Sunday, January 1, 2017

Week 5 January 1, 2017- It is a new year.

Welcome to the New Year.
It is a time to reflect. It is a time to look forward to what lies ahead. It is time to imagine how one can possibly cope with what is coming.

After a grey Christmas the sun came out on the day after Christmas. It has been sunny several other days this week. What a difference sunshine can make. That is true both inside the house and outside. Several days it was 40 degrees outside. What little snow we have had, has mostly disappeared. Julia and I actually went out on Monday and engaged in a winter garden activity. We picked up sticks. There were a lot of sticks. I looked for early snowdrops without finding any. There were the occasional daffodil shoots. They had actually come up a month ago and then thought better of it. As the temperatures have stayed a little above freezing  I will keep an eye out.

The picture contest rolls along. We are through December. We now have four winning pictures that have advanced to the next round.
In last week's contest the winner was.... the cactus.

         I do try to create a balanced field each week. This was the first week where there was an overwhelming choice. It was a rather great picture. I actually liked the amaryllis.
         There are businesses that will put a photograph on a shirt. Our daughter Maggie has given me one of those shirts on occasion. I was  the only person I ever met with castor bean plants on a t-shirt. I have imagined a black shirt with this cactus flower on the front. Think about captions. So many things come to mind.

The full voting this past week was
Cactus  25
Yellow Hellebores 12
Amaryllis  8
Pizzazz, the lilium   7

Week 5- a new year begins

I really like this week's contestants.

#1 Tall Bearded Iris (May 21, 2016)

Here you have another bearded iris. This one is a tall bearded one. It has that caterpillar fuzzy thing in the center, looking like something crawling out of the center of the plant.
This has such a nice color. How would you describe it? It is not quite pink and not really purple.
Over time plants adjust to parts of the garden. This iris grows back by the pond, getting a nice half day of sun. Actually in the backyard the big tree is a Sycamore tree. (Most of the trees in the yard are big ones.) The Sycamore is the last one to leaf out in the spring. That means that there really is closer to full sun until June. By then the iris has bloomed.

#2 Yellow Iceland Poppy (May 21, 2016)

I love Iceland poppies. Many have been in the contest over the years. I treat them like annuals. I grow them from seed. I actually should start them anytime now. This time of year there just is not enough time to do everything. That is the case even if they do give you a few 3 day weekends.
Here is another picture to join team yellow. This is by my count the fourth yellow picture so far this year (out of 20). Did you notice that the picture was taken on the same day as Contestant #2. Late May is a good time.

#3 Japanese Iris (June 19, 2016)

2016 was a good year for Japanese Iris. They had been ignored for some time. Some had survived despite neglect. They performed so well they inspired me to get more. I must have obtained another ten plants. They are all labeled and waiting for spring. When I work on my "I can't wait list" seeing how the Japanese Iris do is near the top.

This photograph seemed just like a painting. That black background helped with that effect. I regret that I do not know the name of the variety. I have really nice plant labels I get from this company that used to be in New Orleans. The labels sometimes get separated from the plants.  I then have a matching game where I get the picture and try to match it with all the labels that do not have homes. I tried that with the Japanese Iris this summer without success.

#4 Orchid cactus Unforgettable (September 17, 2016)

I have few pictures that I think are almost magical. This one is in that category. Imagine it with an all black background.
This picture is the first orchid cactus in the contest so far this year. Orchid cactus plants are special in my garden. I have grown them for almost 20 years. I like them in part because they do not appear in many gardens.
This one actually has a name. It is 'Unforgettable'. It lives up to its name. I selected this closeup picture for the contest, choosing this picture rather than the picture of the same flower in the bonus section. Like last week's choice for for the cactus pictures, it was a difficult choice.

Orchid cactus, which are botanically known as  Epiphyllum, are cousins of the better known Christmas cactus. They get their name from the fact that they  were found in the wild growing in trees. Epiphyte is any plant that grows above the ground, nonparasitically on another plant. Many orchids and bromiliads are such plants. (There are also terrestrial orchids. They grow in the ground.)

The flowers of Orchid cacti are quite large, particularly compared to a Christmas cactus. The plants get large too.

The first thing a northern gardener has to know about them, is that they have to come inside for the winter. That means you have to find room for them inside.
This should limit the number you grow in the northern parts of the country.

I got my first orchid cactus at a greenhouse near Chincoteague, Virginia, about 20 years ago. Chincoteague is an island off the shore of Virginia over there on the part of Virginia that is with Delaware. My father was born in Chincoteague. We have visited there every summer or fall, since 1976. There was a time when we would fly and I would put a plant in a carry-on bag under my seat on the plane. I believe this is how the first Epi, as they are known, came to my garden in Iowa.

