Thursday, July 28, 2016

Plant Environments

I recently got a book called "What a Plant Knows" by Daniel Chamovitz. It's about all of the different senses that plants use to investigate their environment. It turns out there are a lot of plant senses, as they can't get up and move to run from something bad in their environment. They have to sense it and then grow away from it as soon as possible. Failing that, a plant can release chemicals that make it taste bad, stop other plants from growing near it, or attract predator insects to wipe out infestations of tiny things that eat plants. A plant, however, is usually tied into its environment for life. 

The mini petunias have grown to fit their environment.
Leggy, Crawly, and Clumpy have all evened out nicely. :)

I try to make my plants' environments the best they can be for my plants. This involves moving them toward or away from the front of my porch to regulate sunlight, putting them inside to keep them from getting too wet in the storms we get in the summer, or picking off and squishing nasty caterpillars and aphids. Occasionally I'll even fertilize them which is especially important for food crops. I just recently lost a tomato off of one of my plants because it got blossom end rot. Needs more calcium... I actually just crush up Tums and add it to the soil, which was a tip from a fellow vegetable gardener.


Sometimes the environment is too uncontrollable and I lose a plant. Often this happens when I mis-match plants in pots- plants that have different needs being all in the same pot together. This year that happened with my curry plant, an African Daisy, and most recently the Sea Thrift steppable. 

*sings* One of these plants is not like the other...
one of these plants is dead.

Alas, poor Sea Thrift. You might be able to tolerate salt in soil, but you need less moisture than the others in the same pot, and you're way less heat tolerant. (Makes sense- it grows on beaches in the sand with a nice sea breeze constantly cooling it in the wild.) It was fine and then last week it just rapidly went downhill. I haven't pulled it yet, since you never know with grass type plants- it has a slight chance of just having gone dormant since it's so hot out and could come back to life in the fall. I don't hold out much hope though. 

One major success has been the Angel Wing Begonia indoors. At first its leaves were getting yellow, but then I learned that I might be over watering it and quit giving it so much moisture. Now it has been growing in gorgeous new dark green leaves with silver spots. It's so happy!

Happy plants make for a happy Allison!

Plants grow all over the planet, from arctic deserts that reach -40F to tropical jungles where they're literally underwater half of the year. It's amazing how adaptable they are in general, but putting a plant in the wrong environment will kill it faster than you can say "Maryland summer heat wave". With research and trial and error I hope to learn more about what makes each plant thrive.

Bonus picture of my Columbine plant growing back
after I lopped off all of its diseased foliage.
The new leaves look wonderful!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What, more horse posts?

I should definitely stop attempting to tone down my obsessions with the idea that people might not want two or three blog posts in a row about one topic. Nonsense! This is a blog about obsessions!

So I shall do another horse post, this time about the ways horses appear to communicate.

One great thing about The Big Purple Barn is that you get to watch a lot of interaction between the horses in the herd. Since the paddock is fairly small the horses are easy to observe and there are usually several interactions in any given 5 minute time span that Barbara will let you stand around not doing anything. Hah! ;)

Yeah, Aspen - I wish I could stand around licking the walls but we've got stalls to muck, so...

The most obvious way in which horses communicate is weirdly also the least utilized. Horses scream at each other when annoyed or angry, excitedly whinny to each other when they are at a distance and want to say hi, and snort when they're stressed out or doing something new. Whenever it's feeding time we're met by a whole bunch of "hublublublubluh" type noises which I'm told is "nickering" but sounds mostly like a diesel engine idling. Weirdly, though, horses are mostly quiet animals.

The main form of communication between horses is through body language. Humans communicate like this too, like when someone hunches over and seems shy, or when someone is making big, jerky movements and seems angry or agitated. Horses use their ears, tails, faces, and body to say things. The most common thing to say appears to be "get out of my way." I see the horses interact this way most often when there's hay out in the field. One of the horses will be eating at a hay pile and another horse will come up to the hay pile, walking straight at it and if the other horse doesn't get out of their way then they put their ears back. If that doesn't work then horse #1 gets bites. If bites don't work I've literally seen Harry turn around, scream at the top of his horsey lungs, and kick at the other horse's face. (I've never actually seen him connect though...I guess he doesn't ACTUALLY want to stove the other horse's face in, which is reassuring...kinda.)

