Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cedar Creek, WV

I am currently sitting at the kitchen table of my good friend, Sparkling Squirrel, in West Virginia. I have come to visit for a few days before we head off to the Economic Botany conference at Duke tomorrow. What a wonderful time, and what a luxury to get to spend so much time with a good friend. Yesterday I helped her plant flowers. Today we went on a hike with her husband at a local state park - Cedar Creek.

We were on the Parkview Trail. It was not a long trail - about 3 miles, but it was steep. Although I argue that Kansas is not that flat of a state, we do not have mountains, not the long extended climbs up and down. I am definitely tired- my legs were shaky after the extended, very steep downhill portion of the hike.

I do enjoy the physical activity and it was beautiful out there. Unlike the last time I visited, 1.5 years ago, I brought my digital camera. It was cloudy at times, and my camera does not deal well with such light situations. I did get some nice shots though. Below are some of my favorites.

West Virginia Woods

Stone Steps on Fisherman's Trail

My favorite plant on the trail - Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum). I did not get a good picture. I love the shape of the leaves. I would like this in my garden at home!

Sori on the back of a fern. I just loved the pattern they made.

Hawkweed flowers (Hieracium sp.)A sycamore tree leaning over the creek
A close up of moss sporophytes and some lichens

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

Friday, May 30, 2008


Red Fuschia and Blue Lobelias

The pots on the front step
The pots on the side of the house

My garden has made me happy. Each morning, I walk around my yard, examining the plants I have planted, checking to see if they are doing well. I really enjoy planting and planning. I love watching the plants grow and blossom. I just feel cool when I go out to collect spinach or some herb to use for dinner. Granted the last does not happen all that often, so I think the next additions to my plant collection will be culinary herbs.

Herbs I have currently
Thai Basil
Pineapple Sage
Sweet Woodruff
Elfin Thyme (though I don't know if you eat this, I'll have to taste it).

What I need/would like to have
Regular Thyme
Parsley (though I have planted some seeds in the greenhouse at school)
Lemon Thyme
Bay Laurel

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today we woke up to thunder, lightening, and rain showers. I am happy for the rain - it hasn't rained since Mother's Day weekend. I don't have to water the plants today. Plus, I am slightly more motivated to get some work done in my office. Which is good, as I have a small grant that I am submitting that is due tomorrow. It is done, now I am just waiting to get some signatures on it and I will be ready to send it off.

My husband is a collector. Right now his current collections include robots and bobbleheads. I have not been as much of a collector. Yes, I do have books, and yarn. But I don't actively collect them. For example, if I were to collect yarn I would search out all sorts of different types of yarn - different wools, handspuns, cottons, strange yarn made from different plants, etc. Then I would not use them, but rather keep them for their own sake. Maybe I am splitting hairs here.

Anyway, Tuesday afternoon I decided I am going to collect plants. All plants of all different types. I partially feel guilty for planting non-native plants, but really, I love all plants: herbs, cultivated flowers, native plants. Ok - there are a few exceptions - I am not overly fond of stinging nettles and begonias I just don't really like. I also would not collect species invasive to where I live. I just want to be surrounded by a high diversity of really cool plants. I now find myself scheming on ways to increase my plant collection without spending a ton of money - can I take a cutting of oak-leaf hydrangea? What about hosta's? What about the red flowered honeysuckle growing over the fence from my neighbor's back yard? (NOTE TO SELF - check to see if it is considered invasive, as many honeysuckle species are). I am really becoming obsessed!

Here is one plant I am thrilled to have in my collection - The Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa), the plant I worked on for my Master's Thesis. It does not look like much now, but wait till the flowers open! Actually, I quite like the plant even when it is not flowering. It has nice glossy leaves with that wonderful white mid-rib. Also - red stems and red spots on the sepals of the flower buds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adventures in mulching

The sweet smell of mulch
Since planting up my pots, I have wanted to give them a layer of mulch to help prevent water loss. I knew I did not want to use the big, chunky cedar mulch I had used in my flower beds, and I had a vague recollection of seeing a small, almost pebbly-looking, mulch. This is what I wanted to use in my pots.

Yesterday, I stopped at the nursery on the way home from work. Yes, I did buy more plants - details will be forthcoming. As I was checking out, I saw they had a display with small samples of different mulches. I found just the mulch I was looking for - small pieces and a really pretty dark brown, called "Cocoa Mulch". It was a little pricey - about twice as much as cedar mulch ($8.99 I think), but it was exactly what I wanted, and I only needed one bag (2 cu. ft.).

