Recently in Gardening Category

Orchids Everywhere


Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the Pacific Orchid Expo, down at Fort Mason. (Some might argue that it seems like a bad idea to go closer to the Pacific Ocean when there's a tsunami alert on for the coast, but let's not quibble.)

It was a good time. Orchid people are INSANE. I mean, totally insane. They come up with things like this:

Mardi Gras mask

(The theme of this expo was Carnaval, and that's how they spelled it.)

The market was a wonderland of interesting orchids and the occasional related plant, plus one very intriguing service:

Orchid boarding

(I think orchid boarding would make more sense if you'd spent the $200 some of those orchids were priced at.)

I got a couple of orchids from a friend last year, and I've been enjoying having a cat who doesn't eat plants, so it was fun to walk around and daydream about building a massive orchid garden, or think about what we wanted to do with the greenhouse when we build it. We enjoyed the exhibit area, with lots of really lovely plants at the peak of bloom.


Then afterward we drove to another event downtown in the most glorious sunset. It's been so overcast the last several days that having such a stunningly clear evening was a real pleasure. I think I've driven down this street a hundred times and I've never seen such a clear view of the two Eastern spans of the Bay Bridge (one under construction, of course, but when it's built this view will be terrific on the rare clear day). (And yes, of course they're not as in focus or clear in the photo as they were in person, but usually you can't even tell there's an island out in the bay from here, much less see the bridges on the other side.)

View of the Bay Bridge

And yes, I admit, I was glad to spend the day shoveling mulch around the garden rather than walking around on another concrete expo center floor. Although the funniest thing has been talking to people today and having them say, "Oh, yeah, we went to the orchid show yesterday." Apparently everybody we know was there.

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List of Blooms


I'm going to be getting bees sometime in the future -- but not until the roof is done, because I don't want to worry about swarms housing themselves in the attic. I'm preparing this season by getting equipment ready and preparing a site for the hives, and also by building some of the stuff that you can't buy. In addition, I decided to spend some time doing a survey of blooms each month, on the first and fifteenth.

Beekeeping is a really interesting mix of practises. You really should know something about insects, of course. You need to know about the weather, because that affects what the bees will do and when. And you need to know a lot about local plants and when they bloom, because nectar and pollen from flowers is what bees eat. I have a good handle on the weather and the bees part, so the survey is to get more in touch with everything blooming (not just what I planted, but the weeds as well).

When you keep bees in the country, your nectar and pollen crops are from wild plants or crops, and those have very definite seasons because they're either untended or managed to harvest times. So the honey flows in the country are very cyclical and definite: the almonds bloom at a specific time and there may not be much else growing there as food for the bees. But in the city, the bee food comes mostly from landscaping, with a bit from street and park trees if you live in a city with a lot of trees (maples have particularly useful flowers, in my opinion, but some cities have cherry trees on the streets and those are awesome). The city nectar flows can last year round in a mild climate, so instead of having a couple of distinct honey flows a city bee will be packing in honey all over the place, as long as they can fly. (Lately it's been in the mid-50's which is a bit too cold for bee flight, but it does warm up on occasion and they will break cluster on days when it gets over 60F or so.)

Knowing all this, I thought it would be good to really know what foods would be available to my bees, since I admit I think very little about what blooms when apart from a few seasonal plants, and even then I don't track it very closely.

My survey surprised me. 21 plant types blooming in the garden -- and even more that I decided not to survey in my neighbors' gardens. I had definitely thought December was a little less floriferous than that. I made a list of the flowers in bloom (including flowers just in bud and notes about which ones were blooming with only a few flowers), then added the temperature high and low for the day. If I do that twice a month for a year that should give me a nice record of nectar flow times.

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Gardening and Global Warming


Yeah, I should be working on my thesis right now and instead I was reading a garden blog and procrastinating. I prefer to think of it as "cogitating." Anyway, this brief note got me a bit riled up. The gist of it is that since 40% of carbon emissions come from tilled soil, home gardeners should not till. And possibly mulch will hold carbon in.

There are a couple of problems with that thesis that seem fairly obvious to me. First of all, that 40% of carbon emissions is not coming from home gardeners. It's coming from large-scale agriculture. Whether I till my garden or not is a miniscule amount compared to the massive problems of large-scale agriculture. Second, mulch itself emits carbon, as do all decomposing organics, and its production causes carbon emission.

So the entire thesis misunderstands how carbon emissions happen. But behind it is a belief that tilling is bad (and I generally agree there, except in cases where you are tilling organic material into infertile soil for crops, which is why most people till their gardens) and mulch is good.