When I got home I called the greenhouse and asked if they could send me some more. They did not really have a mail order program. They thought about it and explained that they would have to charge for shipping. I agreed and got maybe 6 more plants.

They grow mostly in pots, hanging from the trees in my yard. They do well in part shade.
They come in all sorts of colors.

They bloom mostly in the summer. I do not know when they would bloom if they were warm all the time. This particular bloom was a bonus, blooming as it did in September.

That is it for the contest this week. I hope you enjoy your choices. Let me hear from you. Thanks for the comments.

Bonus Section

I have to get right to more Orchid cactus plants.

Here is the full frontal view of Unforgettable.

How would you make the choice of which picture to put in the contest? Would you pick the picture of the entire flower or that wonderful magical closeup? This September flower was special this year as it was a complete surprise. Mostly the flowers bloom in the early summer. This bud popped up in September.

Here are few other Epi pictures. You will not see all of them because some will show up later as contestants.

I should add that I was inspired this summer to get more Epis. Part of my rationalizing was that they are really the beginning.  When you get a new plant it is usually a rooted cutting. I found a company that had free shipping if you got at least 8. So I have 8 new plants, all nicely labeled.

This great yellow one has been growing in the garden for about as long as I have had these plants.

Here is the biggest yellow plant. I use local teenage muscle to move it. Sometimes I move them even while they are outside. I might swap around plants, changing places, to provide better display.

Here is one in bud.

The buds can be rather magical too.

So last week I showed you something on the kitchen counter. It was a seed pod. I have started growing Epis from seed.
Here are what the pods look like. On the picture on the right you can see that there were several pods on the big yellow plant in the picture above.

Here is the sequence for getting the seeds. First you have to wait for the pod to get soft. It is the size and texture of a kiwi.

You cut it in half.

You scoop it out like you would with an avocado. Put it in a bowl of water. You then separate the seeds from the pulp.

You strain the seeds out.

You then dry the seeds. This time I did it on wax paper. When I left them on a paper towel they stuck to the towel.

I then stored the seeds, until the spring.

I harvested seed for the first time two years ago, on November 22, 2014. I planted them right away. I used one of those plastic containers that spinach came in, that had a top. That held in the moisture. Some came up within a month. They were tiny.

This picture was on July 2, 2015. I had taken the few tiny plants outside in one of my purple pots. It was the plant in the center of this pot. I had filled the pot with the rest of the dirt from the spinach container. There were seeds there that only sprouted when they got outside for the summer. In this one picture you can see a six month old seedling and some that had just spouted.

Here is  one of those pots on January 2, 2016.

Here is that plant just this week, on December 27, 2016. I combined two pots from the ones started 2 years ago. Some of the
leaves are starting to look like the mature plants.
I have no idea  when this will bloom. That will be exciting when it happens. I do know one of its parents. I think it might be pink.
Gardening teaches patience.

Let me show you some of the other Japanese Iris from this summer. It was a good group. All these pictures were from June 9 to June 24.

Maybe you can understand why I got some more.

Here are more Iceland poppies.

White is an interesting color.

Here is a nice closeup. The center is quite different from the Oriental poppy.

This is just amusing.

This would have made the contest except for the not quite in focus part.

Here is a small group. I once visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens when the Iceland Poppies were in bloom. They had thousands planted on a hillside. I was special.

Recipe Time

Here is the recipe for the week, Copenhagen Cabbage Casserole, an artifact of the 1970s.
by Julia Mears

Philip was a conscientious objector during the war in Viet Nam, and conscientious objectors were obliged to perform 2 years of alternative service, understood to be work for a non-profit organization, usually low-paying. Philip worked for 2-1/2 years (always an overachiever) at the Grinnell Community Daycare Center as his alternative service. And so I came to be the substitute summer cook at the GCDC for (I think) 3 summers. I learned many things; for example, apple juice is preferable to grape juice because grape juice stains are impossible and if you are making PB&J sandwiches with Wonder Bread and government surplus peanut butter, freeze the bread or the peanut butter will tear the bread to shreds. And I made Copenhagen Cabbage Casserole. I have no idea why Copenhagen. I do know that the children loved it, as unlikely as the combination of ingredients may make that seem.

Get yourself an ordinary green cabbage. (Not red. Not Napa. Not Savoy). Cut it into quarters and remove the core parts. Then slice the quarters cross-wise so you end up with thin slices that turn into shreds. I used 3/4 of the pictured cabbage, and I ate the cores. I ended up with about 6 cups of shreds.