Thankfully Harry is more polite about food with humans.
Well, slightly less polite if there are bananas involved.

Tail swishing is supposedly another form of being irritated, but half the time it's due to flies being annoying so it's hard to tell unless it's paired with what I like to refer to as "grumpy ears," or ears that are pinned back like a cat's when they're irritated.

General body stance is also something they communicate with. I learned this when I was working with Aspen a few months ago and he was acting like he was afraid of going over a flat bridge thing, However, he legit had one hind foot cocked and was relaxed except for his head which he was tossing around with ears perked forward. What I was initially reading as "afraid" ended up being "obtuse." hehe. (He eventually did go over the bridge thing. I was very proud of him.) I also encounter it when horses are trying to chase each other around the field. One horse will kind of puff up and head towards another horse, who then moves away, or alternatively if it's a new horse who isn't used to the way the herd is organized, they'll both puff up and then there's a lot of kicking and biting involved. Sometimes a horse won't mind another horse eating or standing next to it, in which case it just won't respond when the other horse walks over, other than to perk up an ear.

There have been a few times where a horse has even communicated with me using eye contact. Usually this is Aspen, because he's the one I work most with so I'm more used to how he behaves. There was one instance when I was grazing him out by where Pepper the Pig and Cesquealia are kept, and Pepper was undergoing a somewhat forced eye exam. There were a lot of really horrifyingly unhappy pig sounds and Aspen was tense and looking/listening as hard as he could to the pig. I was standing next to him, trying to talk him down when he turned his head slightly and looked me dead in the eye like "Are we ok here?!" so clearly that I actually answered "yeah, we're good" and shrugged. Surprisingly, he then went back to eating grass (granted, still pretty tense) His head went back up about a minute later when Pepper let out a particularly intense squeal of hatred for all things humanoid, but I felt like something good had happened in the communications department.

A really cute communication has happened since I discovered that Chuck likes the insides of his ears scratched. Since that accidental discovery he has come over to me a few times in the field and deliberately mashed his ear into my hand, hoping I'll start scratching it. Unfortunately this occasionally leads to mashing his whole head into my torso to get a good scratch which is less fun. Hopefully I can communicate better that I only give ear scratches if he stands still!

Chuck's gigantic head for reference.
I definitely don't want this jammed into my side at ramming speed.

I hope that learning more about horse communication will help me to better understand how horses think and feel at any given time. The more I learn the better I'm able to judge when a horse is being scared vs stubborn, friendly vs pushy, and all those other sorts of important horse care/safety things. However, I also want to learn it just for the sake of learning more about how horses think. I've learned cat communication so well that I jokingly tell Ticky that he's beaming his cat-thoughts at me with his eyes, but I've been around cats literally since birth. I'm sure horses will take an equally long amount of time! What do you think- 20-something odd years from now do you think I'll be able to tell what a horse is thinking?

Me, looking adoringly at a horse who is thinking mostly about inhaling the most amount of grass
in the least amount of time.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

More Dirt on Plants

My garden is in full-tilt summer mode: Tomatoes are in the ground (er, 5 gallon buckets), the oregano is so plentiful that soon I'll have to start giving some away to neighbors, and I've managed to keep a spectacular display of mini-petunias growing. I'm also trying my hand at shade plants, which fill in the spot next to the door where my sun-loving plants don't grow very well. I got a big planter from a neighbor who's moving out, so I filled it with begonias and caladium.
Complete with cat grass and new long planters ready to fill with some of the from-seed plants

