Sunday, March 31, 2013

Activites While on Hiatus, Part Two: The Great Seed Experiment of 2013

At the end of last summer, I decided I was going to attempt to grow some of my backyard plants from seed. After getting advice from my friends at the Ecology Center, I began collecting seeds from my various plants beginning in late August and I think I went as late as October. I collected Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, and Cardinal Flower.

Once collected, I mixed the seeds in dampened sphagnum peat moss and divided them according to species in separate sandwich bags. I wasn't sure if the seeds needed to be in complete darkness, so I placed 3 - 4 of the plastic bags into paper bags which then went into the refrigerator until January. This creates winter in preparation for spring germination.

When the time grew close to pull the seeds out and plant them, I moved on to the "early spring" stage. This was a little more involved than I anticipated but again, I went to my friends at the Ecology Center for advice and to borrow equipment.

Heating mats, a thermostat and grow lights are needed for the early spring.  A heating mat is used to warm up the soil to wake up the seed to germinate,and a thermostat is needed to regulate the heat of said mat. For the native plants I picked, 70ºF is the ideal temperature for germination and subsequent plant growth. I borrowed the heat mats and seedling soil from the Ecology Center, but purchased the thermostat and grow lights.

All seeds were removed and planted on January 26th. I bought a mini notebook to keep track of my experiment. I was faithful with the journal until the plants were transplanted and journaling has now fallen by the wayside. Whoops.

So far Bee Balm has been my easiest and best plant to grow. I lost a few in the beginning, but the remainder have grown like weeds. The plants are now almost as tall as the grow lights. I'm hoping the weather continues to stay warm so I can move them outside during the day and bring them in at night.

   The Bee Balm began sprouting on January 31st. Just 4 days!

This picture was taken on February 18th prior to being transplanted.

I took this picture yesterday.

The biggest thing I'm worried about right now is that while the Bee Balm stems look strong and healthy, the plants are leaning this way and that, despite the grow light being 4 - 6" from their tops. I don't know how they're going to grow further with crooked stems. That's the main reason I'm hoping to place them outside during the day; to straighten those stems.

I've had moderate success with Common Milkweed. It's a little more slow growing. I don't know if that's normal or not,  but the plants are green and the leaves seem to be growing.

The Milkweed seedlings also emerged on January 31st. I lost more of these at the beginning, but I still have a fair number growing.

I took this photo on February 11 but didn't transplant until February 22nd.

Picture taken March 30th.

I'm not having much success with the Butterfly Weed. Like their cousin, Common Milkweed, the Butterfly Weed seedlings sprouted like gang busters in the beginning, but seemed to peter out as time went on.

The seedlings also emerged Janurary 31st. This photo was taken February 18th. These were also transplanted February 22nd.

Photo taken March 30th.

I have maybe 6 of these left. They have been slowly dying off one by one. But I was warned Butterfly Weed could be difficult to grow. I'm a little discouraged, but will be happy if I have at least 2 or 3 by the end of the growing season.

My Purple Coneflowers were mostly a failure, although I did get a few seedlings out of the batch on February 1st. I attribute this failure to the fact that the medium was dry when I pulled the bags out in January. After giving the seeds ample time to germinate, I sowed store bought seeds and they emerged 5 days after planting.

Teeny tiny seedling!

Photo taken March 30th.

The Black-eyed Susan and Cardinal Seeds were a complete bust. None of them germinated. But my store-bought Black-eyed Susan seeds have done well.

Black-eyed Susan with "true leaves". Photo taken February 18th.

Photo taken before transplanting. Photo taken March 3rd.

Getting bigger! Photo taken March 30th.

I'm anxious to see what the next few weeks bring. I'm hoping for continued success.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Activities while on Hiatus, Part 1: And the conspiracy continues...