Mulch, alas, is not the wonder-drug of gardens. For one thing, it keeps the upper layer of soil moist, and the upper layer of the soil is not where the roots should be -- the lower layers of soil don't dry out as fast as people think they do unless a plant uses up the water there, and in that case mulch is not going to help you. Mulch attracts pests, or worse it carries pests from wherever it came from. It absorbs moisture that could go into the root zone and then allows it to evaporate, wasting water. It's doesn't even really stop weeds, especially our pernicious Bermuda grass. And most of all, it is generally in the process of decomposing, which uses resources your plants might want.

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Some Garden Planning


No, I have not died, but I've been working on a site model for several days now, perhaps one might even say I've been working on it for four weeks, if you count numerous trips to measure things like building heights and the size of the freeway and so on.

But I will not talk about my thesis, because it's getting boring even for me to listen to me talk about it. Instead, let me show you a couple spots in the garden that need serious work:

Right side of the quince tree

Left side of the quince tree

These are the beds on either side of the quince tree, and they are horrible at this time of the year. In the spring they have ranunculus and allium growing in them, but now, not so much. Lots of neat weeds, though. So I'm kind of considering how to plant them out.

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I recently bought an almanac. I'm not sure why, except that I've always kind of vaguely known that buying almanacs was something you do when you grow plants. At the botanical garden where I worked long ago, there was always one hanging in the office on a peg, and it had pages for every week of the year with little notes that said things like, "Sow peas now." That sort of firm directive is very useful to a chronic ditherer like myself: I'm more likely to put it off too late while I try to figure out the ideal time for sowing. And it had lots of info on the phase of the moon and planets and all that.

So I bought an almanac, not really thinking about the fact that a) almanacs never have the right planting information for this climate, and b) all that information is free on the web these days anyhow. Needless to say, the almanac is, while almost completely useless as a source of useful information, nonetheless of great interest to me because it is clearly aiming itself at an audience of people who are both moderately obsessed with the moon and not on the internet.

I will leave it to you to figure out the demographic of moon-obsessed non-interneters (luddite werewolves?). Suffice it to say that I don't think I need to buy another almanac. I'm thinking of making my own perpetual calendar for the garden, anyway.

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Fern Nursery


A while ago I pruned my mother fern and started a bunch of baby ferns in a plastic tray. This is no great feat with the mother fern: the thing reproduces remarkably easily. But even so, it is delightful to come home and look at my little tray of ferns, all growing well.

Baby ferns

My experiments with spore reproduction did not work out so well: we got to the green fuzz stage and no further, so my next attempt on that score will involve actually sterilizing the equipment.


But for now, the little mother ferns are pretty nice. Anybody want a fern?

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A Walk in the Arboretum


Up in the hill behind the Dairy Unit at Cal Poly is the Leaning Pine Arboretum. I went up there today after practise and had a little walk around (the gates theoretically get closed at five, so I curtailed my walk, but they were not closed when I did leave at five fifteen, plus I found what appears to be a pedestrian entrance).

Like everything else at Cal Poly, the arboretum is a learning project in progress, which means that there are sections which are looking a trifle experimental as well as mature, evolved designs.

Here's an example: a section of the garden had a swath of this drivable lawn paving material in it. You lay the pavers down and plant grass in the pockets, and it fills in and looks like a lawn while still having the structural integrity to support, say, a firetruck or ambulance in case of an emergency. A nice way to have your emergency access and reduce your overall paved area.

drivable lawn

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Good Plant News


Noel e-mailed me photos of the fruit trees today, because they're blooming. Lots of rain, feet in nice rich compost -- why wouldn't they go crazy?

Check out this nectarine (Arctic Queen). Nice little blossoms. Of course, we can't let it set fruit this year, because it's supposed to be making roots, but the flowers are pretty and it's very encouraging to have them showing signs of life.


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Baby Ferns!


I had given up on my fern project in despair, then this morning I opened the container and what did I see but the mossy green growth of developing prothalli! I've had prothalli death already, so I'm not too hopeful, but this is more mossy than previous events, so maybe this is The One.

baby ferns

What Shrub is This?

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There are these bushes growing alongside the Rotunda lecture hall at school. A scent that is like orange blossoms on speed: tropical, citrusy, sweet. Amazing. And little red fruits that look like plums but narrower and with points (and, well, on the bush in October while the thing is also blooming). For a long time I thought they were some sort of mock orange hybrid, but they do not match any mock orange in any book I have or online. Anybody have any ideas?

Mystery shrub

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