Sunday, March 22, 2015

This and That

First off, hello to my follower(s) in China. No idea who you are, but welcome. Shannon, is that you?

Second, last year I screwed up my shoulders and now have arthritis . . . I am 34 years old by the way so I hope none of you were praying to be more like me. This has severely hampered my martial arts studies. My advice to everyone is never train in martial arts and do intense workouts at home on the side unless you get advice beforehand and take sufficient time off from both. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to resume training in Ninpo (can combat martial arts be considered safe?), but that is my goal for this summer and physical therapy seems to be working.

In the mean time I will be rebranding this blog, focusing more on my garden. Do you like legumes? Good, because that will be the most frequent topic I discuss.

Winter in this area was colder than usual, as summed up by my February electric bill, and I had concerns about plant survival inside and outside my house, but I needn't have worried. This was the best year ever for Christmas cactus blooms; sorry, no photos. The alliums overwintering in my garden have been demonstrating conclusive proof of survival; the leeks, garlic, yellow potato onions, etc. have all made it and are resuming growth. I'll plant the remaining leek seed and potato onion bulbs soon. Not sure if the Babington Leek made it or not so keep your fingers crossed. The sage and lavender are also coming back; not bad for three-year old plants.

Last week I sewed seed for various Chinese cabbages, leaf mustard, lettuce, New Zealand Spinach, leeks, and one or two other things. Here's hoping this spring is not as cold and wet as 2014, otherwise known as the year of the basement floods. I anticipate germination in my seed bed some time this week and will transplant them into the main garden a week or two after that.

On trial this year:

Sorghum. I don't think I have the right equipment to get molasses from the sorghum canes, but the seed are reputedly good to eat. On trial: White African, and Honey Drip. Both are heirloom varieties.

Corn. Hopefully some of my 1 pound of ancient Bloody Butcher corn will grow. Last year's grow-out yielded about half a pound of new seed from several hundred seeds planted, a dismal return, so this will be the last attempt with the old seed. Also on trial: Country Gentleman and Johnnie Dewlen Blue Dent Corn. Avoiding cross pollination will be a priority.

Beans - I am generally growing varieties from two genera: Phaseolus and Vigna. Phaseolus is the common green bean, and the lima, and dry beans, and the tepary bean . . . you get the gist. Vigna contains Cowpeas/Southern Peas/Field Peas/Black Eyed Peas . . . you get the gist . . . and Yardlong beans. I'll do a post dedicated to Vigna later.

Bush Beans (Phaseolus). Woods Mountain Crazy Bean (an heirloom I just acquired and am very excited about), Pencil Pod, Bountiful, Black Valentine, Blue Lake and Royal Burgundy will all hopefully get room in 2015.

Pole Beans (Phaseolus). Headrick Greasy Cutshort (an Appalachian heirloom), Striped Hull Cutshort (also an heirloom), Ratlesnake, Purple Pod, Kentucky Wonder (technically also an heirloom), Romano (not the original heirloom kind).

Limas/Butterbeans (Phaseolus). King of the Garden, Violet's Multicolored, Speckled Mix (the seed company noted that his was a pole variety and not the bush variety they thought they had ordered). Why the limas you ask . . .
Because I have never grown them before despite being raised in a home with a huge vegetable garden.
Because I like to eat limas and they are often expensive or hard to get in the store.
Also, they will add to my mix of legumes and hopefully increase the "distance" between my plantings.

Runner Bean (another Phaseolus species). I finally broke down and acquired seed for Insuk's Wang Kong. It is supposed to be a runner bean that handily tolerates weather in the American south so it is worth trying.

Cowpeas (Vigna). I do not have room to grow out all of my accessions from this past catalog season. So many catalogues! So little garden room. :( When I have them growing I'll talk more about this southern staple. Think Black-eyed peas, then realize that this barely scratches the surface. Varieties on trial: Black Crowder, Blue Goose, Ozark Razorback, Queen Anne, Red Ripper, Tohono O'odham. I grew Pinkeye Purple Hull and Brown Crowder last year with good results; though I found Brown Crowder's flavor to be a bit earthy.

Longbeans (Vigna). In 1974 my parents were married and a Chinese friend, Jim Su, gave them seeds for a green-podded, red/brown striped seeded Yardlong bean. I have always loved it and have grown it on Firethorn Court since the seeds were entrusted to me in 2009. I traded it to a Gardenweb member and he trialed it, liked it, and later listed it with Seed Savers Exchange as Chinese Long Green. Alas, I wanted to call it Jim Su. Anyway, no idea what it's real name is if it ever had one. Getting Chinese Red Noodle to grow for me took a few years and a steep learning curve where I almost lost the variety. I now have a bumper crop of seed in storage. Others I hope to grow: Galante, Sierra Madre, Liana, and one nameless Thai variety I bought on eBay that I plan to call "Uncle Chan" after the seller if it grows well in Virginia.