The larger the garden gets however, the more quirks seem to get thrown into the mix. Take the mini-petunias for example. I got three which looked pretty much exactly the same in the pots, except one was pink, one was orange, and one was purple. I put them all in the same pot, so they have exactly the same amount of light and moisture, but one is clumped nicely, one sprawls along the soil's surface, and one reaches up, getting more and more spindly as it grows! I'm trying to prune the two crazy ones into submission, but we'll see how it turns out.
From left to right, Spindle, Crawly, and Clumpy.
Side note: apparently petunias don't attract bees, just butterflies. I looked it up and bees don't really like trumpet-shaped flowers because there's nowhere that a heavy bee can land. I guess I'll have to rely on my chive plant to act as a bee-flagger when it blooms.

The steppables garden is super cute, but I've noticed that the steppable thyme plant is going to take over the world if we let it. The little fern-like one keeps putting out adorable tiny flowers though! Today we went to Benkhe's garden nursery to get some fertilizer and insect spray, but also brought back the mini birdbath you see from their fairy garden section. 
Fairy Garden getting more cute.
We've been having issues with water flooding over from the apartment building's gutters during storms recently. The water then comes down onto our upstairs neighbor's porch, then onto our porch in buckets, flattening and drowning the plants (except the mint. Apparently mint LOVES drowning. Go figure.) There's the initial battering by heavy drops of water, and then it takes several days for the pots to dry out completely, putting the plants at risk for root rot and keeping me from fertilizing them with the liquid fertilizer I use. So... we came up with a plan: put a giant tarp over the porch and secure it with bungee cords when it looks like it's about to storm. We tried it last night and it worked! I wish I had a picture to show you, but we took it down first thing in the morning because it's sort of unsightly and the plants needed the morning sunlight.

The trip to Benkhe's nursery that I mentioned was to get some of the less glamorous components of gardening. I needed more fertilizer, and also something called Neem Oil to spray on the columbine plant and the over-wintered chrysanthemum. The chrysanthemum is infested with aphids, the columbine with a triple-infestation of spider mites, leaf miners, and powdery mildew. In all honesty I should just pull it up to keep it from infecting all of my other plants, but it's one of the few plants that actually made it through last winter and I want to try everything else I can think of first. So... Neem Oil. Apparently an organic pesticide that doesn't hurt bees or butterflies (or cats...or humans) so that's a plus. Hopefully it cures it, along with squishing bugs I can spot and keeping the plant comfortable and trimmed.
Trails left by leaf miners, the larvae of a type of fly, and tiny white speckles on the leaves due to spider mites. The mildew is hard to see in this picture. It's mostly on some leaves at the bottom.
The instruments of the pests' demise.
I did, however, get a new plant friend from the nursery while I was there. This is Beard, the indoor fern. And Ticky, of course. Ticky must inspect all house plants which enter his domain. Luckily he doesn't seem to chew on them unless they're vaguely grass-like.

Despite my best efforts, one plant isn't thriving at all. It's grown from seeds deposited last year by one of our railing-mounted porch plants. I cannot for the life of me remember what it's called, but it had teeny tiny purple flowers and thin leaves, and grew in a clump. There are two plants descended from last year's. One's doing fine, the other's doing...well, this:
Poor, sad plant which can't use words to tell me what's wrong with it.
I suspect it was drowned, but it was doing poorly even before we had storms go through. The leaves wilted, then started turning yellow. It got this big before it started wilting, so it's not something like soil bacteria that kills seedlings. It's something else. I took it out of the pot, shook some of the soil from its roots, put new dirt in, and then trimmed it way back. I might need to trim it back further, but I'm not seeing ANY new growth on it, so I'm a bit afraid to. I'll see how it does with the new dirt. It might take a couple of weeks to see any improvement or deterioration. It's hard to tell with how slowly plants get sick or well.

Anyway, gardening gets more intense every year I try to grow things. It's definitely not just "stick plant in ground, water occasionally." There's a lot of dirty work to gardening! I'm really enjoying the learning process though- setbacks, successes, and all.
Happy plant friends.