Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week 11- February 12, 2017

Spring is around the corner
unless you are in Portland, Maine.  I mention Portland because Julia is visiting our new grandchild there this week. They had ten inches of snow on Wednesday, with more coming. The forecast for the next few days seems to be for more snow, measured in how many more feet of snow is coming.

Here in Iowa City warmer weather is here. It was 50 degrees the last few days.
Indeed the  forecast has temperatures this coming week averaging in the 40's. What little snow we had earlier this week is all gone.
Little bulbs are poking up all over. Here is the snowdrop family yesterday. I can not say we have our first flower, but maybe today.

It is a time when the garden tasks become close to overwhelming. There are garden beds to clean. There are seeds to plant or transplant, There are more cuttings to root.
It is a time when the regular watering schedule for the indoor plants is long since forgotten. Bugs start to show up. Fungus gnats appear in many places. "Fungus gnat" is about as good as name for a bug as "slug".

But the days are longer. I can do a little work outside after work, even when I stay at work until 5. (Remember it only takes about 10 minutes for us to get home from the office.) Yesterday I worked in shifts. I would go out for 20 minutes at a time. I had about 7 shifts and got a lot of work done. In between I would do a shift with inside plants and then read my book.

How about the picture contest?

In last week's contest the winner was...the red zinnia. What a great color.

The full voting was
Red Zinnia 20
White Lupine 15
Lantana 8
White orchid cactus  7

Now for Week 11
This is the next to last contest of this opening round.

It is purple/pink week. Don't ask me why it is purple/pink week. These pictures just seemed to come together at some point.

#1 Fall Crocus (September 5, 2016)

Crocuses in the fall? That is correct. Fall crocuses bloom... in the fall, and look just like the crocuses we will be seeing very soon, if the current weather is any indication.
The ones in the picture are probably Colchicum autumnale, with a common name of Meadow Saffron,
Actually these particular flowers bloom rather early in the fall, near the beginning of September.
I have grown them for 10 plus years. They come back reliably, so much so that they now need transplanting. Each clump was originally one bulb.
The foliage come up in the spring, looking like some weird hosta, crossed with a daffodil. Actually while raking today I discovered that most of the clumps of this variety was coming up. There is a picture in the bonus section.

The foliage dies back completely by June 1. It then sends up the flower in September. This is sort of like naked ladies (lycoris squamigera) or whatever those purple flowers are in August. I actually do not like those bulbs particularly.
Right now these particular set of crocuses bloom in the midst of lots of other plants that are much bigger. Sometimes it is hard to see them. Spring bulbs do not have this problem since they bloom before most perennials have gotten big or even come up.
I really will have to figure out when to transplant them. I suspect the time is after they bloom in the fall. Oh well. That will be something else to do later.

#2 Toad lily (September 17, 2016)
What a gem. These will actually last until late in the fall. What great spots throughout the entire flower. The flowers bloom all up and down long stems. The plants grow quite large. I suppose I could transplant some. Have you got this theme?
There is more about toad lilies in the bonus section.

#3 Lilium Triumphator (July 1, 2016)
Here is a wonderful lilium that is a cross between an Oriental lily and a trumpet lily. An example of a trumpet lily is what is know as the Easter lily. (Why it is called that I have no idea since it does not bloom at Easter.)
Triumphator blooms in high summer.
For a while I thought the picture was too dark. I decided that I actually liked the fact it was not in the sun. The stamens are brighter by just the right amount. (I guess that stamens is the plural. Or would it be one staman, and two stamen?)

#4 Pink Orchid Cactus (July 10, 2016)

Here you have one more orchid cactus flowers. You have heard plenty about orchid cactus during the contest. This is the one with all the wonderful buds, that starts to bloom in late June. For the 8 year saga of this great colorful flower see the tale in the bonus section.
I do believe that this is the parent of the seedlings I have been raising.

I do hang these plants from the trees. There are 6 plant hooks in the front yard under the Walnut tree. I put them there so they can be visible to people going by, on foot or by car.

That's it for this week. I hope you enjoy purple/pink flowers. Please take the time to vote. I really do like to hear from you by comment or email.

Bonus time
Your bonus pictures this year start with pictures of the glorious pink orchid cactus. The pictures are from several plants of the same variety, all blooming about middle of June. I really like the picture of the flower from the back. The buds with rain drops is special as well. There was some thought that that picture might be a contestant.
The plants themselves do get enormous. The yellow plant picture is included to show how they all get big.

So here is the story about this pink epiphyllum.
One of the worst moments in my over 30 years of gardening was in 2008. I had a wonderful plant stolen. It was the orchid cactus pictured below. It was a dastardly deed. The cactus had bloomed in early July. It had over 40 flowers throughout its blooming time. After it had finished blooming, one morning it was gone. There was just the empty hook, and a cigarette butt on the pavement.
As you can see the plant was enormous. It must have weighed 50 pounds. I have often wondered about that theft. It would have been difficult just to get the plant off the hook.
There is a blog post about my reaction on July 27, 2008. You can find it in the blog archive.