*A note on beans, peas, cowpeas, longbeans, basically any legume, they are more likely to cross if you grow two or more varieties of one species in close proximity. Usually the flowers stay closed and the plants self-pollinate, but bees do visit them and can make a mess if you aren't careful. This is one reason there are so many pole bean varieties available. I plan to raise alternating rows of beans, cowpeas, limas, longbeans, etc. in order to let the bees wipe their feet and prevent unintended hybrids. This year my focus is on production and maintaining pure seed lines. Should be a challenge.

I have plans for lots of other things to cram in my 1/4 acre yard. Hopefully I can squeeze more room out of my limited space without cutting the cable, power, or phone lines.

Oh yes, the Hablitzia seeds are cold stratifying in my fridge right now. I'll deal with the Good King Henry seed later.

That's all for now.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Christmas Cacti

Yes, this post is almost unforgiveably late. Please pardon this transgression.

So, one of the main categories of house plants I grow is the illustrious Christmas Cactus. Scientifically known as the genus Schlubergera. S. truncata, S. opuntioidies, S. orisichrissiana (sp), S. russelliana, and two I have never seen pictured or heard of them being grown outside Brazil. I was first drawn to my mother's plant when I was a kid. Every Christmas it was cloaked in drooping, symetrical, pink flowers. This plant sat in a cold room with windows facing north and west and it loved every minute of it. Despite my best efforts I never managed to get a single seed pod from them. These are the traditional cultivar "Schlumbergera X bucklei" and yes my spelling may be wrong.

When I got older and addicted to ebay I found other varieties, ones with toothy looking leaves, not the scalloped ones I had known. To cut a long story short I now have 23 pots worth at home and another 6 at work (6 of them are Bucklei including mom's original plant which got me started).

Peach, red, purple, pink, white, 2 kinds of yellow (yes yellow ones do exist). Yes, a glutton for schlumbergeras. I even shelled out for an S. opuntioides 2 years ago. Look it up, then search desperately for 6 months and you'll find one. Whether you want to pay that much for a tiny plant is ultimately up to you (or your wife, or if you want to pay for utilities that month).

My plants at work all set buds and dropped them, all but one. My grocery store pale pink. Huge blooms on monster stems. Amazing what a leftover plant, one step from the garbage can, can become. It garnered lots of comments from anyone who came to my office and I have now infested two coworkers offices, well one coworker and my supervisor, with their own clones. The cleaning lady even asked for some and I belatedly potted her cuttings up yesterday.

The plants at home bloomed like champs EXCEPT for the traditional Christmas Cacti. I trimmed them up in late summer when they moved in. DO NOT EVER DO THAT! So they are healthier, but won't bloom till next December.

There is a term you may have heard, self incompatibility. This applies to all genera of Christmas cacti as a defense against inbreeding. Since they grown readily from cuttings seeds aren't essential even in their native jungle. However, most varieties sold today, S. X bucklei included, come from seedling crosses. So all I had to do was pollenate a clone of the original plant with one of the new hybrids and voila! seed pods. To date I have never sewn a single seed I bred since I don't have any more space to row them on. However, the colorful, juicy pods last for a year or more and brighten up the foliage until it's time for them to bloom again.

So, why post now? Because the purple one at home is setting a few new buds, and my yellows are blooming again. The ones at work, which dropped their buds, are now covered in new buds, and the pink one is showing off by being covered in still more.

Where are the photos. Photos or it didn't happen is the rule right? :) I don't have any recent pictures, didn't think to take them this winter. But since you asked nicely, I will take some and post them soon.

2014, new opportunities

WOW, 76 page views in the last month! I hope you enjoyed my old musings from yesteryear. This must mean there is some interest in what I am up to, or folks have followed me back from Facebook and the garden blogs I've been reading. So lets have a big hello for Scotland, Maine, Denmark, Norway, Russia, England, Texas, Delaware, Washington State, etc!

So, a lot has happened since 2012 ended. I helped my parents move from Manassas to Hopewell (40 years of stuff is a lot to pack and move), taken up a martial art, lost 40 pounds, chopped much wood, and my garden is about to get some long defered attention.

This year I've been learning about permaculture gardening, and as it happens parts of my yard are perfect for several species which like open forest habitat. Hog Peanut, Caucsian Spinach and others which I hope to try for 2014. Another addition is the much whispered about ground nut/hopnis/Apios americana, which likes moist, stream conditions (something my hiltop house may not provide much of).

