bonsai, houseplants, nature, projects

Bonsai seedlings, week 5 update

 

It’s been five weeks since we planted our bonsai seeds, and I am happy to say we have seedlings for each species of tree. I was a little anxious about the Norway spruce (picea abies) because it had only one seed, but it sprouted! Oddly enough, we also have only one jacaranda sprout (jacaranda mimosifolia), even though that was the plant for which we had the most seeds. I’m a bit disappointed about that because that’s the tree I was the most excited about, but there’s still time for more to grow. Fingers crossed! As for the flame tree (delonix regia), two of our four seeds are growing, and five of the six Rocky mountain bristlecone pine (pinus aristata) sprouted. I’ll be posting more updates as our little bonsai babies grow.

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bonsai, houseplants, nature, Personal, projects

Bonsai: a beginning

Both my husband and I love houseplants. Which is why our apartment currently has close to 50 plants in it. (Greenery overload! Some of them are refugees from my husband’s office and need to be re-homed.)

A few years ago, we went to a bonsai show. We wanted to get one for ourselves, but didn’t really feel justified in the expense at the time. Then, last year on our wedding anniversary, my gift to my husband was a juniper bonsai, which currently lives in our kitchen on top of our microwave (why yes, we are running out of flat surfaces on which to put our plants!).

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Our juniper bonsai, with a tortoise at its base.

Unfortunately, when it arrived it was infested with fungus gnats, which were killing its root system. After a couple of treatments*  the gnats died and the plant is recovering.

Then, last week, there was a further development in our bonsai saga: my mom gave us a kit to grow our own little trees from seed! Very exciting. And it’s just the right time of year to plant things.

The first step was soaking the seeks for 24 hours. The seeds for the flowering trees changed the color of the water, but the evergreen seeds didn’t. After they had soaked the requisite amount of time, we prepared the peat for potting. This involved pouring very hot water over the little discs of dirt and watching them expand to many times their original size.

After the dirt was rehydrated, it looked and felt like half-cooked brownie batter. In order to prevent mold, the instructions bade us squeeze the water out, which also helped to cool it down. That bit was pretty fun–there’s something very satisfying about sticking one’s hands in dirt and mucking about.

Then it was time to plant the seeds. Unfortunately, we only had one seed for picea abies, the Norway spruce, so I’m really hoping it sprouts. In clockwise order from the top left, the seeds are picea abies, the Norway spruce, delonix regia, the flame tree, pinus aristata, the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, and jacaranda mimosifolia, the jacaranda (I’m very excited about this one! Such beautiful purple-blue flowers). The close up is of the flame tree seeds, whose outer layer peeled off like old plastic.

 

At the bottom, you can see how much the peat disc expanded, and the last picture labels all the seeds and gives the date on which they were planted. The instruction booklet said that the Norway spruce can live for thousands of years, so . . . perhaps we will have to make arrangements for it in our will. Is there some sort of institution that cares for bonsai that outlive their owners?

They will not be sprouting for a least a few weeks, but when they do start, I will be posting updates about their progress. I’m very excited to see how they grow!

*A triple attack of hydrogen peroxide and diatomaceous earth (to kill the grubs, which do the actual damage) and cinnamon (to prevent the adult from coming back to lay more eggs). To paraphrase Mr. Darcy, fungus gnats “are my abhorrence”.
animals, nature, Personal, Vignette

5:30 AM, New Year’s Day

Still asleep, I heard a clattering noise. Once I had awakened sufficiently to speak, I said “What are you doing, Draconis?” who replied that he wasn’t doing anything. We then located the source of the noise–it was coming from the window well.  Draconis got a flashlight and shone it through the window; an animal had fallen into the well. “I think it’s a dog.” Cats were also mentioned, though I was secretly hoping for a fox.

Not wanting to leave the poor creature scrabbling at the window all night (which would render us quite unable to sleep, in any case), we got up and donned boots and coats for the winter night. I advanced first and was startled to shine my light not upon a dog but a raccoon–I immediately stepped backwards out of its sight, as if that alone would protect me. I was both relieved and disgusted–relieved because the animal sufferer was not, in fact, a dog (who would require looking after) and disgusted because I hate raccoons. I consider them to fall firmly under the heading of ‘pest animal’ and they can give one rabies, to boot.

We began debating the necessary next step.  Should we wait for the morning, and call animal control? Could the raccoon be assisted out immediately, giving us peace and quiet?  We looked for a plank to help it out–there was no plank, and the only other wood was two spindly dowels which would never support the weight of a raccoon. After considering and dismissing mops and brooms, Draconis decided to try lowering a tall stepladder into the well. Before he even had a chance to brace it against the ground, the raccoon had clambered up and away, dashing across the lawn to find cover under Sven the tree.

