Re-using containers? A cautionary tale.

I attempted to clean up our little home greenhouse over the holiday break. There’s no good place to recycle pots around here, and I hate throwing them away…so I suffer from container build-up. Figured I’d sort through the haphazard pile in the corner of the greenhouse, wash and re-stack the useable ones, and finally ditch the busted ones.

As I started separating the first stack, I noted a tiny flash of red. It is well-known and oft-reported among my gardening and grower buddies that the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) really enjoys a nice stack of grubby pots. But I hadn’t seen one in quite a while, and not at our current location.

Boy, did I hit the jackpot.

blackwidow1

I’m not afraid of spiders. At all. Quite fond of them, actually – they are immensely useful and fascinating critters. And only a very few pose any kind of danger.
In the case of the Black Widow, a bite injects a neurotoxic venom (latrotoxin). The bites and ensuing symptoms are allegedly quite painful, though rarely fatal. In this instance, I chose not to sacrifice my comfort for our collective edification, i.e. “How Bad Can it Hurt?” (see Blister Beetle post).

So, I squished her. But felt pretty bad about it.
As I worked through the stacks, I found another.

spidy2

Shook her to the floor and did some more tap-dancing. Perhaps it was time to stop taking pictures and put some gloves on.

By the time I got through the entire pile, I’d found and mushed thirteen of them, sized small through pretty darn large. The landscape fabric on the greenhouse floor was peppered with little beige, black, and red blobs (you don’t need to see that photo).

There were none in the stacks of shiny new nursery pots I’d ordered for our blueberry transplants. But if there was some growing media or plant debris still stuck inside, there was a high probability of finding a spider.

Moral of this story? Think twice about leaving a bunch of dirty plant containers piled up. A simple hosing out before I’d stacked them would have probably prevented such a large infestation.

There’s also a significant chance that I will forget all about the need for caution the next time I’m potting up stuff. Which may lead to an even more educational and entertaining blog post, where I describe “Adventures In Lactrodectism.” Because I’m sure I missed a couple, or they’re hiding in the gravel. As the old saying goes,

“Seeing a spider isn’t a problem. It’s a problem when it disappears.”

QRCs revisted

Regarding the utility of Quick Response codes and the intersection of garden centers and technology, I asked: “Are YOU, dear readers, taking advantage of this [QRC] technology as it applies to purchasing plants?”

Thirty comments later (not including a repeat and two of my own), as best I can interpret, this is the score:

Yes I have used them while shopping for plants or own a nursery that uses them – 6 (results varied)

No (either didn’t have a smart phone or interest in QRCs for plant shopping) – 10

Couldn’t tell (commenters elaborated on potential/upside/downside/other uses, but couldn’t tell whether commenter had actually utilized them personally while plant shopping) and/or response to other comments – 14

First off, thanks to folks who answered my main question. Big fan of binary response.

And I did ask for “your thoughts.” So thanks to all who weighed in with ideas, related experiences, discussion, and opinions.

Karen’s experience at the Lady Bird Johnson garden was definitely fodder for thought, especially concerning our own campus garden. Commenter Ray E. notes the Franklin Co. (PA) Master Gardeners are implementing the technology at both their demonstration garden and plant sale.  Let us know how that goes, Ray (esp. the plant sale).  My students are going to give it a try on a few items in their spring plant sale.

Linking to “real information” – science-based, Extension, etc., instead of a corporate/brand URL is an ideal use of QRCs.  But are the companies that grow or market garden plants going to go to the effort to do that? Probably not – they are going to link to their corporate info.

Hap and Trey noted the ease with which intuitive keyboard apps/search engines bring up plant names, in lieu of the QRC process.  I can’t quite remember how I lived, pre-Google.  Oh…right…those things on the bookshelf across from desk. But when a list of options are returned, you have to wade through some stuff to find an info source you trust (here’s a tip – bookmark the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder – outstanding). Pris S. is our department’s IT guru (and a gardening nut, incidentally, so she knows of what she speaks regarding security.

Thanks again for all your thoughtful responses. Maybe there should be TR codes…

 

QRC LOLZ.  Let’s just put a big QR code over the flower photo.

Sent to me by astute observer/awesome grower/pal Paul W.

The Winter Weekend Garden Warrior

As Garden Professors, we are very careful regarding product endorsements. Actually, much energy is spent trying to bring to light weird/crappy/useless/money-wasting gardening products.

But when we feel strongly about the usefulness, quality, and utility of a product, it is our duty to pass that information along as well.

I didn’t mean to be a walking advertisement last weekend.

We were in the final throes of getting our garden cut back; Joel was laughing that I “needed another set of hands” when I came around the corner.  “Not with my fabulous Firehose Work Pants from Duluth Trading Company, I don’t!”  Thus the inspiration for this post.