The veggie garden is getting a huge expansion as soon as I can decide which method to use to import the 38 cubic yards I have calculated that I need. You may ask, what on earth can this single guy need with 2,027 square feet of garden at a depth of 6 or 7 inches. Well, raspberries, currants, blueberries, Jerusalem artichokes, corn, beans, longbeans, zinnias, amaranth, quinoa, calendula, sunflowers, squash, bitter melon, celosia, cabage, kale, potatoes, mint, herbs, onions . . . you get the picture. This year is a huge experiment and any overage will be preserved (no, I don't know how to can food) or given away to neighbors and friends. Watch the bugs get it all instead. ;) The first step was getting sufficient concrete blocks to outline the expanded main garden and one on the north side of my house between my lot and the neighbors' ( a lovely couple). I am six blocks short, but that is easily remedied.

So this is where I still hope to share musings, but also talk about gardening, hiking, the local area and Ninpo (Gunbukan Rules Baby!). Maybe some day I'll translate my posts into futhark characters. >:)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Some photos from Scotland:

Back in the saddle . . . wait I can't ride!!!

I’ll get back to blogging about Scotland and Wales later. Sometimes you just have to do something in order to restore your momentum. The blogosphere is littered with dead two post blogs. Mine will not be one of those.

Hurricane Sandy is still in its early stages around here. Perhaps later today I will finally get my photos posted online and link to them.  Something to do before the power goes out.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 2 Church and Touring Edinburgh: 9-16-2012

First, some impressions I formed of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside:
      ·         Great buildings,
      ·         Great forms,
      ·         Beautiful Firth of Forth,
      ·         Rolling countryside A+,
      ·         Mountains and Valleys of the Borders reminded me of home,
      ·         Most of Edinburgh, while beautiful, is dirty,
      ·         Princess Street Gardens are worth the visit,
      ·         The pharmacies on the high street mostly sold cosmetics, very odd,
      ·         Kilt and cashmere shops abound here so one way or another you can get the quality of kilt you want.
      ·         Also, despise still being summer officially it was, by my standards, extremely cold in Scotland.

Back to the plot:

On Sunday I wanted to worship in church with other Presbyterians and so chose St. Cuthbert’s church at the base of the castle rock. Since services started late in the morning I decided to slip in some more sightseeing and finished the gardens and saw more of the town first.

The folk at the church were very friendly and didn’t mind that I was not formally dressed,  although I would have been more inconspicuous in a tweed jacket. The worship was pleasant although I didn’t know any of the songs.

Either I chose the wrong denomination or things have gone very wrong with Scottish Presbyterianism.

·         Issue 1:  The creed was a total mess and almost completely rewritten. Is it possible that the creed used in America in ALL the churches is now some kind of fossil?

·         Issue 2:  The Lord’s Prayer had the same problems. Neither a Protestant nor a Roman Catholic in the US would recognize most of it. The beautiful early modern English phrases have been hacked out to be replaced with unrecognizable trash.

·         Issue 3:  A woman was leading part of the service. This is a big no no, not because of any chauvinistic views you may assign me dear reader, but because there is no provision in scripture for women to lead a mixed congregation. For a church founded on Sola Scriptura this indicates a severe deviation from doctrine.

·         Issue 4:  The sermon, if it was in fact a sermon, was completely useless and lasted for only 15 minutes! The pastor (?) used no scripture illustrations in his sermon but did quote modern thinkers and exhorted us all to be nice Christians. I couldn’t leave the place fast enough.

At 1:00 I took the New Europe Tour of Edinburgh with a large group of people. Our tour guide was Ellie. The original plan was to visit the old City Hall across from Parliament Square and St. Giles Cathedral, but the Paralympics parade was coming to just that exact spot in Edinburgh at that exact time so we rerouted a bit.

Sights we saw: St. Giles Cathedral and a man dressed up like a statue of a king,
Poet’s Square, The Grass Market (I spent a lot of time near there the night before),  Cowgate which is not too surprisingly just across from the grassmarket, Greyfriars Kirk, The Scottish University for Orphans, The coffee shop JK Rowling wrote her first book at, and the Princess Street Gardens (again) before returning to the High City after a wonderful 3 hour walking tour.

There is so much detail and not nearly enough blog space to put it in. All I can do is wholeheartedly recommend this tour the next time you are in Edinburgh.