Relieved that no one had been hurt or bitten, we returned to bed. May the coming year bring you fewer raccoons than it has us.

animals, birdwatching, nature

Spring!

Cedar Waxwing public domain image
Cedar Waxwing

This is a Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful little bird that you only get a to see once a year–as they migrate through your territory. (Unless, of course, you live where they do.) I presume that they are named for their sleek appearance–in some lights, they don’t really look as though they have individual feathers. They are berry eaters, and they, together with an influx of American Robins here for the breeding season, stripped the holly tree outside our window of all its berries in a day and half, and it was loaded down with fruit!

American Robin
American Robin

These are not my photos, but I got them from the public domain. I thought it would be more interesting with visuals (though robins are doubtless one of the more seen and recognized birds).  I feel that I have never properly appreciated robins before, because I used to live where they were omnipresent. They are actually quite the songbirds, and hearing them sing is a comfort and a joy.

animals, nature

Nutria–what are they, and why?

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A nutria in its eating pose, with a piece of lettuce
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A group of nutria–note the webbed hind feet

The nutria is, as you may already have guessed, a rodent.  It has adapted to life in the water–in fact, its nipples, rather than being on its stomach, are on its flanks so that babies can ride around on momma’s back and nurse without drowning.  They are originally from South America, and were introduced in the States for their fur.  They are now considered a pest species in this part of the world, and you can receive money for handing in a nutria carcass, which makes me sad but which I also understand.  The reason why is that they can be very detrimental to wetlands, which are a famously fragile ecosystem already imperiled by human development.

Many people who pass them by exclaim over them thinking that they are beavers, despite signs on the trails around the stream explaining their name and origin.  While they do look rather beaverish, they have long, thin tails like rats, and do not build dams of any kind.  Rather, they appear to dwell in holes up under the bank, hidden away from predators, but whether they dig them themselves, possibly expanding on bank swallows’ excavations, I don’t know.  They have also been mistaken for otters, but unlike the fish-loving otter, nutria exist solely on greenery.  They love being thrown things like lettuce (though only romaine or iceberg–bitter spring greens are shunned by them!), bits of fruit, and bread.  Some are fairly fearless, and if you have food, they will come right up to you and may even take it from you with their little hands.  I have more than once been startled by feeling a wet little paw on my foot when I didn’t realize a nutria had approached me, hoping to get closer to the food I was holding.  They have bright orange teeth, again rather like a beaver’s, which are rather alarming, but I have never seen a nutria behave aggressively.  It’s as well to still steer clear of their mouths, though.

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A nutria with its baby, who is eating a carrot peel
animals, nature

Turtles–not mutated, and of all ages, with no known ninja skills

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Turtles sunning themselves on a log

Many turtles live in the creek by which we like to take our ‘daily constitutional’–they’ll come up for bits of bread thrown for the ducks and lettuce thrown for the nutria (but more about those creatures in another post).  Young turtles eat a lot of meat, but the older a turtle gets, the more vegetarian it becomes.  Also, the older a turtle gets, the bigger it gets, and after a certain point it doesn’t really have any natural enemies (unless you count humans, who often remove turtles from the wild to become pets).  Before they get too big to swallow, however, the herons, who seem to have snake-like throats,  will eat small turtles.  There are many ducks on this creek, and the ducks and turtles pretty much leave each other alone, except when the ducks have their babies–yes, it’s sad but true, turtles really go for a mouthful of baby bird.  They also look out for a sunny, quiet day and a surface, preferably surrounded by water for safety’s sake, where they can climb out of the water and just bask for awhile.  If you stop and stare, they’ll slide off the log, or rock–plip! plop–in the blink of an eye, hence the name Slider for some species (the Red-eared Slider is common here).  I’ve never seen turtles fight with each other, the way ducks do, and they seem to share their logs in a quite neighborly fashion.

(In case you were wondering, credit for this picture and those below goes to Draconis.)

animals, birdwatching, nature

The Lair of the Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
A great blue heron crouching with its right foot curled

Behold the great blue heron, which we followed to one of its favorite spots.  We’ve never seen it hunt here, but it often lands here in the evening to relax.  It stands incredibly still and gazes down the length of the creek.  Curiously, it rests and even flies with its right foot curled up. nor is this behavior unique to this bird.

Great Blue Heron Flying
A great blue heron flying with right foot curled