Violet who is carrying the "tune."  She seems to be talking to herself mostly, though a poorly aimed peck from a sister hen causes a protest squawk intended to be heard.  Generally speaking, her song is only a gentle little "brawk. . .brawk. . .brawk" as she drifts about the hen yard doing chicken things:  scratching and pecking in the dirt.

This morning was very different.  Violet went from Sweet to Urgent in her tone.  The "brawk. . .brawk" was now Brawk and BRAWK as she paced insistently up the slope to the north end of the pen and then back down past the coop to the berry patch.  Things I get to do today always takes me out early in the morning to release the girls from their coop, do a light cleanup from their night inside and toss them a grain treat.  My chores took me past Violet several times, and I admonished her repeatedly to keep her voice down or the neighbors would complain.

Violet's first egg since coming to the flock nearly four weeks ago.
When the tidying was finished, Violet was in the coop, still pacing, but in front of the nest boxes.  Her urgency was now clear to me.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Apologies to MaryJane

She Pinned my idea!  I was dumbstruck.  MaryJane put my idea for growing pineapple "the easy way" on her Pinterest page.  That was way back in January when the world stopped in its spin for just a moment, just for me, as I realized that the pineapple seeds discovered in October had finally sprouted.  Naturally, I wrote a blog about finding the seeds, the sprouting attempts, the actual sprouting and the subsequent growth of the tiny little pineapple plants in my own private pineapple plantation.

The dried remains of seven sprouted pineapple seeds
Well, it turns out this experiment was not so juicy as the last (you remember the hair/tea item).  This one went dry.  Right after the last update, complete with pictures and charts on the wall with the date and how many inches these babies had grown, right after that the growing stopped.  To paraphrase Brilliant Bob on this one, "If it's not busy growing, it's busy dying."  And slowly the life drained out of the tiny, pointed leaves.  It was sad.  I thought of someone's comment on the original growing pineapples blog:  where was I planning to "house" these huge plants that would result?  Not to worry, dear heart.  That's no longer a concern.

New hope and still green.  I'll mail the first pineapple
directly to MaryJane.

Fortunately, or not, I was born with a never-say-die spirit and immediately began a follow-up experiment.  This time I used pineapple tops and plunked them into soil.  They've been hanging out in the greenhouse since the little ones bit the dust.  Since it takes much longer for the big leaves to dry up, I have yet no idea if they are alive and growing or just slow to die away.

So just to set things right, MaryJane Butters, I'm so sorry.  Things I get to do today: admit that one may be able to grow pineapple, but I have yet to know if there is an easy way.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Experiment! It's the Juice of Life!

It's waiting for you to discover it!  There are many ways to do a particular task:  the ways it has always been done, the hottest techniques raved on by social media, and the way that only you can discover--by experimenting.

Life situations (some folks call them problems) come up just so we can have a laboratory for our plarking and experimenting.  Here's one of my latest situations.  My hairdresser has done a fabulous job of keeping my hair its natural color.  I usually have her help me out in this way about three times a year.  Out on the ends, that which has been with me the longest, the hair has had enough color work done on it that it is no longer fresh and happy.

Damp and faded with an inch plus of grow-out
My experiment?  How can I color my hair for maximum good looks while it grows out a bit more and can be cut off?  On line sources suggested one could dye hair with tea.  A light shade of brewed black tea is exactly my hair color.

Experiment #1.  Brewed strong black tea and daubed solution on my clean damp hair after shampooing. Suggestions said leave it on for an hour or so. Tea is good for the hair. I did the daubing and just left it on. Results:  Very little change. Suggestions said this was a gradual change and could take awhile.

Experiment #2.  Added strong brewed tea to diluted hair gel. Sprayed it on and left it. Better coverage. Wore out the little 2 oz. sprayer I was using. Poured it into a pistol-grip sprayer. Knew this could be messier so leaned over the bathtub and misted downward. Hair looked pretty good. Found there were little droplets all over the white tub, and aqua walls and the window and sill. 

Experiment #3.  Same as above except sprayed my hair while was still in the shower. Forgot I was tall. Spray went over the shower door and on the adjacent wall, on the floor and, of course, on the upper walls of the shower. Time to rethink the spray idea.

Instant tea crystals with water

Experiment #4.  Used stronger tea and no sprayer.  How? Bought instant ice tea--no lemon or sugar. Poured a scant teaspoon into my palm, added two or three drops of water and a tiny bit of mouse. Daubed this directly on to my grey stripe, working it well into the hair. Poured a second teaspoon into my palm, added water, then added usual amount of styling mouse. Mixed it and applied to the rest of my faded hair. Styled my hair as usual.

Freshly colored with instant tea and tea/mouse.

Most recent notes from the "laboratory of life" on this one: 1) If I were caught in a rainstorm with this in my hair, the most important Things I get to do today would relate to heading for cover or I would be a total mess!  2) The color is gradually being taken into the hair itself--the white area is no longer really white.  3) If your hands are rough from working in the garden, wearing a protective glove can keep the stain off your daubing fingers. 4) The tea powder/crystals are much easier to travel with than a sprayer of strong tea, less messy over all and much more effective to get deep, rich color.  5) Experimenting is the juiciest of fun!
Get out there, folks, and find your way of doing things!