Next I chopped1/2 of a big yellow onion to make 1 cup of chopped onions, and I put the onions and 1 lb. of ground beef in a big skillet, shown at left. I added some salt and pepper and stirred/cooked the mixture over medium-high heat until the onions were soft and the meat no longer pink. Then I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves and a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce, as well as a can full of water. More stirring, followed by simmering for about 30 minutes. If you are impatient, add 1/2 can of water and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. The sauce will reduce some, and the spices will get acquainted with the other ingredients.

Next, I sprayed a 9"x13" pan with no-stick spray. This pan is almost as old as the recipe. You could also use vegetable oil. I spread the cabbage in the pan.

Then I poured the sauce on top of the cabbage and spread it around. I covered the pan with a piece of aluminum foil, and I baked the casserole in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. When the casserole is done, the cabbage should be soft and the sauce nice and bubbly.

And here it is, ready to eat. I am not sure why this combination of ingredient works, but it does. I also do not know whether Danes really put cinnamon in meat dishes. Maybe. I do know that Greek do. There are both chicken and ground meat dishes that include cinnamon and tomato sauce.

Although the casserole needs to bake for a while, the actual prep time is not long. This recipe serves 4 to 6 people, and the leftovers are good reheated.

Odds and Ends

Dave wrote in this past week about knocking your socks off. He gave a link to this nice webcite called the Word Detective. This is what it said about the expression.

"The phrase first appeared in the mid-19th century meaning "to beat or vanquish someone thoroughly," at first used literally to mean to win in a knock-down fistfight so savage that the loser might expect not to only lose his shoes in the fracas but his socks as well.  The number of brawlers who actually lost their socks was probably pretty small, but a threat "to knock your socks off" was one of a number of such hyperbolic pugilistic phrases popular at the time, including "knock your lights out" and "knock you into next week."
Among folks who were not inclined to physical combat, to "knock someone's socks off" was soon adopted in a more general sense of "to win decisively," and one might "knock the socks off" one's opponents as well in bridge or whist as in the boxing ring.  From there the phrase mutated a bit more and "to have one's socks knocked off" came to mean "to be amazed, delighted, very impressed," as in "The new production of Annie with an all-ferret cast will blow your socks off."

Thank you Dave.

Sunshine in Iowa is now up to 9 hours and 13 minutes, and accelerating. It seems like each day this coming week we will have one more minute of light.

It really is time to find some seeds to start. There really is nothing like having a plant you grew from seed.

I heard from a reader that she had the chance to visit Longwood Gardens this week. It is outside Philadelphia and is the best garden we have ever visited. She found it "incredible" this time of year. I can only imagine. Mostly we get there is October. Here are two of the more amazing pictures from those visits.

This is a chrysanthemum plant that has been in training for years.

When we were last there in 2015 they were planting bulbs and bulbs and bulbs. Is really was inspiring.

I understand they do lots of things in the winter, between lights and indoor growing places. There is nothing like an indoor conservatory in January. Just seeing green grass in the middle of all that cold can be life affirming.
The Como Park Conservatory in the twin cities can be good in the winter too. We were there once when they featured Amaryllis.

That is it for the blog this week. I hope you are getting through the winter. This week I did not really have time for much reflection about this past year. I guess the entire contest is sort of a reflection.
I will see if I can find the time over the next month to talk about the more memorable parts of 2016. At the same time I will work on my "I just can't wait" list.

Stay safe, and warm.


Pat said...

I voted for the cactus flower. I loved the other flowers--especially the ruffly rose-colored iris--but in this case the photo interpretation itself was the attraction. You asked, "Would you pick the picture of the entire flower or that wonderful magical closeup?" I've noticed that sometimes your photo sets out to capture the reality of the flower--its wholeness--and sometimes you capture the flower abstractly, as a work of art. When two such versions of the same flower work perfectly, each on its own level, which do you choose? It's your blog, so you get to pick! ... Pat

Dave said...

I suspect this week's vote will not be close, either.

Cabbage and onions might be my two favorite vegetables, s I suspect I might visit Copenhagen soon.

Happy New Year to all Mearses!


philip Mears said...

Your comment leads to several thoughts.
The author always gets to pick. But this author was conflicted. I was not sure about the choice between the pictures. They said different things. When I selected the best 48 pictures for the contest, both pictures were included.
I am interested in what others think about the same choice. This comes down to why someone likes a picture. Is it the color? Is it the lighting? Is it the size of the flower?
Any flower has many features. It is the old elephant and the blind person story. Touching the leg gives a different impression from touching the tail. I really can't convey the entirety of a flower without touching all the parts. The closeup does not allow you to know just how big the flowers can be.