When I got home and opened the trunk, it smelled delicious - like chocolate. I thought this was strange, as I did not have any chocolate in the trunk. But as I was unloading the mulch, I realized where the smell was coming from. I also realized that the "Cocoa" did not just refer to the color of the mulch, but to the source material. Trust me, I felt like a complete idiot for not realizing this sooner.

If you are not familiar with this mulch, it is actually made from the dried husks of cocoa beans. These husks are the by-product of producing chocolate. They smell like chocolate cookies, or cocoa puffs, or a chocolate poptart. An entirely pleasant smell, though not one usually associated with a garden. Apparently this mulch has wide usage amongst rose gardeners.

I really do like the look of the mulch.
Here are some of my potted herbs all mulched up. (Clockwise from top: Lavender, Basil, Rosemary, and in the small black pot - Lady's Bedstraw).

Since I had lots extra after mulching my pots, I also used it on my prairie patch, which was only lightly mulched in the first place.
I am not sure how I feel about the scent - it does smell wonderful, but it makes me hungry for chocolate and it seems out of place. I did read somewhere that the scent fades after 2 or 3 weeks.
A WARNING: since this mulch is produced from the cocoa plant, it does have the same chemicals that are toxic to dogs as chocolate has. Thus, use with caution if you have dogs.

An observation about mulching and experiential learning
Earlier this spring, I dug up two beds for planting flowers and vegetables in. At that time, the soil seemed nice and I did not think to mulch the beds. Well, not only did the soil become really hard on top, but more weeds were popping up than the seeds I planted. Of course mulching would have helped with both problems, and I knew this somewhere in my brain, but still I did not mulch. Even though one chapter in my dissertation dealt with how soil disturbances (i.e. bare ground) encourages the germination of weed seeds, I did not mulch. So I definitely had the "book" knowledge to know that mulching would be beneficial. It was not until I experienced what happened without mulching that it all came together. For me, this has been a lesson in how people learn - hand's on experience is a good thing! Now, I just need to keep it in mind as I am teaching next year.

But now . . .
It is summer, and I can work from home and enjoy the wonderful weather. This is one thing that makes all the hard work of earning my PhD worth it.

This summer, I am in vacation mode!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Going overboard

Right now I am working on a small grant proposal. In the process of generating the budget, I am in pricing clipboards. Actually, I am searching for a particular kind of clipboard - one of the storage clipboards that is not made from bright silver metal, so either a painted metal or a plastic one. In sunny days, these would have less glare and not get so hot to the touch.

Anyway - I have not found what I am looking for yet (I have just started looking), but I did find antimicrobial clipboards in both plastic and metal. I think this is taking things too, too far.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In the Garden

I have spent the last three days in complete happiness as I have been creating and planting small garden beds. I am tired and sore, my fingernails still have dirt under them (I really need to get gardening gloves, even though I do love digging my hands in the soil), but I am so excited about my plants. If we owned our house instead of renting, I would have big plans for the yard. As it is, my "garden", so far, consists of three fence-side flower beds and many containers. I have not taken pictures yet, but I wanted to make a list of what I planted (see below).

Two comments

On Thursday, I saw a hummingbird sitting on our dogwood tree by the front door. This heavily influenced my purchases towards hummingbird flowers. I also bought a feeder, and I think I will try to make other feeders throughout the summer.

One of my colleagues from school has prairie garden in which certain plants were taking over and needed weeding out. This meant free plants for me!

California Wonder Sweet Bell Pepper
Strawberries – Ozark Beauty
Sweet Hungarian Banana Peppers

Lobelia – Riviera Sky Blue
Portulaca – Sundial Mix
Upright Fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrida)
Lady in Red Texas Sage
Pineapple Sage
Black and Blue Sage (Salvia guarantica)

Sanvitalia – Sunbini Creeping Zinnia
Euphorbia – Diamond Frost
Red Geranium

Scented Geranium – Fingerbowl Lemon (Pelargonium x crispum minor)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officnalis)
Provence Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia)

Prairie Plants (and I need to look up the scientific names, which I should know)
New England Aster
Sky Blue Aster
Smooth Blazing Star
Rattlesnake Master
Two other yellow composites, which I don't remember what they are nor do I recall their names just from seeing the leaves)
Purple Poppy Mallow

I love plants! I will post pictures soon.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

In Love with Yarn

Prior to, and following the tree excitement*, I have been spinning. Quite a lot actually. The yarn I refer to in the title is this.