About a month after the theft, I ordered replacement plants. I am not sure I got the same one since I did not have the name.  I think it took 8 years but the plant I have now begins to approach the size of the stolen plant. I even now have a second one. I know the two plants I have now are the same variety because both plants have this large number of buds, all up and down the leaves. These are the pictures from 2008. To see the pictures one at a time click on a picture. It should turn into a slide show.

Bad stuff happens. But sometimes time passes and there is recovery.

Toad lilies
I would love toad lilies even if they had some other name.

This is a yellow toad lily called Lemon Twist. I have had it at least 8 years. It stays small. That could be the location. I should move it somewhere else. That requires me to find a place in the garden where there is any room.

The interior of the flowers is pretty interesting.
The spots go all the way out onto the plant parts.

This plant has leaves that are more yellow. This is rather a nice size. You can see the blooms all up the stem.

This on the other hand has gotten too big. I would divide it but there is that space thing. Maybe I will have a spring sale.

Here are a few more fall crocus pictures.

This was taken yesterday. The foliage is coming up already. I would dig the entire plant up but I do not know whether the ground is still frozen down 3-4 inches. One way to find out if you can transplant something at a particular time is to try it.

I assume I planted a single bulb here 10 years ago.

When they are fully open they are nice.

You can see how they are a little crowded by the bigger plants.

As a single plant they are good too.

Pumpkins Bars
by Julia Mears

I have made this recipe for pumpkin bars for many years. The recipe is printed so it came from somewhere, but I don't know where. This is my go-to dessert for large groups. And I recently made 3 13" x 18" pans, which would make more than 100 servings for a free lunch program in Iowa City (called the Free Lunch Program) for which we have cooked and baked several times a year for a long time. I made one 9" x 13" pan (after all the big pans) to take to the office for the folks who work there. Here is the recipe for a 9" x 13" pan's worth.

I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Then I got out a 9" x 13" pan and sprayed it with no-stick spray. If you don't like no-stick spray, lube the pan up otherwise. You can flour it too, but I do not find that necessary.

I measured the following into a big mixing bowl: 1 cup all purpose flour; 1 cup white sugar; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/4 teaspoon regular (not kosher) salt; and1teaspoon cinnamon. I stirred the dry ingredients around. Then I added: 2 eggs; 1 cup pumpkin; and 1/2 cup oil, and I stirred it up with a big wooden spoon. You can use a hand mixer if you like; I find a big spoon or big whisk easier in this recipe.

Here is the bowl with most of the ingredients - but not the eggs or oil. A word about canned pumpkin. The can of pumpkin that you buy at the store that weighs about 15 oz. does not actually hold 2 cups, although one would think that it does. More like 1- 3/4 cups. This will leave you with the problem of extra pumpkin (or not enough pumpkin). Today when I was making all those cakes, I needed 7 cups of pumpkin to make 3 big cakes and 1 smaller cake. 4 cans of pumpkin worked out just right. Maybe you like to eat canned pumpkin straight or maybe you will decide to make an extra 8" x 8" cake (with some math work) to make the pumpkin come out even.

Here is the batter all mixed up. A rubber spatula came in handy to scrape down the sides of the bowl and get all the batter out of the bowl.

I scraped all the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into the corners. It will be less batter than if you were making a cake. The bars are thinner than cake. I baked the cake for about 25 minutes. I checked after 20 minutes by poking the cake in the middle with a bamboo skewer (a toothpick works too). The skewer should come out clean - that is, no gobs of batter. In my oven, that meant 25 minutes of baking time.

Then the frosting. I made cream cheese frosting. I put 1/2 of an 8 oz package of softened cream cheese in a bowl, along with 2 tablespoons of soft butter. I did use a hand mixer for the frosting, as pictured. I added a pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1-1/2 cups (this is approximate) of powdered sugar. The frosting was stiff so I added about 1-1/2 tablespoons of plain yogurt.

The final product is at left. This cream cheese frosting has magical powers. One year, one of our former support staff was taking her last exams in her 3rd year of law school. She was, apparently, losing steam and asked me to bring her a pint of cream cheese frosting, and of course I did and she took her exams and all went well. I assume she ate it with a spoon as needed.

This is a picture of the 3 big cakes, waiting to be frosted. Which they were, and then delivered to the free lunch folks for, well, lunch.

The bars are tender and thin and easy to eat out of hand. Also pumpkin-y and cinnamon-y and cream cheese-y, all at the same time. Give them a try.

Odds and Ends
One plant that did not get into the contest this year was a tall bearded iris I just got this past summer. The fall lasted so long that it bloomed. (Mostly they bloom in May.) Some varieties do rebloom in the fall. Maybe this will be one of them.
The picture was taken on October 27. It was just what I had hoped for. It is called Good as Gold.

Here is the entire plant. This is maybe 2 months after it was planted. I can imagine what a clump of these will look like. Maybe I should get another plant.

It is now the beginning of the exciting time in the garden. The present excitement is somewhat diminished by the fact that it is still the first half of February.

While I am showing you the great yellow color from late fall I should show the great deep blue from that same time.
Here is the plant called monkshood.

Here are two more pictures. Blue is good. I have to just figure out how to get the yellow together with the blue.

That's it for now.
Enjoy the warmer weather.
Think kind thoughts for the people in Portland, Maine.

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