All products noted are, variously: warm, waterproof, full of pockets, sharp, indestructible, dependable, and/or delicious.

The Strawberry, And What Do You Do For An Encore?

 

Once upon a time, a long time ago (around 1714), a spy, posing as a merchant, was dispatched from France to Chile to investigate the defenses which the Spanish had installed there.  While there, he also had the opportunity to see some truly amazing plants, but he was most impressed by the strawberries.  Strawberries of one sort or another are native throughout most of the world, but most are just little bitty things.  They may taste good, but you’ve got to get quite a few of them together to make a decent snack.  These were mega-bruisers.  Five or six could fill a small plate.  The name of this spy was Amedee Frezier (which is a variation of the word for strawberry).

Anyway, being a top-notch spy, he managed to get his hands on six strawberry plants and make away with them back to France.  Sacrificing fresh water needed by both himself and his shipmates to ensure that the plants made it safely across the ocean, he finally arrived in France with his precious cargo, no doubt very proud of himself.

There was only one problem.  These strawberries never produced much fruit.  Still, the plants were pretty enough, so they were kept at various botanical gardens across Europe and propagated using the runners which they naturally produce.  But the scientific community never could figure out how to make them produce fruit on a regular basis.

Enter Antoine Duchesne, a great scientist of the 18th century.  Duchesne figured out that the problem that the Chilean strawberries were having was that they were female.  Sure, they had fruit when Frezier saw them, but when he brought them to Europe they were never placed near male strawberry plants to provide pollen.  So Frezier mated the Chilean strawberries with male strawberries native to Europe and Bang!  There were the big beautiful strawberries that Frezier had seen in Chile.  And in 1764 he presented a bowl of them to King Louis XV.  Duchesne was seventeen at the time.  I wonder, was the rest of his life a letdown?

Possum 1, Garden Professor 0

It was a dark and stormy Wednesday night.

Joel opened the porch door and whispered “you’ve got to come see this.” He’d taken the dogs out for their 9:00 p.m. constitutional, and there was apparently some excitement under the old apple tree.

“There’s a possum, and I think she’s playing dead.”

I grabbed the flashlight and hustled out.  Got around the corner to the tree, and sure enough, there was a rather large blob of silver and white mammal.

But as I got closer, my heart sank.

She was curled up, head askew, front leg sticking out at an odd angle.  Lips (?) pulled back , teeth and gums bared in a terrible grimace, tongue hanging out the side.  I shined the flashlight right into her eyes. No movement, no pupil dilation.  Being from a farm in Georgia, I claim the most possum and raccoon experience. Thus, my verdict. Deader than a doornail. Which made me sad.

“Aargh. Thanks. Now I’m upset.  Guess she got hit by a car and made it this far before expiring.  Could you put her out at the end of the garden? The soil’s pretty soft there.”

Joel apologized and went to get the shovel.  I scuffed back inside to finish the dishes, feeling awful for the little critter.  Thanks to our impenetrable hen stockade, we live in pretty good harmony with our country cousins, and hate to see harm come to them.

Ten minutes later, Joel was back at the door, shovel in hand.

“Um, I think it was faking.”

“No way. That possum was graveyard dead.”

“Well…it seemed to be o.k. enough to be sitting up and eating an apple.”

We hiked back out to the tree – no possum to be found.  My wildlife cred was blown.

“Looks like she was playing possum” I offered, helpfully.

Joel muttered “But I just dug a three-foot-deep hole.”

Aphids Marching

Was out enjoying the last of the SW Virginia fall color from our deck, the day before we got our dose of Sandy…the wind was picking up and the barometer and temperature were dropping

Twenty-four hours later, we had an inch of snow and 40 mph winds. No more fall color.
Looked down at the railing and the ENTIRE length of it – 45′ – had aphids streaming back and forth.  They were absolutely pouring off a Clematis terniflora vine (the same species that attracted all the blister beetles this summer – what a prize) that had clambered up over the deck. It was like two lanes of traffic, going in each direction, and at a (relatively) high rate of speed.  I’ve never seen aphids move so fast. But to where??



I believe it’s time to re-stain the deck.

We also had the interesting phenomenon of congregating swarms of lady beetles (the Asian species – Harmonia axyridis) a couple of weeks ago. The south side of the house and my Jeep were covered.  At least there’s an upside to that infestation – I’ve noticed lots of larvae around.

As you know, lady beetle larvae are very effective predators of aphids, and were out in full force amongst the aphids…I counted 30. But they couldn’t make a dent in the thousands of aphids streaming along the rail. Upon closer inspection, they were actually trying to avoid the aphids.  They had obviously had their fill and could barely move. I swear they looked nauseous.

“No thanks, we’re full.”
So – any thoughts on why the aphids were so active?