A three-ply merino wool that is about light worsted weight. The pictures are not great. They do not give a true sense of the subtle color variation. They do not allow you to feel how soft the yarn is, how springy, how wonderful. As soon as I washed it and the yarn was dried, I had to start making something with it. It knits up nicely.

After much exploring on Ravelry and flipping through books and magazines, I remembered a scarf from the Vogue Knitting On the Go: Scarves book I have had for years. That one was made with sock yarn, but it was not hard to adapt. Here is the end of the scarf early in its development. The scarf is much longer now, and I hope to finish it this weekend.

Once I started spinning again, I have not stopped. I created this bulky weight 2-ply from a dark blue merino top. My goal here was to spin a consistently soft and bulky yarn.

I think I have the soft down, but I do need to work on my consistency. I think this yarn will become a hat.
Then I moved on to some silk. This was dyed by my Plant Biology class this semester using brazilwood. The silk is about a light worsted-weight. I am not crazy about the color, and I am not sure what it will become.

The joy I got from spinning resulted in me buying some new top from Yarn Barn. This is a teal colored merino wool, the same brand as the sky blue yarn was made from. I love that the colors in the top are vertical.

Here is a close-up of the color variation in the top.

I am trying to be very consistent and spin a 2-ply sock yarn. I want to make a pair of knee-high socks from this yarn, specifically Nancy Bush's Highland Schottische Kilt Hose from her Folk Knits book. I have about one bobbin of the singles spun up. I am very excited about this project. So, off to spinning for a few minutes before I have to leave for a meeting at school.

Monday, May 5, 2008

All we lost was sleep

As those of you who are in the KC area know (and perhaps the rest of you know as well?), Thursday night very strong storms blew through the area between 1 and 2 am. Here in Independence, we had 82 mile per hour winds blow through ahead of what they are calling a bow echo.

At about 2 am, Steve and I woke up to the loudest, scariest winds I have ever heard. The walls and the windows were shaking. I turned the TV in the bedroom on, saw a huge line of red on the radar, and said "Steve I think we need to go to the basement". My job - to grab the cat. Steve's job - find the flashlight (the power had at some time during these few instances gone out) and take our basket of important stuff into the basement.* Lily, our cat, of course ran away as I tried to grab her. As I was looking to see where she went, I heard a noise I can't even describe - a crack and a thud all at once. Then a split second later - a more solid thud and crash. Then I hear Steve say - "The tree is in the living room". I look in to see a scene much like this (it was much wetter then, and darker, though Steve had found the flashlights and lantern).

After that, thing were a blur for a few minutes. The winds had died down, so we did not feel in danger any longer. They lasted about as long as the microburst did in Lawrence a few years back. But in the next few minutes, I found Lily hiding under the bed, we moved the CD's that were directly under the hole, I put towels down to mop up the water (ha - that was useful), and called the landlords. We then began moving the rest of the DVD's and CD's, the TV, the TV stand, and one small bookcase (and the books in it). Somehow we did all of this in about 45 minutes in the dark. Adrenaline rushes are amazing. Oh - and I also found old pots and things to catch drip of water in.

Our landlords came over about 3:30 that morning, bringing more lanterns, tarps, and buckets. They were amazing, and I feel lucky to be renting from them.

In fact, our luck in this incident was amazing.

1. If the branch had hit almost anywhere else in the house, we would have had damaged furniture, books, yarn, etc. As it was, only a few of our DVD's and CD's that have cardboard cases have water spots on them.

2. If the branch had hit our bedroom, we could have been hurt.

3. If the branch had blown towards our house a few more inches, the windows would have been busted.

4. Our landlords already have the holes patched and the debris cleaned up. The insurance adjuster is coming out Wed. to have a look.

5. We did not suffer the type of damage they had in Gladstone or North KC - there roofs were blown off, or in some cases, the whole house was blown off of its foundation.

So all in all, we lost a night of sleep. And we are both grateful that was all.

Here are some additional photos. The tree was a Silver Maple. I will never have one close to my house, they are notorious for breaking in high winds. In fact, the majority of the branches down in our neighborhood were from Silver Maples.

We were also lucky that the car was put in the garage (though we knew it was supposed to storm). If not, the car would have been smashed.
* A 9 pm that evening, the tornado sirens had gone off. Since we were not in immediate danger from that storm (the sited tornado was well to our south, but still in our county), I took to time to grab some important items in a laundry basket: my purse, the digital camera, some of what I thought were Steve's rare CD's, and my recently completed handspun yarn.