I got to Edinburgh Castle about 4:45 since I needed a few minutes to clean up and rest my feet. There I was again told and this time very rudely that I was too late. All tours apparently leave before 4:30 and I was too late even to go inside to look around for a minute. This was not made clear at 5:30 the night before. FYI, Scotland has several sights with overly rude tour guides and ticket sellers so be prepared and shower them with politeness if they are rude to you.

After supper at Subway I decided to walk down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood House. I was certain that it was too late to get in, but I did get to see a lot of the city which I missed the last time around. Edinburgh is blessed with historic sites such as John Knox’s house, old market crosses, buildings dedicated in the 1560’s, lots of little paths between and under buildings called ‘closes’ which lead to hidden courtyards. I could spend months exploring it properly.  Anyway, I walked down a very long path through the royal parkland and below the extinct volcano ‘David’s Seat’ which IMHO would have made a better site for Edinburgh as it is more majestic and has a lot more room. The park was beautiful, but I knew my limits and headed back to the hostel and returned by 7:10. Next post, the tour starts.

Day 1 UK Arrival and Scotland: 9-15-2012

The day began as the previous one ended, crammed into a window seat with limited space for my legs. The flight was nearly turbulence free and aside from the cramped feet was very nice. British Airways has some issues, but the quality of their crews is not one of them. Very friendly, service oriented people who made both flights very enjoyable. Given my internal abilities the dairy free food was a welcome option and I was glad I selected it. Entertainment was provided in the fform of movies, TV shows and pre recorded radio programs. I took the opportunity to see The Avengers, Brave, and bits of some other movies, but my real discovery was the comedy selection from BBC 2; something to look up later.

We were delayed coming in to Heathrow and spent 15 minutes in a holding pattern. Since the my layover was extremely short I was faced with several maddening sprints across the terminal and a great deal of ultimately unnecessary panic. The nice lady who met me coming off the plane gave me an express pass to cross the airport and speed me through security lines as my flight was leaving within 1 hour of arrival . . . this didn’t really help but later on it was a good bookmark.  The subway between the 3 terminals was simple and easy to use, but I got flustered trying to go between terminals and thus wasted valuable time dithering when I should have been sprinting to immigration.

My experience in Heathrow was lamentable and got repeated two weeks later (more on that in another blog entry). Immigration was laughable, but so be it. We kept being passed from officer to officer line to line even though there were almost no people and 3 immigration officers on duty. Realizing that further delays might ensue if I didn’t do this part I borrowed a pen and finally filled in my immigration card as best I could. Once they had scanned my eyes; I should mention that the UK loves to scan your eyes when you visit, stay at or depart from airports; I made another sprint for the metal detectors two levels up. By the time I arrived at the detectors my flight was already due to be buttoning up and about to depart so I was a bit panicked and it showed. They told me not to remove my boots, but with metal hooks I didn’t want to take a chance with further delays. Another determined lope saw me find my gate for the connecting flight to Edinburgh where I discovered that our flight was at least 35 minutes late and everyone was standing in line with bored expressions on their faces. I began to drip sweat, but I had made my connecting flight!

So flying from London to Edinburgh is really fairly pain free once you get past the hurdles of Heathrow. The flight is nice, the scenery is idyllic and they bring snacks about 10 minutes into the flight. If you look out your window over Northumbria and the Scottish Borders you will see something to gladden your heart . . . the farmers and landowners are planting some fields in with trees. It was later explained to me by my Scottish tour guide that this was just for paper pulp, but a tree is a tree and they replant the cleared land with trees after harvest. Not a bad crop to grow and very scenic so I am onboard with this initiative. Heck, it beats raising sheep (this ties in to the Lowland and Highland clearances and the radical destruction of the naticve forrests of the UK).

From Edinburgh airport I caught the regular bus into the city. Riding through the 19th and 20th century suburbs to the 18th century city and the medieval city on the hill is an interesting experience. Aside from extensive sections of tract housing this city is comparatively old. The architecture is unmistakably Scottish, chock full of crow stepped gables and very tall townhouses. Naturally exampled of Scottish Baronial architecture abound. The choice of stone is unfortunate since it tends to be dark, but that is partly a function of what was available and is not helped by the latitude of the city. But don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Edinburgh! The bus stopped in Central Edinburgh and dropped me off around 1:00 at the bus depot near the upper city. A short hike to the crest of the mountain/hill/old city brought me to Castle Hill backpackers on Johnson Terrace just across from the Castle Rock.

The rest of the day was spent checking in at the hostel, having a late lunch, touring the city on foot, seeing the Princess Street Gardens, taking lots of photos, seeing Greyfrians Kirk and Kirkyard, missing the final tour to the Castle, having dinner, reading for a bit, and getting an early night’s sleep.

More on Day 2 soon.