I'm going to jump right back into the blogging sphere with a post telling you what I've been doing over the last seven months. Here is the first entry:

Last weekend I attended a Winter Sparrow/Raptor ID workshop at a National Wildlife Refuge about 3.5 hours from my home. It was in a small town and I was leery of relying on the directions the Refuge posted on their website because they were incredibly vague:

"From hwy 29, go south on H for 25 miles before going east on CC."

Well sure, that's great, but how do I get to hwy 29?

Foolishly, oh so foolishly, I relied on the GPS (aka Navigation) in my android. How could I have forgotten the New Orleans incident ?

The first 2 hours of the trip went smoothly. I drove the major highways without a problem and even managed to hit the first alphabet highway without a hitch.  My problems with Navigation grew in proportion to the decreasing sizes of the towns. The further in to small town(s) USA I traveled, the more frequently Navigation lost a signal. There were a few times I had to pull over to wait for Navigation to recover its lost signal. I called Danno during one particularly long period of lost signal to obtain backup directions.

This was also the point I noticed the reliability of the Navigation maps was getting sketchy. Navigation wanted me to go south on hwy H, instead of north, and Danno pointed out this error when I told him what Navigation was telling me before it lost signal. Once the Navigation signal was regained and I was going in the correct direction, things went smoothly...for awhile. I'm convinced Navigation had had it with me and these small towns because it repeatedly tried to dump me in a corn field. The problem began in earnest once I turned off paved hwy H onto the gravel road of CC. About 5 miles on CC, Navigation wanted me to turn left...NOW. But when I looked left, there was a narrow gravel road running parallel to a cornfield, most probably an access road to the fields.

I ignored the first suggestion and with each access road I passed, the more insistently Navigation instructed me to turn. Turn now! Now turn around to go back to turn on that road! Turn! Turn! Turn! Then Navigation insisted the refuge was in the middle of a pond. No exaggeration. The dot representing the refuge was in the middle of a body of water on the Navigation map. Turn in the water! Do it! You have arrived at your destination!

After about the 3rd or 4th time of Navigation telling me to turn into the middle of nothing, I got panicky. I had to be at the Refuge at 1pm and it was 12:45pm. Where in the hell was I?? I turned into a parking lot that contained a large building and a few sheds. I had no idea if it was a place of business but the cars in the lot told me there were at least a few people around on the property. I called Danno in a panic and yelled at him about the Navigation . I tend to yell when I panic and Danno is usually at the receiving end of my anxiety. After talking (or yelling) for a brief period of time, I went into the large building and found that it was a hunting club hangout and the boys were sitting down for lunch. There was a slight pause and several eyes were on me as I entered the room. Yes, I know I don't belong here. I'm just here for directions and I'll be on my way. Chill out. I approached a waitress and asked for directions. Turns out I was less than a mile from my next turning point.

Feeling relieved, I turned where the waitress indicated and drove. And drove. And drove. Navigation, which was silent, woke up and insisted that my destination was in the pond to the left of me.

Here is my destination, according to Navigation :

Now it was 1pm and I had no idea how much further I had to go. Panic again blasted me in the face. I had the Refuge phone # in my phone and I hit the button to call them...or so I thought. A lady answered but I was so anxious I didn't hear the greeting she used.

"Hi.I'mSupposedToBeAtTheSparrowRaptorworkshopAndI'mLost.CanYouHelpMe?" I blabbed.

There was a moment of silence

"Workshop? Which workshop. Where are you?" the lady on the phone asked.

"The Sparrow and Raptor ID workshop." I paused, thinking I may have hit the wrong button on the phone. "Is this the Refuge?"

"No this is Acme Construction."


I burst out laughing. "Oh my goodness I'm so sorry! I dialed the wrong number. I dialed my mom's work number!"

The woman on the other end laughed and asked the name of my mother.  After chuckling for a few more moments. I hung up and carefully dialed the Refuge phone number. Turns out I was very close to my destination.

I arrived to the Refuge 5 minutes later unscathed. I wasn't the last person to arrive, only the second to last.  I swear I've learned my lesson now. Paper maps are the way to go.